Posted: Oct 14, 2013 4:39 am
by willhud9
My opponent predictably sites the several Scriptures in which this placed called Gehenna is mentioned. But what is Gehenna? Is it indeed Hell?

A quick Wikipedia search would inform us that Gehenna was actually a geographical location with a very symbolic meaning.1 The Wiki article reads:

Gehenna (Greek γέεννα), Gehinnom (Rabbinical Hebrew: גהנום/גהנם) and Yiddish Gehinnam, are terms derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Hebrew: גֵיא בֶן־הִנֹּם or גיא בן-הינום); one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City.
In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba'als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6). Thereafter it was deemed to be cursed (Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6).

But the article would in the next paragraph say that in Christianity Gehenna was believed to be a destination for the wicked and that Gehenna was translated as Hell in Anglo-Saxon.

So what does this mean about Gehenna? Well first of all, we have to try to do the difficult and place ourselves within the mind of a 1st century Jew. Well Gehenna was a place where the sinners of Caanan and worshippers of Ba'al and Moloch allegedly practiced child sacrifice and burned them. The symbolism of fire is very much prevalent when imagining Gehenna for a first century Jew. It was a cursed place, and a name used to frighten and conjure images to haunt another. In Rabbinical Judaism, Gehenna is a place of purgatory for wicked souls to redeem themselves. So when Jesus comes on the preaching scene and he mentions Gehenna does he ever discuss an eternity in Gehenna? No, quit opposite!

"Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (γέεννα)." ~Matthew 10:28. The Him is of course God, but Jesus is saying God kills the soul in Hell. What? But it is a place of eternal suffering in accordance to conservative theology. But again as my original argument stated, hell was not considered a place of eternal suffering, but a place where the wicked, those who went against God and his people, were sent. It doesn't even make mention of a punishment aside from their destruction.

To understand Orthodox Christianity we are going to have to throw aside the baggage that our Western traditions have placed upon the concept of Hell. Let us continue!

We have to be careful from applying tradition to the facts. While Dale Allison is not technically incorrect, he was not wholly correct either. The mentions of Gehenna were not just a figurative place, it was a real geographical location with a real symbolic history. The "rival" gods the Israelites once committed idolatry with were worshiped in a gruesome manner in Gehenna and to a Jewish person, the very thought of being cursed to Gehenna was one fear and despair.

It is doubtful the church added the hellfire sermons into the teachings of Jesus as they match the hypothetical Q source. I will also not argue Jesus was wrong as that defeats the entire premise of my Orthodox argument, but the third option is only half wrong. Yes, Jesus spoke about Gehenna. But not in the way my opponent is arguing.

My opponent makes the bold claim that Jesus was proclaiming Adonai's judgment by fire. Except, even in the most apocalyptic Gospel, Mark, this claim is very loose.

"After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!”"

The theme all throughout Mark was about repentance. Jesus was urging repentance, not damnation. Did Jesus talk about what happens to those who do not repent, sure. Did Jesus preach about damnation as his focus? No. The extreme examples Jesus used in the verse my opponent quoted was because Jesus wanted people to repent. John's Gospel sums it up perfectly in the world's most known verse John 3:16.

My opponent then makes the assumption that Jesus' preaching of the Kingdom did not happen and therefore the church has been failing to rationalize its doctrine of salvation. But does Byron provide a successful rebuttal against it? Well I don't think so. Let's begin.


Hell is not irrational when Hell is understood for being a place separate from the Kingdom. A place for the wicked where the Kingdom is for the righteous. Is it a place of punishment? No. There is no support for that theology aside from later Catholic traditions.

Again I will quote NT Wright2:

And hell is what happens when human beings say, the God in whose image they were made, we dont want to worship you. We dont want our human life to be shaped by you. We dont want, who we are as humans to be transformed by the love of Jesus dying and rising for us. We dont want any of that. We want to stay as we are and do our own thing. And if you do that, what youre saying is, you want to stop being image bearing human being within this good world that God has made. And you are colluding with your own progressive dehumanization. And that is such a shocking and horrible thing, that its not surprising that the biblical writers and others have used very vivid and terrifying language about it. But, people have picked that up and said, this is a literal description of reality. Somewhere down there, there is a lake of fire, and its got worms in it and its got serpents and demons and there coming to get you.

But I think actually, the reality is more sober and sad than that, which is this progressive shrinking of human life. And that happens during this life, but it seems to be that if someone resolutely says to God, I'm not going to worship's not just Ill not come to church. It's a matter of deep down somewhere, there is a rejection of the good creator God, then that it the choice humans make. In other words, I think the human choices in this life really matter. Were not just playing a game of chess, where tomorrow morning God will put the pieces back on the board and say, Ok that was just a game. Now we're doing something different. The choices we make here really do matter.

I think Wright nails it flat on the head. The concept of Gehenna was a terrifying one. It symbolized separation from God and therefore the destruction of the soul, the essence of a person. To many a Jew the concept of a future resurrection of Israel, thanks to verses found in Isaiah became a hope for many, and the thought of losing a soul was a travesty to Jewish thought. But the destruction of the soul is very different from the West's interpretation of eternal damnation for the wicked. Oh it makes a nice conversion story, but it fails to hold any theological weight to scrutiny.

My opponent then leaps into the fray with the statement that God created hell at his own pleasure. Powerful stuff, but did he? There is no theological case for the creation of hell, since hell was not really discussed in the creation accounts. However, the concept of a New Jerusalem and Gehenna make perfect sense. The New Kingdom and New Jerusalem were oftentimes paralleled with each other (see Revelations). Gehenna was a valley just outside of Jerusalem. So in the eschatology of the Christian, this New Gehenna, or Hell, is rather the place just outside the new Jerusalem. In fact, Revelation 21:6-8 reads:

“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Notice the contrasts for the symbolism and remember this is in regards to the New Jerusalem. It is promised to those who are victorious will inherit the waters of life. But the *insert wicked people* will get fire of death. It matches the descriptions found elsewhere in Scripture of Gehenna. The concept of fire, plays with the fact that the rituals of child sacrifice involved setting the children on fire. Those who were once "Children of God" have chosen to reject God and therefore are cast out of the New Kingdom/New Jerusalem. The symbolism is that they are like the children who were sacrificed on the altar of the false gods. They are cursed.

But we must understand that is symbolism being used, and while many in the West assumed a literal rendition of it, we can see by evaluating Greek and Russian orthodox theologies that not everyone assumed the literalness of these passages.

So with Hell taken care of, we need go to the next critique my opponent tackles. The method of salvation.

Jesus died on the cross to save the world. John 3:16. We all know the Bible lesson. The end.

But is it rational? My opponent mentioned Calvinism vs. Arminianism and I shall start this off with talking about total depravity. This doctrine holds that humankind has sinned and is incapable of achieving salvation by themselves i.e. it is human nature to reject God due to a fallen nature. Without God salvation is not possible. The theological concept of grace is at effect. Well what is grace? It is an unmerited favor from God i.e. it is not deserved or earned.

So humans are depraved and need salvation. Since human nature is naturally rejecting God, God sends his Grace to save what Calvin called the elect. This is called the indomitable spirit. The Holy Spirit comes upon someone and they come to know God. But wait?! There are unbelievers, how can a loving God purposefully not send his Spirit onto them? This is where many people misinterpret Calvinism as my opponent also did. You see unconditional election is just that. God unconditionally sends out his Spirit to save his elect whom he unconditionally loves. But can people reject the Spirit? No, but they can quench it. By living a life of sinfulness, in Christian theology, a person can quench the Spirit's influence on us making its influence small and worthless. As well as quenching the Spirit a person can deny the Spirit. It's not rejecting it, it is simply hardening oneself against it. Scripture calls the phrase a "hardening of the heart." These things hinder people from receiving the grace of God.

So does the Spirit come to everyone in Calvinistic doctrine? Arguably yes. Does everyone receive the Spirit in a transforming manner? No, and this is because of the sinful nature of the people quenching the Spirit. In this manner, God is liberating those in bondage to sin, but there are those who refuse through their sin that liberation.

Is this view wholly Calvinistic? No, and for good measure, the original Calvinistic view was a product of its time and also believed in a literal Hell of eternal fire and damnation, thanks to the sensationalism of the Middle Ages. The people who followed Calvinism, also took many of Calvin's original points found within Institutes and exaggerated them to fit alternative theological models. But it does present a logical methodology as to why salvation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not illogical.

Which brings us to Paul and my opponent's section on ἀποκατάστασις.

My opponent mistakenly states that Jesus preached in salvation and damnation and Paul preached all would be saved. I have already argued that Jesus preached repentance for all and not damnation and as this is clearly seen by reading the entirety of the Gospels, I feel this alone can refute the entire premise of my opponent's argument. But he goes onto argue that Paul in Romans preached salvation for all. This is a very mistaken view taken by universalists.

First of all, the context is about Israel and Israel's past. Why did God have Israel go through all of what it was. Paul says they went through an era of sin, so they could be saved through the era of Christ. Paul is not talking about individuals being saved, he is talking about God's plan for Israel. Paul is saying God's plan was to literally shut Israel out to live as a condemned and humbled existence without Christ, and then through that condemnation bring about the salvation existence through Jesus Christ.

Second of all, ἀποκατάστασις is only found one in the New Testament and that is in Acts when Peter explains that Jesus "must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore ( ἀποκατάστασις) everything. (Acts 3:21)

The belief of many liberal universalists of the 19th century were based on the argument that early Christians such as Origen were universalists. This is far from the truth. Modern scholarship in fact would show that church patriarchs such as Origin and Clement of Alexandria were not universalists in the belief that all would be restored, but believed there would be those who would reject God. They believed in a restoration and believed sinners could be restored, but only through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Finally, my opponent makes a very loose and odd argument that because of the people's belief in hell it causes them to stick to a dogmatic view. He also cites that More actually burned people at the stake. I would hope that as a history lover, Byron would have known that aside from a few Protestant sources, there are no reliable historical sources which confirm that More burned or even tortured any heretics. Since many Protestants would of course be biased against More, their testimony cannot be taken with full confidence in accuracy, especially when More argues specifically against claims of torture. So my opponent's last argument begins on an historically incorrect assumption, and not fact. Perhaps for sensationalism?

My opponent than cites the Catholic catechism. I have, I think sufficiently, argued that the Catholics view on hell is far from the truth of the matter and is definitely irrational. But the reality of hell, as being a place where those who reject God go while the righteous inherit God's Kingdom, makes rational sense.

My conclusion:

Orthodox Christianity does not hold in an irrational hell of sensationalist torture for eternity, but rather is a place of separation from God, where those who disobeyed God will be sent. It is a cursed place, but is it the place of intense fire and brimstone? As I argued, a literal hell does not fit in the model of eschatology in which the sinners will be placed in the "New Gehenna" outside the "New Jerusalem." The symbolism is too strong to simply assume a literal rendition of the text. Therefore salvation is not irrational.

I await my opponents rebuttal!

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