Friday, August 30, 2013

Ordet: The word, a film by Carl Dreyer

I'd like to know if anyone actually read this review. if so please make a comment?

I love foreign cinema and occasionally I enjoy reviewing old films from Germany, France, Italy or Japan, or other countries. See my film review page. My favorite kind of film is one that takes on a big question, the kind of question religious belief is about answering, through the perspective of modern thought and film making. My favorite director is Ingmar Bergman, for his quasi religous (even though he was an atheist) films such as The Seventh Seal, the Virgin Spring, Winter Light.

I've been searching for another director who would have that same kind of theological bent in a modern film package. I recently found one in Carl Dreyer (1889-1968). While Berman was a Swede Dreyer was Danish, and is very different from Bergman yet they both share that same Nordic kind of theater tradition that adds an element of stinginess and pageantry to their films. While they are very different they also at times remind me of each other. One Dreyer film that really made me feel I was watching a Bergman movie was his work "Ordet." Ordet means "the word." It's based upon a 1920s Danish play and is set in the 20s (although the film was made in 1954). It's about a family that has a son a who thinks he is Jesus.


Uncredited cast:
Hanne Agesen Hanne Agesen ...
Karen, a Servant (uncredited)
Kirsten Andreasen Kirsten Andreasen ...
Sylvia Eckhausen Sylvia Eckhausen ...
Kirstin Petersen (uncredited)
Birgitte Federspiel Birgitte Federspiel ...
Inger, Mikkel's Wife (uncredited)
Ejner Federspiel Ejner Federspiel ...
Peter Petersen (uncredited)
Ann Elisabeth Groth Ann Elisabeth Groth ...
Maren Borgen, Mikkel's Daughter (uncredited)
Emil Hass Christensen Emil Hass Christensen ...
Mikkel Borgen (uncredited)
Cay Kristiansen Cay Kristiansen ...
Anders Borgen (uncredited)
Preben Lerdorff Rye Preben Lerdorff Rye ...
Johannes Borgen (uncredited)
Henrik Malberg Henrik Malberg ...
Morten Borgen (uncredited)
Gerda Nielsen Gerda Nielsen ...
Anne Petersen (uncredited)
Ove Rud Ove Rud ...
Pastor (uncredited)
Susanne Rud Susanne Rud ...
Lilleinger Borgen, Mikkel's Daughter (uncredited)
Henry Skjær Henry Skjær ...
The Doctor (uncredited)
Edith Trane Edith Trane ...
Mette Maren (uncredited)

Two fmailies, the Borgen family, whose second son,Johannes Borgen, played by Preben Lerdorff Rye thinks he's Jesus, and the Peterson family, whose daughter Anne the youngest son of the Borgen's, Anders, loves and wants to marry. The two families have been feuding for years over religion. The Borgen represent the modern liberal happy chruch kind of people who think religion is positive, but rationalistic. The Peterson's represent a more old fashion kind of sever dawyer always alarmed faith based upon German Pietism. They are not Penticostal, they would get excited in worship but would act somber. one group thinks everyone should be happy, but responsible and moral, the other groups thinks we should all be afarid, alarmed, ashamed and somber.

We first see Johannes when he's wondered off into the cliffs and shouts down at the village "the word came into the world and the world received it not." he stands there shouting prophesies of doom on the unbelievers the other family members go out and bring him in. Rye's performance is excellent. He actualy look a bit like the guy on the shroud of Turin. He speaks in a whining voice and always greets people "God beleeeeeessssss youoooooo." Anytime there's a dramatic movment and the old grandfather is contemplating the issues we hear that whining "Gawd Beleeeeeessssss youoooooo" we know there's going to be some comic relief. Once Johannes lights two candles and sets them on the window ledge. His sister-in-law, Inger wife of oldest son Mikel asks "why did you put the candles there?" He Johannes answers "so that my light will shin in the darkness." Everything he says is right out of the red letter bible, the words of Jesus. Even if it's an answer to mundane question me makes it fit.

The minister comes to visit and introduces himself to Johan and Johan replies "don't you recognize me? I am Jesus of Nazareth." At that point we learn that he was seminary student driven mad by reading too many books (he must have gone to Perkins). We find that it was primarily Kierkegaard who dorve him over the edge. He is the personifiication of SK's attack on Christendom, right out of the pages of the book. Everything he says has two meanings, one an answer to the mundane counted in nutty sounding Biblical quotation form Jesus, and the other a hinted application to the higher issues of the plot. Of course no one takes him seriously because he's just the crazy guy. Everyone pities him but no listens to what he's saying. What he's saing inceently, as did Keirkegaard, "you profess faith but you don't believe it." All the other characters say nuttie things, they all exhibit paranoia and magical thinking, or an ordinary kind, but the implication is there that the problem is everyone in the society is revved up on religious anxiety without the actual faith to turn into something positive. Becuase they don't go around saying they are Jesus or answering every question with a quotation form the Bible no one thinks they are nuts.

Anders goes to Anne's parents and asked to Marry her. They refuse him. There is a sub plot his mother gaining his grandfather's approval. The two old men, the grandfathers of both families have been at each other for years, becasue one is for the happy chruch one is for the somber upset chruch. They discuss the issue in a special meeting in the girls home and come to actual blows. The stage humor is amusing that they meet in "Christian love" and wind up brawling.

At this point they are send word that Inger is about to have her baby but she's sick. Something is wrong her life is in danger. They go home and everyone is tense and praying. The doctor is working hard. The Jesus son is in the back room talking to hi young niece. He tells her "it's better to have a mother in heaven becuase then she will be always with you. On earth she has too many things to think about." The girl decides she wants her mother with her. He says "I can't bring her back (he's not gone yet) because they wont let me." He keeps quoting the passage about Jesus couldn't do many mighty works in his home town because of unbelief. In one scene the grandfather is talking out loud to himself about how God is doing this to punish him. Johannes is walking behind him, packing back and forth. He's saying detached nuttie things and the Grandfather is saying "not now." But Then things Johannes says start making sense plot wise. They are like informing him of his unbelief and how this is effecting the situation. The Granfather is sort on the surface saying "go away you are nut but he also starts talking to him as though he's really God. part of the time he's answering back going "why do you allow these trials" while the rest of the time he's saying "you are a nut." This is a perfect metaphor for the point of the play that their faith is double minded. It's a real Kierkegaardian theme that their belief is shallow and social and not interlinked.

The doctors thinks the woman will pull throw and now she's resting. He and mintier sit and have a little confab about God and the reality of miracles and they reduce miracles to science and decide that God works only thought he natural he's given them the ability to solve everything. They are the rationalists. The doctor represents modern secular view of scinece, the minister the modern ratinalisit view of the chruch. When they leave Johannes comes right out and says "the man with the hourglass is back. he's going through the wall to see Inger." They shush him "that's the doctor's car lights on the wall as he turns around." No sonner does the doctor drive away the the Miekkel comes out and says he died! Johannes again tells the little girl "i can't raise her because they wont let me." He leaves in the middle of hte night. His note says "where I go you cannot come" a quotation form John that Jesus told Mary Magdeline in the resurrection scene. They go looking for him for the next couple of days.

Uncle and niece

They don't find Johannes and they wind up at the funeral. It's time to seal the casket and here comes Johannes. He's talking normally. The father says "you have come to your senses!" He says yes father I've come to my senses. Now I realize that the child's faith is all I need, referring to his young niece. The first comes over and says "you have to do it now Uncle." So he says "in the name of Jesus rise" and the woman comes back to life. He tells them "you never thought to ask God to restore her life because you only half believe your faith. The ending I'm told is in a tradition of Danish theater where they seem very stylized and not realistic in their reactions. I say this because in real life they would be running around in shock but in the film they act like "I won ten dollars in the drawing, that's nice." The minister and doctor are shot panned away from we don't even see their reactions.

The whole thing is so totally Kirkegaaridan it's a joy to watch, if you are a SK fan like me. The family dynamic, the superstitious nature of their faith, is the issue. Its' not saying that all belief in God is superstitious it's saying that the way they use their faith as a protection against misfortune but don't really believe God's promises makes it superstitious like. The son who so closely identities with Jesus that he starts thinking he is Jesus is regarded as a nut but the one's who have no faith and yet cling to a rationalized version of faith are credited with sanity when in reality they are less aware of the true import of things than the "nut case" son.

PS to reader about Dreyer

 I want to push Dreyer because he's so unknown in America. He didn't make many films and what he did make is not well knwn here at all. I have a professor from Prekins (SMU) who is one of the most eurdite people I know, he loves grea film, he's never heard of Dreyer.

If you like scary movies Dreyer did one of the greatest vampire movies ever. His vampire movie kicks Bela Lugosi in the head. It's truly eerie. It is really scary. It's not Hollywood scary it leaves you with a sense of real fear. He uses all low tech, the vampire is an old woman and her main stooge is the village doctor. It's set in a small German village of the late 19th century.


It's called Vampyr

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Bible is "Just Mythology?"

 photo sacred-tree_zps54533af1.jpg
 engraving on Assyrian cylinder represents tree of knowledge

The most radical view that I hold about the Bible, from the standpoint of evangelical Christians, is probably the idea that there are sections of the Bible that make use of Pagan mythology. This is a difficult concept for most Christians to grasp, because most of us are taught that "myth" means a lie, that it's a dirty word, an insult, and that it is really debunking the Bible or rejecting it as God's word. The problem is in our understanding of myth. "Myth" does not mean lie; it does not mean something that is necessarily untrue. It is a literary genre—a way of telling a story. In Genesis, for example, the creation story and the story of the Garden are mythological. They are based on Babylonian and Sumerian myths that contain the same elements and follow the same outlines. Those other stories are older so we know the Hebrew account must make use of them not vice verse. But three things must be noted: 1) Myth is not a dirty word, not a lie. Myth is a very healthy thing. 2) The point of the myth is the point the story is making--not the literal historical events of the story. So the point of mythologizing creation is not to transmit historical events but to make a point. We will look more closely at these two points. 3) I don't assume mythology in the Bible out of any tendency to doubt miracles or the supernatural, I believe in them. I base this purely on the way the text is written.

The purpose of myth is often assumed to be the attempt of unscientific or superstitious people to explain scientific facts of nature in an unscientific way. That is not the purpose of myth. A whole new discipline has developed over the past 60 years called "history of religions." Its two major figures are C.G. Jung and Marcea Eliade.[1] In addition to these two, another great scholarly figure arises in Carl Kerenyi.[2] These two form the basis, the foundation, for modern study of mythology. In addition to these three, the scholarly popularizer Joseph Campbell is important. Campell is best known for his work The Hero with A Thousand Faces.[3] This is a great book and I urge everyone to read it. Champbell, and Elliade both disliked Christianity intensely, but their views can be pressed into service for an understanding of the nature of myth. Myth is, according to Campbell a cultural transmission of symbols for the purpose of providing the members of the tribe with a sense of guidance through life. They are psychological, not explanatory of the physical world. This is easily seen in their elaborate natures. Why develop a whole story with so many elements when it will suffice as an explanation to say "we have fire because Prometheus stole it form the gods?" For example, Campell demonstrates in The Hero that heroic myths chart the journey of the individual through life. They are not explanatory, but clinical and healing. They prepare the individual for the journey of life; that's why in so many cultures we meet the same hero over and over again; because people have much the same experiences as they journey though life, gaining adulthood, talking their place in the group, marriage, children, old age and death. The hero goes out, he experiences adventures, he proves himself, he returns, and he prepares the next hero for his journey. We meet this over and over in mythology.[4]

 photo adameve1.jpg

In Kerenyi's essays on a Science of Mythology we find the two figures of the maiden and the Krone. These are standard figures repeated throughout myths of every culture. They serve different functions, but are symbolic of the same woman at different times in her life. The Krone is the enlightener, the guide, the old wise woman who guides the younger into maidenhood. In Genesis we find something different. Here the Pagan myths follow the same outline and contain many of the same characters (Adam and Adapa—see, Cornfeld Archaeology of the Bible 1976).[5] But in Genesis we find something different. The chaotic creation story of Babylon is ordered and the source of creation is different. Rather than being emerging out of Tiamot (chaos) we find "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Order is imposed. We have a logical and orderly progression (as opposed to the Pagan primordial chaos). The seven days of creation represent perfection and it is another aspect of order, seven periods, the seventh being rest. Moreover, the point of the story changes. In the Babylonian myth the primordial chaos is the ages of creation, and there is no moral overtone, the story revolves around other things. This is a common element in mythology, a world in which the myths happen, mythological time and place. All of these elements taken together are called Myths, and every mythos has a cosmogony, an explanation of creation and being (I didn't say there were no explanations in myth.). We find these elements in the Genesis story, Cosmogony included. But, the point of the story becomes moral: it becomes a story about man rebelling against God, the entrance of sin into the world. So the Genesis account is a literary rendering of pagan myth, but it stands that myth on its head. It is saying God is the true source of creation and the true point is that life is about knowing God. The Bablylonian's had this creation story 1500 years before the Hebrews.[6] The actual story of the tree of knowledge and serpent tempting the woman is not found among the Babylonian writings. Yet we know that the story included these elements becuase we see those elements portrayed in art works of the era (see top). 
Only a very small number of scholars think this way, however.[that there's no comparison] It is very clear that these stories share a common, ancient, way of speaking about the beginning of the cosmos. They participate in a similar “conceptual world” where solid barriers keep the waters away, pre-existent chaotic material exists before order, and light before the sun, moon, and stars.
Those similarities should not be exaggerated or minimized. But they are telling us something: even though Genesis is unique, and even though Genesis is Scripture, it is an ancient story that reflects ancient ways of thinking.
Genesis 1 cries out to be understood in its ancient context, not separated from it. Stories like Enuma Elish give us a brief but important glimpse at how ancient Near Eastern people thought of beginnings. As I discussed in an earlier post, ancient texts like Enuma Elish help us calibrate the genre of Genesis. That way we can learn to ask the questions Genesis 1 was written to address rather than intruding with our own questions.[7]

The mythological elements are more common in the early books of the Bible. The material becomes more historical as we go along. How do we know? Because the mythical elements of the first account immediately drop away. Elements such as the talking serpent, the timeless time ("in the beginning"), the firmament and other aspects of the myth all drop away. The firmament was the ancient world's notion of the world itself. It was a flat earth set upon angular pillars, with a dome over it. On the inside of the dome stars were stuck on, and it contained doors in the dome through which snow and rain could be forced through by the gods (that's why Genesis says "he divided the waters above the firmament from the waters below”). We are clearly in a mythological world in Genesis. The Great flood is mythology as well, as all nations have their flood myths. But as we move through the Bible things become more historical.

The NT is not mythological at all. The Resurrection of Christ is an historical event and can be argued as such (see Resurrection page). Christ is a flesh and blood historical person who can be validated as having existed. The resurrection is set in an historical setting, names, dates, places are all historically verifiable and many have been validated. So the major point I'm making is that God uses myth to communicate to humanity. The mythical elements create the sort of psychological healing and force of literary strength and guidance that any mythos conjures up. God is novelist, he inspires myth. That is to say, the inner experience model led the redactors to remake ancient myth with a divine message. But the Bible is not all mythology; in fact most of it is an historical record and has been largely validated as such.

The upshot of all of this is that there is no need to argue evolution or the great flood. Evolution is just a scientific understanding of the development of life. It doesn't contradict the true account because we don't have a "true" scientific account. In Genesis, God was not trying to write a science text book. We are not told how life developed after creation. That is a point of concern for science not theology.

How do we know the Bible is the Word of God? Not because it contains big amazing miracle prophecy fulfillments, not because it reveals scientific information which no one could know at the time of writing, but for the simplest of reasons. Because it does what religious literature should do, it is transformative.

No need for Halfway House

 I have been in good discussions with evangelicals who knew their stuff and who intelligently argued that the ancestors of Abraham got the story of the creation form God and they kept it and the Pagans wrote it first, but the Hebrews kept it going orally and wrote it down latter. That may be possible but not likely. It's really dependent upon a lot of unlikely thing, such as an oral tradition that spans a thousand years with no written back up, then appeal to God to keep it going. It's not necessary to make that kind of gymnastic argument when we could just so much economically recognize that it's not meant to be a literal history. It does not have to be a literal history. Myth communicates with the psyche and that's the point of the story. That's why they use those pagan myths, becuase they communicate through he archetypes. Hebrew slaves in Babylon turned the story on its head. They probably combined it with their own Canaanite myths which were similar. Then they turned the story on its head saying "it's our God that was creator." That is not a lie and it's not a stretch becuase they are talking about the true creator. It is the case that in Hebrew religious genius they recognized the economy of one God and one reality behind it all.

[1] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and The Profane: the Nature of Religion. New York: Harcourt, 1987, original English translation, 1959.
[2] Article on Carl Kerenyi in Wikipedia: accessed 8/28/13.
[3] Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces: the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell. New World Library, third edition, 2008. Original publication was 1949.
[4] ibid. 1.
[5] Gaalyah Cornfeld, Archaeology of the Bible: Book by Book. New York: Harpercollins; 1st pbk. ed edition (May 1982) (originally 1976).
[6] "Chaldean Account of Genesis: Chapter V Babylonian Legend of Creation." Wisdom Library on line resource. accessed 8/28/13.
[7]Pete Enns, "Genesis 1 and Babylonian Creation Story." The Biologos Forum: Science and Faith in Dialogue. blog: accessed 8/28/13.
Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Nature of Biblical Revelation


Atheists on the internet are always talking about contradictions in the Bible. These alleged contradictions fall into many categories. Most can be extinguished simply by remembering that all language had connotative meanings and all good writing uses literary devices, but many are based upon an inadequate understanding of the nature of divine revelation. The problem is that most of these atheist notions of "contradiction" are only contradictions becuase they are judged according to the fundamentalist model, veral plenary inspiration, (aka "inerrancy") by which the Bible is understood as literal and perfect. Actually the model used for this concept is similar to the notion of the boss of company writing a memo to the employees. Dictated to a secretary but every word in the memo is exactly what the boss wants to say, the whole is literally the word the of the boss.

The problem with the notions of revelation in the Christian tradition is that they are based upon the human understanding of what God would do. The human notion can be seen with the Book of Mormon—handed down from angels on high on Gold tablets—or the Koran—dictated by an Angel who grabbed Mohammed by the throat and forced him to write. The human notion tells us that there should be no mistakes, no problems, and the revelation should be ushered in with fanfare and pomp, clear and indisputable. But that is not the way of many religious traditions, and certainly not Christianity. There are problems, and even though most of them are conceived by ignorant people (most of the Internet atheists claims to "contradictions in the Bible" are based largely on not understanding metaphor or literary devices), there are some real problems and they are thorny. There are even more problems when it comes to the historicity of the text. But the important thing to note is that the revelations of the Christian faith are passed through human vessels. They contain human problems, and they are passed on safeguarded through human testimony. Even if the eye-witness nature of the individual authors of the NT cannot be established, the testimony of the community as a whole can be. The NT and its canon is a community event. It was a community at large that produced the Gospels, that passed on the Testimony and that created the canon. This communal nature of the revelation guarantees, if not individual authenticity, at least a sort of group validation, that a whole bunch of people as a community attest to these books and this witness.

What is needed is a new model. We need a model that allows for the mistakes of culture and the presence of the kinds of texts we find in ancient lore, mythological and symbolic in places, becuase this is what we find in the Biblical text. The memo from the boss doesn't work as a model for the Bible becasue it's not faithful to the real way the word is handed down. A better model  would be a personal reminiscence with someone who interviewed the boss. That would allow for the personality of the author to get between the reader and the original subject matter, becuase that is what we find in the Bible.

The Traditional view of "Inerrancy."

Most people tend to think in terms of all or nothing, black and white, true and false. So when they think about the Bible, they think it's either all literally true in every word or it can't be "inspired." This is not only a fallacy, but it is not even the "traditional" view. Even in the inherency camp there exists three differing views of exactly what is inerrant and to what extent. Oddly enough, the notion of verbal inspiration was invented in the Renaissance by Humanists! Yes, the dreaded enemy of humanism actually came up with the doctrine of inerrancy which didn't exist before the 19th century, in its current form, but which actually began in the Renaissance with humanists. The documentation on this point comes mainly from Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation, New York: Double Day, 1985. The humanist argument is documented on p. 36. He also demonstrates that the current Evangelical view basically dates form the 19th century, the Princeton movement, and people such as Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921). Proponents of this view include Carl C.F. Henry, Clark Pinnock, James I Packer, Francis Shaffer, Charles Warwick Montgomery, and others.

Not all of those guys stayed in the camp of the evangelicals. The late Clark Pinnock for example, who started out as a read hot fundie who taught Paige Patterson, wound up being identified with "open theology" Regarded as a defector. Yet these are all models of revelation that were found in the evangelical camp. These are conservative views, at least according to Avery Dulles, in his ground breaking book Models of Revelation.

Dulles Lists Five Versions of Inerrancy.

*Inerrency of original autographs and divine protection of manuscripts.
Proponents of this view include Harold Lindsell.

Inspiration of autographs with minor mistakes in transmission of an unessential kind.
Carl C.F. Henry.

*Inerrency of Textual intention without textual specifics.
Clark Pinnock.

*Inerrancy in Soteric (salvation) knowledge but not in historical or scientific matters.
Bernard Ramm

*Inerrent in major theological assertions but not in religion or morality.
Donald Blosche and Paul K. Jewett

I would isolate three major concerns in discussing why I reject inerrency (verbal plenary) model. I'm not putting these over as "contradictions in the Bible," but they problems with the model:

(1) Doesn't account for different types of text

(2) Idealized history

(3) no room for mythology
Knowing the kind of text is important because not all texts are meant to do the same things. Gensis is not intended to be a scientific text book or a literal history of creation. It's a borrowing of pagan myth (Sumerian, Babylonian) that was probably re-worked when Israelites were in the exile. It doesn't matter if it's not scientific, the author of Genesis had no concept of modern science it wasn't written to convey to us anything scientific. The spiritual truths that it communicates are communicated mythological, Mythology is a powerful psychological means of communicating certain kinds of truth. The History offered of Israel's sojurn in the wildernes and the establishment o the kingdom in the promised land is all idealized history. Modern archeology basically rules out most of the events in the conquest of Canaan. The point is they were making idealized history, recounting the glory of the past because they were slaves in exile.  There are better models of revelation that more accurately reflect these concerns.

Basic Models of Revelation:

Dulles presents five models of revelation, but the faith model really amounts to little more than "the Bible helps you feel good," so I am presenting only four. This core summery will not come close to doing justice to these views. But time and space limitations do not allow a discourse that would do them justice.

Revelation as History:

The Events themselves are inspired but not the text. John Ballie, David Kelsey, James Barr. This view can include oral events; the inspiration of the prophets, the early kerygma of the church (C.H. Dodd) Creedal formulation, as well as historical events such as the atonement. This view was largely held by a flood of theologians up to the 1960s. According to this view the Bible is the record of revelation not revelation itself.

Revelation as Inner Experience:

This view would include mystical experience and views such as Frederich Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence (see argument III on existence of God). Religious doctrines are verbalizations of the feeling; the intuitive sense of the radical contingency of all things upon the higher aegis of their existence; part of the religious a priori.

Revelation as Doctirne:

This is the basic doctrine of inerrancy as stated above. In most cases it is believed that the autographs were inspired but some allow for mistakes in transmission and other inaccuracies of an inconsequential nature. This means that 90% of the criticisms made my atheists and skeptics on the internet don't count, because most of them turn on metaphorical use of language or scribal error. I take this position based upon personal experience on many apologetic boards.

Revelation as Dialectical Presence:

The view that there is a dialectical relation between the reader and the text. The Bible contains the word of God and it becomes the word of God for us when we encounter it in transformative way. Karl Barth is an example of a major theologian who held this view.

No one of these views is really adequate. I urge a view based upon all of them. In some sense, that is, the Bible manifests versions of each of these views. So it is not just governed by one revelatory model, but is made of redacted material which exhibits all of these views. For example, the prophets spoke from their experience of God--their inner experience of God's prompting. Their words are recorded as the books of the prophets in the Bible. The Biblical prophetic books are then the written record of the inner experience of these men. The Gospels exhibit all of these tendencies. Passed on from oral tradition, redacted by members of the communities which passed on the traditions, they represent the written record of the events of Christ's life and ministry. In that sense the events themselves were inspired. But Jesus teachings, which we can assume were transmitted accurately for the most part, represent the word actually spoken by Jesus, and thus by God's perfect revelation to humanity. Jesus is the revelation; the Gospels are merely the written record of that revelation passed on by the Apostles to the communities. Thus we see both the event model and the revelation as doctrine model (traditional view). In the Epistles we see the inner-experience model clearly as Paul, for example, did not know that he was writing the New Testament. He demonstrates confusion at points, as when (in I Corinthians) he didn't recall how many of Stephan’s household he had baptized, but when it came to his answers on doctrinal matters he wrote out of the inner-experience of God. We can also assume that the redactions occurred in relation to some sort of inner-experience, they reflect some divine guidance in the sense that the redactors are reflecting their own experiences of God.

I know these views sound wildly radical to most Christians, but they are based on the works of major theologians, including those of the most conservative schools. The dialectical model is vague and sounds unimpressive. It really seems to be tautological statement: the word of God becomes meaningful when we encounter it in a meaningful way. Therefore, I adopt a model of revelation based upon all four models (granting that we do encounter it in more meaningful ways at some times than at others, but provided we understand that this is not saying that it ceases to be the word of God when we don't so encounter it), and of the doctrinal model accepting the views that say inerrant in intent but not specific transmission. The transmission includes some mistakes but of a minor kind.

My own model is a dialectical encounter model. It sees the Biblical text as the product of an encounter between humans and the divine. The upshot of the counter could take many forms. In some cases its a straight forward reporting of "this is what the Lord says." In some cases a reminiscence, in some cases a redaction of a borrowed myth as in the re-telling of the Sumerian Garden of Eden story. It's political propaganda and idealized history told by slaves in a foreign land to memorialize the glories of their bygone people, to preserve the faith. The purpose of all of that is to form a framework for the mission of Jesus as messiah. It's dialectical in that it works through an encounter between the reader and the text. The reader must have her own "divine-human" encounter in coming to understand the nature of the text and the truths it reflects for her own life.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Does the Bible Really Teach that Hell is Eternal Conscious Torment, part 2

 photo night-on-bald-mountain1_zpsf1e1b320.jpg
"night on bald mountain--Disney's Fantasia--
the music of Mussorgsky, folk tale about the devil and hell.

 In part one I argue that hell is figurative and symbolic since there are no long passages where it is explicit fleshed out exactly what hell is and how it works. It wasn't part of the Hebrew faith originally but came to them from the Greeks. It was imaged by the pit outside Jerusalem where garbage was burned (Gehenna) that became the standard symbol of hell. Yet it's origin was probalby in the Greek notion of Tartarus in the Greek underworld, the place of the dead. In the OT there is a Hebrew notion of the place of the dead to which all go, in most cases where the OT says "Hell" it really says "sheol" meaning "the grave" or the abode of the dead. In Part 1 I argued that hell is almost always mentioned in relation to figurative language or parables or apocalyptic. In this section I want to deal with passage that are literal and that we don't take figuratively. I want to deal with the meaning of hell.  I will also try to deal with some questions raised in the comment section on part 1.

I first began to really think seriously about the injustice of hell in college. I had always all my life thought about how much more sever the punishment was than the crime. I was always willing to accept it as some form of absolute, in the ideal realm. Then a friend of mine in college, a Catholic, said "I don't like the idea of hell because no one learns anything. It's a waste." he was telling me about Vatican II and how they take a more symbolic understanding of hell. This changed my thinking becuase it wasn't just a question of stretching the severity of sin to justify the severity of the punishment, it clearly put into the perspective the whole illogical nature of the punishment itself. After all, if God is love (1 John 4:8), and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) yet we should believe that the source of all love and goodness would torture us mercilessly for all eternity and fear that torment to the extent that we act on that fear to do right rather than on love? Of course one need not reject hell as eternal conscious torment (ECT) to see the fallacy in that kind of exegesis. Nevertheless this is does point to the notion that there's a lot more going on in understanding the Gospel clearly than just carrot and stick. Haven't we always known that?

Some people think they are being he men when they support the illogical. It's just a matter of talking tough. Peter Kreet uses this tact in saying "perfect fear casts out luv." He spells it luv to get across the idea that he's not saying we should cast out agape but the wishy washy unmanly kind of sisy love that doesn't accept the scary ferocity of God's wrath. We can't use God's wrath or the concept of "fear of the Lord" (which Kreet is using) to justify hell as ECT. That's just circular reasoning. The illogical and waste of  the hell concept (no one learns it's all over) strips us of redemption; then you are going to be burning on fire for always just because you grew up in a culture where Jesus wasn't' understood as an iconic symbol? The illogic of that concept is supposed to be made up for by saying we are being tough? The Bible tells us to fear the Lord. That is not an excuse to accept the circular reasoning that would interpret hell as ECT because doing so seems to be more Manly or more zealous than not, then pretending like we are doing real exegesis by just enforcing the prejudice as an exegetical key to wisdom. The fear of the Lord is natural and part of our make up as humans. We don't have to make ourselves have it, we just have to accept it for what it means. It's not a exegetical tool, nor is it predicated upon belief in hell. I fear God believing that damnation means ceasing to exist. I don't believe that God will lose his temper and huff and puff red faced through me into hell because I didn't understand a doctrine. That's not faith.

I think Christians and atheists or skeptics have a secret fear in relation to hell. I think Christians fear that if they mess up on some core doctrine like ECT then their salvation will be revoked and they will be heretics and go to hell. The rule of thumb ought to be that reading passages based secret fears of God losing his temper is not love and what is not love is not faithful. I think the secret fear of the skeptic is a lot more complex. I'll get to that at the end of the essay. We need to understand why the seeming literal passages don't teach hell as ECT.

 One problem in dealing with the literal passages is knowing what they are. It is very tempting to take as litteral passages that are actually figurative. For example Mat 8: 5:

  And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
 It's tempting to say "O Jesus is talking about some place of weeping and gnashing of teeth,that must mean hell, this has to be literal because the things prior to this phrase are literal." That doesn't make this literal. First of all Jesus is giving a veiled answer because he doesn't wan to say directly "my own people are a bunch of slobs because they wont accept me." He's talking about Jews. He's not necessarily saying they are going to hell, the passage still works if we assume his answer is a symbolic one dealing with the idea of losing their place, or being outside the kingdom. The recurrent phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" used often in relation to eternal damnation must be some kind of euphemism. Even if does mean hell it's not a enlightening description. It probably plays upon the symbolism of hell as reference to spiritual death. The passage still works if we make that assumption. But it's clearly not a literal statement. It seems euphemistic. It works just as well if annihilation rather than eternal conscious torment is implied.

 There are passages where Jesus seems to threaten the pharisees with hell, and it's not a pleasant cease to exist hell: Mt 23:33 "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" First of all that passage still works if it's about a state of ceasing to exist. Think about it: Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of ceasing to exist forever?" Works for me. Secondly, it is a prophetic exclamation that evokes the judging aspect of hell. As a symbol of spiritual death that's an appropriate allusion for the shaming of pharisees. There's no real reason to understand it as ECT. We are just moved to do so by the historical association of the word "hell," or words like damnation. That's just begging the question to assume a prori that damnation must be eternal conscious torment and not annihilation.

We need to note the comparision of life and death in relation to salvation and damnation. These are figurative. The words for live (zoe) and death (thanatos) mean literally to be alive or be dead. we  put the special meaning on them by applying them to eternal existence. The Biblical text does this too in borrowing the use of Greek terms. There are other terms used than these but these are the major ones. For life terms such as bios and psyche (biosphere and psyche like psychology).  The converse is loften tranltsed as destruction (the destruction of their souls). 2 Pete 3:16 "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."(NIV) suntrimma: that which is broken or shattered, a fracture calamity, ruin, destruction. So if we are talking a vase we would know it's literal. Applied to eternal state of affairs in a religious context is necessarily figurative. Annihilation seems pretty much like destruction to me. There is also olethros = destruction: uin, destroy, death "for the destruction of the flesh, said of the external ills and troubles by which the lusts of the flesh are subdued and destroyed"

There are a couple of passages using olethros that might be taken literally. 2Th 1:9 "Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power"(NIV). That one seems pretty literal. The destruction is ever lasting but it doesn't say it's conscious. It says from the presence of the Lord which might imply conscious but not stated. Annihilation would also fit. To be exterminated and go while one doesn't sense the Lord's presence would be terrible, but as as inhumane as ECT. The illogic of cruelty is not as sever in this view point. Yet I think the awe inspiring aspect is there. The passage does not say ECT. Then we have 1Ti 6:9 "But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." (NIV). That also can be taken as annihilation.  Also the only word used for Perdition in the NT. Perdition means destruction and its' used in connotation of damnation. Ro 9:22 "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." Destruction here no reason why it can't equal annihilation.

 The word used here for perdition is (cross-walk, Strong's):
ap-o'-li-a Noun Feminine

1. destroying, utter destruction
1. of vessels
2. a perishing, ruin, destruction
1. of money
2. the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell

The definition says it means destruction in hell. That is a gloss by crosswalk or Stong's, it is not a true definition of the word. It's a interpretation based upon reading back Christian doctrine into the meaning of the text, this is a constant short coming of religious lexicons. This is why one should always use Liddell and Scott, it has no theological bias. Lidell and Scott's Intermediate Lexicon, the term is derived form the word apollumai to destroy utterly, to waste utterly. Nothing about hell in it. (p88).

 There are really no literal passages that clearly say "Hey the alternative to eternal life is eternal conscious torment." The door is wide open to read it as cessation of existence rather than ECT. There's nothing unchrsitain about it, even though yes it is unconventional. It's not sissy it's not abandoning the tough manly way of scaring the bageezers out of children. Before dealing lastly with that secret fear of the skeptic I will try to answer the questions posed in the comment section.

davidk says:

If God is just, then the punishment fits the crime. The caveat here is, What is the proper sentence for rejecting the work of Jesus Christ? Is it a greater sin than all other sins?
 I think God looks on the heart. I have no proof of this, one can probably find lots of passages that seem to contradict it, but I just dont' see God as stacking up brownie points and weighing little matters to equal big ones. I think it's all based upon what the heart (that is the deeper will) is doing. If we are seeking God at all coast not out of fear but out of real love, then God is for us and gives us grace and that covers a multitude of sins. Of cousre it just makes logical sense that rejecting the work of Christ is going to be more of an umbrella effect because that would cover all bases. You are rejecting the whole package at once. I stopped seeing hell as "punishment" a long time ago. I know one can find punishment related passages especially in the pharisee communities that produced Matthew.* I see hell as a natural proclivity for those who reject God in their inner most being and they move toward annihilation and away form the life which is Christ. It's just an automatic deal like magnetic force and iron. We do have the freedom of will to go back but there may be a tipping point.

Another question: If one is guilty of one sin and is, therefore, guilty of all, is the person who has led "good" life as reprehensible as a child molester? 

 That's a problem. I am sure there are Catholic theologians (they distinguish between "moral" and "venial" sins) who ponder this laboriously. Even if there is some equalizing of guilt in the ultimate realm, I doubt that God expects us to think this way. We love God we want to please God, we don't want to sin. We don't excuse sin that doesn't mean we need to feel as guilty about spitting on the side walk as we would about mass murder. If we  must think "O God wont hold this agaisnt me it's too trivial" we are thinking the wrong way about pleasing God. We should be thinking "whatever the case may be God's grace is sufficient for me." DavidK had other concerns I'lll answer them in the context of his comments. He points out that the fires of hell are eternal and that God is an all consuming fire, he's asking about a preacher's notion that God himself is the fires of hell. That strikes me as coming form the literalistic school because we can't stack up all metaphors in the Bible and assume they are all literal and they all refer to the same things. For example Lucifer is compared to the morning star ("son of the morning") Isaha 14:12), but Jesus is said to be morning star 2 Pete 1. We cannot assume that Lucifer and Jesus are one and the same. We just assume the metaphor can be applied to both. The question about eternal hell fire assumes the fire is literal. That doesn't mean that the eternal aspect is not the duration of annihilation. There's always the secret fear that hell is literal and if I make the wrong mistake God will blow up and send me there.

That leads me to the secret fear of the skeptics. I believe that  great deal of what motivates atheists on message boards is that secret fear, it's the fear of the believer that they never got over from their "believer days." I think that means they were not strong. Notice, I am not saying they weren't saved. I'm not saying they weren't born again. One can be born again and not grow. One can remain a spiritual infant all one's life. They can't let go of whatever the issue was that took them out of sinc with the faith and they still fear at some level (although they vehemently deny it) that it will all turn out to be the way they secretly feared it would. I don't see that fear accomplishing anything valid. It doesn't prevent them from giving up the faith, it may motivate them to hate God. This is atheists who were fundamentalist. It may not apply to those raised as atheists. A funny thing about those guys. They will say "Christianity is stupid it's all no good. I am totally done with it every aspect of it." Then tell them "I am a liberal theologically, why don't you consider liberal theology?" They will say 'O you are the bastards that are destroying the faith!" I've had long haranges with them and baited them with liberal theology to the ponit that they sound exactly like fundies. Guys who professed totall hatred for the Bible suddenly love it, they have such deep respect for the people who just the other day they called idiots, because they at least are not so stupid to be libeals! why? They don't know.

It's not like they read liberal theology. I have seen atheist claim that liberal theologians are always stupid. Ok show me one, tell his name and what you read by him... [Crickets chirping]... They have not read a page of liberal theology but they are so convinced they are stupid. Then they go on to say all the same stuff extreme fundies say about them. In the Atlantic Larry Alex Taunton writes an article about "Listening to the Young atheist" and some of those guys seem really home sick for the fundie days.

 Now the president of his campus's SSA, Phil was once the president of his Methodist church's youth group. He loved his church ("they weren't just going through the motions"), his pastor ("a rock star trapped in a pastor's body"), and, most of all, his youth leader, Jim ("a passionate man"). Jim's Bible studies were particularly meaningful to him. He admired the fact that Jim didn't dodge the tough chapters or the tough questions: "He didn't always have satisfying answers or answers at all, but he didn't run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart."

 I don't take what they say about literal theology seriously becuase they don't know anything about. These guys are clearly in love with an era in their past when they had  youth group that spoke to them and a youth pastor they could admire and they felt at home and they will want to defend the faith from the concerns of that time but some unanswered thing that goes under the heading of "the rational" that led them off and they can't go back.  Well they can't go back because the feel damned I would think. There are a lot of things we don't understand about that situation, and a more exacting research is needed. One thing of which I am certain I don't see the notion of hell as ECT playing a postiive role in any of that. It's not scaring them into staying and it may be part of the reason they leave it certainly plays a role in their animosity toward God.

In both sections of this essay I used great was the graphic. In part 1 Dore's illustration of Dante, and in this one the "Night on Bald Mountain." That's great music of Mussorgsky and superb animation of early Disney. I use the greatness of art to reflect the iconic nature of the hell concept. I think that's it's best feature rather than control through fear, is the metaphor is powerful, and the metaphor is mightier than the literal fear. It's also redemptive. Art if healing and we see the end of the animated scene the daemonic reveling is suddenly interrupted by the ringing of the chruch bell and the demons have no choice but to go back to hell. That is evocative of the healing and redemptive power of grace. Hell as the symbol of spiritual death, judgement and damnation is also by contrast raises the possibility  of salvation.

 see the Night on Bald Mountain excerpt from Fantasia.

 *Because of what Mat says about "the pharisees sit in the seat of Moses so do what they say." I see the Mat community as Pharisee. It was told to us in Acts that many Pharisees had come over to Jesus after his resurrection. The reason is because if they weren't Pharisee they would never say they have the seat of Moses that's what the whole issue with Qumran was about; the faction that became the pharisees stole the priesthood from the Zadakites.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Does the Bible Really Teach That Hell is Eternal Conscious Torment? part 1

 photo inferno1_zps4fba85df.jpg
from Gustave Doré's (1832-1883) illustrations of Dante's Inferno

I do not believe that the Bible actually teaches that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment. By that I mean, hell is not a place where people who sin and disbelieve are sent to be punished and tortured. I don't believe that God would torture anyone. I certainly don't believe that hell is a place where one is conscious eternally. While I do think that hell is judgment I don't think it's a place where people are conscous eternally of being punished.  I think first of all "going to hell" Is a symbol of spiritual death. That it's a judgement in after life, but rather than leading to eternal conscious torment it leads to the total annihilation of existence. I don't believe that everyone is automatically saved.

My thesis is this: (1) The Bible uses the conept of hell as a symbol of judgment and spiritual death.

(2) It is clearly talking about something, some negative consequence from "hell," but that is not a place of literal fire and brimstone, rather, the "place" of torment is a symbol of spiritual death that comes from being judged.

(3) Judgment comes from rejecting God and closing the heart to truth, it is not something God ordained to befall the rebellious, but an automatic separation that we initiate and we have the power to change while we live, by responding to God's love. The more we turn our backs on God and pout the deeper we get into sepeartion and God cannot do anything about it if we are determined to separate ourselves.

(4) When I say "God can't do anything about it," yes could have made the original set up different, but only by sacrificing other things, such as free will, which very important.

thus I am saying God is limited to logical necessity. He cannot make two contradictory states of affairs that truly contradict logically. Thus to have the valuable aspects of free will and moral decision making there must be consequences which we initiate through our rebellion and which God cannot change given the facts. Specifically I believe that those who reject God and die in separation from God cease to exist. That is fair and humane since that's what they expect anyway. The atheist chooses to cease to exist but in disbelieving he expects this anyway. One must agree it is certainly more compassionate than eteranl conscious torment. The talk we find of flames and darkness is symbolic. It is symbolic of the dread of being judged and condemned, and symbolic of spiritual death. I believe the Bible teaches this and we can examine the passages and see for ourselves.

First, there is no such set up in the OT. There is situation such that good go to heaven to paradise to be rewarded and the bad go to hell to be tormented. This concept was unknown to the Hebrews. It is common knowledge that the Hebrews believed that everyone went to "the pit" or Sheol, which is translated "the grave." This is the idea of the realm of the dead. Everyone went there, not as punishment but that's just the way it was. There were exceptions such as prophets who were taken up to heaven to be with God, but basically no one expected the reward from heaven or the punishment of hell. All that came in this life. The concept of hell came from the Hellenistic culture of the Greeks, imposed upon the Hebrew world in the intertestamental period, though the conquest of the Selucids who succeeded Alexander the Great. But the Hebrews found a corresponding symbol for "tortarus" the Greek Hell, in the valley of Gehenna where they burned trash outside Jerusalem. We know this was a symbol and symbolic use since it was a literal physical place in history. Secondly, I believe that hell is unjust and counter productive. Unjust because eternal torment as punishment for finite sin is just not fair. No amount of pias sanctimony can make it fair. God would not be unfair. Moreover, counterproductive because no one learns anything form hell. I see atheists all the time expressing the attitude "I'm going to hell anyway so what does it matter?" It's not a good idea and the more I think aobut it the more like the solution of a small child it seems. It is not taught in the bible so let's get to it and look at the scholarship and see. Some scholars understand Paul to teach that the wicked disappear. I find this in accord with views I had already come to before I found this article, and before I saw that in Paul:

from a book review (this review is no located on High beam).

"The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds." - book reviews
Commonweal, May 5, 1995 by Carl L. Bankston, III

Although the Christian message was, from the beginning, concerned primarily with eternal life, the theme of eternal punishment emerged from apocalyptic Judaism in the pages of the New Testament. Bernstein's reading of the New Testament, however, indicates a diversity of understandings of this punishment among the authors of the Scriptures. Saint Paul, emphasizing the positive teachings of the faith, did not express a clear vision of hell and seems to have implied that the wicked would eventually simply disappear. The authors of the synoptic Gospels, by contrast, describe pains of eternal damnation that balance the joys of eternal salvation.

My view is grounded in St. Paul. The main overview of Biblical teaching is one of diversity. There is no standarized set of explicit assumptions about the nature of heaven and hell. The ancinet Hebrews did not have that view.

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures Volume 5 (2004-2005)

Philip S. Johnston, Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002). Pp. 288. Paper, US$22.00. ISBN 0-8308-2687-4.

This volume builds upon Johnston’s 1988 Belfast MTh thesis and his 1993 Cambridge PhD dissertation, but constitutes a substantial reworking and expansion of that material. The result is a comprehensive study that is accessible to non-specialists without sacrificing extensive interaction with scholarly literature on the subject. The material itself is organized under four main categories: Death, The Underworld, The Dead and The Afterlife.

Johnston demonstrates the Hebrew lack of biphercated afterlife:

Finally, Johnston address the question of an Afterlife, a late development in Israelite religious thought. Although Elijah and Elisha bring dead children back to life, Enoch “walked with God” and Elijah ascended in a flaming chariot, none of these were considered normal nor hoped for by others. The only clear references to bodily resurrection occur in Isa 26:19 and Daniel 12:2; extra-biblical references to resurrection (e.g., 2 Macc 7; 14; 1 Enoch 51:1; 61:5; 62:15, 4Q521:12, etc.) date from the 2nd century BCE on, which is consistent with the date of the two biblical texts. Despite afterlife beliefs in the surrounding nations, however, Johnston finds little evidence of direct influence and instead claims that Israel’s eventual belief in an afterlife is rooted in its experience of YHWH’s faithfulness and ongoing presence in their history, eventually understood as extending beyond death itself.
This view is actually pretty standard among scholars.

BNET reprint Comonweal, Ibid

I found Bernstein's close reading of the Hebrew Bible and of the Book of Enoch, the major piece of evidence outside the writings of Josephus of a late antique Jewish belief in punishment after death, more original than his review of Greco-Roman ideas. Much of the latter seems to rest on scholarly interpretations that have long been common currency. This may be a matter of familiarity, however, and Bernstein does bring together a great deal of material in a highly readable style, so that almost anyone will find some new ideas and information in the collection of pre-Christian beliefs assembled here.

That says that punishment in after life was an idea the Jews had in late antiquity.We can see from the use of the termenology for "Hell" that the modern concepts with which fundamentalists are embeaued and atheists are outragged are just no there. The only word used for "hell" in the OT is Sheol, which does not mean hell and does not corrospond to genhena, it means "gave." It's death or the place of the dead, not necessarily a place of torment.

from the same commweal review of Bertstien's article:

The most common term for the Underworld itself is Sheol but even it appears infrequently. The term never appears in third person narrative nor legal material, but only in first person contexts: i.e., an individual encounters Sheol directly and personally. Clear synonyms include bôr, bĕʾēr, and šaḥat (all meaning “pit”) and ʾăbaddôn (“destruction”); Johnston also considers a number of texts in which either earth\ground or water may also be synonyms for Sheol but concludes, “Water, like earth, is associated with the underworld, but is not confused with it.” (p. 124). Descriptions of Sheol are sparse, but it is a place where existence simply continued, without any vital experience for the dead. The term itself may have derived from the god Šu-wa-la, mentioned in texts from Emar, who is either a minor underworld deity or another name for Ereshkigal, the Queen of the underworld, but any divine associations had been lost by the Israelite period. Ibid

Sheol (OT) translated Hell really means "the Grave."

We can see that Sheol means the grave by the use made of Crosswalk software in its Heberw lexicon.Crosswalk takes its Hebrew from Strongs and Vines. Both are inadequate, but cross walk smooths them out and waters them down even more with interprative definitions. Thus we can see what I'm talking about in the use they make of words, but they also add their own effects. Crosswalk defition of Sheol

Sh@'owl TWOT - 2303c
Phonetic Spelling Parts of Speech
sheh-ole' Noun Feminine

1. sheol, underworld, grave, hell, pit
1. the underworld
2. Sheol - the OT designation for the abode of the dead
1. place of no return
2. without praise of God
3. wicked sent there for punishment
4. righteous not abandoned to it
5. of the place of exile (fig)
6. of extreme degradation in sin

It does say the grave and abode of the dead but when everything else it says reflects that it adds, wicked sent there for punishment. But it can't produce one verse to say that. There are no verses in the OT that say wicked are sent to sheol for punishment.

For a list of passages using Sheol in the OT go here.

Definition of  Gehenna (hell) in the NT.

on Crosswalk:

Hell is the place of the future punishment call "Gehenna" or "Gehenna of fire". This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.
Essentially it says it's a symbol. The literal is a valley where they burn garbage.

The first passage seems to be quite literal, but if we consider it a little more in depth we can see it does not support eternal conscious torment. Mt 5:22
"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Hell used figuratively

Jesus is here using hell as a figure of speech, a poetic image, to illustrate the depth of depravity in defaming another human being by calling him "a fool." He builds a progregtion of wrongs and their consequences:

anger with brother: go to court

call brother name: go to supreme court

Call brother a fool: worthy of hell.

Wrong, more wrong, most wrong. Its' a means of illustrating the depth of wickedness in disvaluing others. He does not say in that passage "hell is a real litteral place." doesn't say it's eternal conscious torment.

The next two are in the same context and one is just a reinforcement of the other. They are both symbolic uses and serve to illustrate Jesus' sarcasm toward excuses to sin:

Mt 5:29 "And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Mt 5:30 "And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell.

these are both in the same context. The are clearly figurative and hyperbole. It's totally ridiculous to think that Jesus would really command us to cut off our hands or pluck out our eyes to keep from lusting>

The immediate context is about holy living:

17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law R135 or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until R136 heaven and earth pass away, not the F65 smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others F66 to do the same, shall be called least in R137 the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps F67 and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 "For I say to you that unless your righteousness R138 surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

He's talking about righteousness surpassing the pharisees, but the pharisees were super legalistic and built a fence around the law to assure compliance in the most legalistic fashion. How could anyone be more legalistic then they were? He's not talking about being legalistic, or even literalistic. He says heaven and earth shall pass away before the word of God will. Sot he basic premise with which he deals is living out the word of God. He's concerned with actually keeping the spirit of the law. Go further in context:

Now of course atheists are going to say that he really means this. They will say this is just part of the lunatic nature of religious extremism. AT the very least they will ask, as they always do, how I know it's hyperbolic. How does one ever know when a literary device is used? Many atheists have said to me "It's doesn't say it's a literary devise." Of course not, they never do! You are not supposed to say it, then it wouldn't be a device. Clearly it is because it's absurd to say pluck out your eye or cut off your hand. There's an easier way to tell. What do people say when they try to stop sinning and they can't? "I just can't do this, I can't stop lusting that's just the way I am made." Jesus is saying that is an excuse. You can stop it and if you think that's good excuse then surely its important enough that you should pluck out your eye or cut off your hand. But the point of it is of course that you don't have to do that, you can learn to control yourself if you really want to.

Given the high probability that this is figurative then it's obvious the consequence is also figurative, having the whole body cast into hell fire is figurative.

Mt 10:28 "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
He's using the poetic symbolism of hell as the ultimate drama, the ultiamte negative consequence to drive home the point that spiritual power is more important than physical power, that eteranl life is what's important.

Mt 23:15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Using the judgment aspect of hell to drive home the point of the hypocritical nature of the pharisees.

Mt 23:33 "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?

hell is a sentence. That doesn't make it eternal conscious torment. It is the symbol of spiritual death and the cessation of existence. The hypocrites wont escape the judgment aspects of hell. But that doesn't mean they will experience them eternally.

The same figurative ideas pertain. Jesus other uses of hell in parables such as the sheep and goats of Mat 25:33 also are clearly symbols since they are used in parables which by their nature are figures and symbols.

Not one of those passages says hell is eternal conscious torment. No verse actually says that. No verse in the Bible gives an expository description of what hell is or what it's about.

Tartaro One other words used for hell, Tartaro, or Tartarus in English, from Greek Myth.


1. the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews 2. to thrust down to Tartarus, to hold captive in Tartarus

Only verse used: 2Pe 2:4 "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;"

2Pete is not authoritative enough to build a whole theology upon. Most scholars believe it is pseudopgraphal, of late origin, and we don't know who wrote it. It either copies a large part fo Jude, or Jude copies it. Neither book shares the weight of the Gospels.

figurative sue in James

Jas 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

I think this is Gehenna. But It's clearly figurative he's speaking figuratively of the tung and comparing it to hell fire.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Wordgazer takes on Dave's Challenge

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Wordgazer is a friend I've known on the net for several years now. She's been a regular poster on my message boards form the old days on Sense of the Numinous (now defected) and has been there faithfully since Doxa forums started. She is a good friend, very bright, excellent writer. She has a blog. (Wordgazer's words) also (No Longer Quivering).

She's also brave, she's the only other person besides me who has taken a real swing at the challenge.

Wordgzer's answer:

A man and a woman are walking together through the woods. They begin to quarrel, and after a while they are thoroughly angry with one another. As they quarrel, they both feel that somehow the woods themselves are pulling back from them in fear of their anger, and that the very earth under their feet shudders as their feet touch it.

As they walk on in silence, with their faces turned away from one another, they are greeted by a man who is standing in the path. "Get out of the path!" the quarreling man and woman snap together, but the stranger doesn't move.

"I come to you from the love that formed the universe," the stranger says, holding out his hands. "Be reconciled to the love, and to one another."

But the man and the woman are still angry. "How can you say you come from the love? Do you think you're better than us?" And they pick up sticks and rocks, and kill the man.

As he falls at their feet, they look at one another in horror at what they've done, and they look at their hands, feeling out of sync now even with themselves. But what is running over their hands is liquid light, and as they look back down at the dead man in amazement, they see light pouring from his face as he opens his eyes and stands up again. They are terrified and turn to run, but he lays a warm hand on each of their shoulders.

"Let the love that formed the universe form you afresh," the man says, and suddenly they feel that he is no longer a stranger.

Peace fills them as they look into his face and see that he knows how sorry they are. As they walk on, hand in hand with him, it seems to them that the very woods are drawing near in friendship, and the earth under their feet rejoices.

Discussion on my board:

I said: "that's interesting that you put it in terms of another narrative, and that in terms of man and woman. You see the relation between the sexes as the root of the moral dilemma?

I guess you are less affected by the problems posed by abstract language and it's worn out nature than I am. I tried ot put it in terms of academic theo-speak."

she said:

 It's not that I see the relation between the sexes as the root of the moral dilemma, it's simply that I used a man and a woman to represent humanity as a whole. The conflict between the man and the woman represents the conflicts of all of humanity with one another.

Yes-- I think the abstract language can itself be the problem, in that it doesn't connect us emotionally to the nature of the gospel, which is in fact a story. I figured that a simple parable that retells the story without the original settings and characters, might capture the essence of the gospel in the way Dave was looking for.

Doxa Froums

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Raimon Panikkar, Christian Theologian for the New Centruy

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Raimon Panikkar

The Late Raimon Panikkar was born in Barcellona, Nov. 3, 1918, (died in sept 2010) to a Hindu father and a Christian Mother. He grew up in Spain with both traditions and just as comfortable with one as the other. In 1946 he became a Catholic Priest. He recieved a Ph.D. in Philosohpy and went to on to recieve a science degree from University of Maryland (1958) and in 1961 in Theology at Lateran University in Rome.He lived in India and the U.S. as well as Spain. He was visiting professor at Harvard in 1966 and taguht at University of California Santa Barbara in 70s and 80s. He's had a very distinguished academic career wining many prizes and awards. He is a comparative religionist who seeks to unite various faiths in a diverse range of understanding bound together by experience of the one God. God is beyond human understanding and utterly beyond humanity, yet intimately related and within the scope of our inner most being.[1] His major contribution to the world of theology is the unity of diverse religous elements he's worked out through his major concept, the Cosmotheandric or theo-anthropo-cosmic (dimension).

There are not three realities: God, Man, and the World; but neither is there one, whether God, Man or World. Reality is cosmotheandric. It is our way of looking that makes reality appear to us at times under one aspect, at times under another. God, Man, and World are, so to speak, in an intimate and constitutive collaboration to construct Reality, to make history advance, to continue creation: (The Triniity and the Religious Experience of man, London and New York 1975).[2]

He describes it in terms reminiscent of the undifferentiated unity of mystical experience. "The cosmotheandric intuition expresses the all embracing indissoluble union, that constitutes all of Reality: the triple dimension of reality as a whole: cosmic-divine-human. The cosmotheandric intuition is the undivided awareness of the totality."[3] The cosmotheandric awareness is undivided awareness of the Totality. Yet he describes this in Trinitarian terms: "the Trinitarian concept of reality." The triadic is intrinsic to reality. Divine, human, and cosmic reality are united in relationship. The aspiration to harmony--between God and humanity, and between cosmos and humanity--is established in reality when we are in accord presupposses manifestations of the structure of reality.

Now what does all of this mean other than a crescendo of the kind of abstract language Mauthner was using as an example of sickness? It's the basis of Panikkar's theological insight. He views western thought in a phenomenological way and understands the problem of modernity from the stand point of imposition of the subject/object dichotomy. He's habitually speaking in long strings of meaningless sounding academic-speak, yet I think it's very meaningful, just occupational hazard for anyone who lives in the academic world. What he's saying is that the enlighetmentment separated epistemology from ontology "by making knowledge the hunt for the object by the subject." That is a curial statement. It says that there should be a unity of subject and object, which a fundamentally phenomenological observation. This unity has been broken and a phony distinction imposed which causes the subject to objectify the other and to separating from the object rather allowing the sense data to suggest it's categories of thought. That's leads to setting preconceived filters into which sense data is grouped and thus we are not experiencing the world as it is but re-defining it according to an ideological standard.

Panikkar's answer is answer is linked to not only phenomenological method but Christian theology. "...rather the new innocence envelopes knowledge and the knower in the same act because it knows that the one is not given without the other”, without the relationship "(Ibid.).
If the Christian message means something, it is this experience of the cosmotheandric reality of all being, of which Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is the paradigm. In Christ Matter is not on its own, nor is Man on one side and God on the other; none of these intrinsically united dimensions surpass the others, so that it does not make sense to affirm that Christ is more divine than human, more worldly than heavenly, or vice versa. The veil of separation has been torn, and the integration of reality begins with the redemption of man” (Culto y secularización. Apuntes para una antropología litúrgica, Madrid 1979).[4]
Mann describes Panikkar's thought on God by saying "The true essence of Western thought about God is aided by Eastern thought which has a much more radical sense that God is beyond all categories or thought: God is found best in silence!."[5] That statement reminds me of my major phrase in describing phenomenology that the problem of metaphysics is that we institute as filters preconceived categories of thought in which we herd sense data. Phenomenologically we would allow the sense data to suggest its own categories. This is what the mystic does and this statement in as much as it reflects Panikkar's thought unities him with the mystics. Mann further smmarizes Panikkar in his view of Christ:

  1. Christology is primarily a function of the trinitarian structrue that is the expression of God’s relation to humankind and the cosmos
  2. Father, Son and Spirit describe the poles of the God-human-world relatedness within God’s own being and thus are about the "cosmotheandric" center of all being
  3. Thinking of Jesus in historical terms is a symptom of the obsession with historical time that is a disease in the West and which leads to imperialistic claims about universal truth [6]

In terms of his eccumenism he is quoted as saying: “I left Europe as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be Christian.”[7]

“He was one of the pioneers in opening up Christianity to other religions and learning from them,” Joseph Prabhu, a professor of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles, and the editor of “The Intercultural Challenge of Raimon Panikkar” (1996), said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We can see the new waves of Christianity moving toward the non-European world in the 21st century, and he prepared the ground for an authentic dialogue between Christianity and other faiths, and beyond that for the cross-cultural conversation which marks our globalized world.”[8]

Panikkar clearly believed that each faith could be enriched by dialogue with other faiths, interfaith dialogue was central to his methodology and his principles. "There is no reason for Christians to abandon the conviction that they have the true religion, if they well understand that they must find all their truth in a Christianity that is open and dynamic. This will lead to an authentic religious dialogue."[9]

a list of Pankikkar's works.


[1] Mark Mann, "Panikkar, Raimon," Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology, online resource, 1997, url:
 accessed 8/12/13.
[2] Official site - set up by Fundació Vivarium Raimon Panikkar – Tavertet (Cataluny accessed 8/12/13.

[3] ibid

[4] Panikkar, La nueva inocencia, Estella 1993 quoted on website, op. cit.

[5] Mann, op cit.

[6] ibid.

[7] William Grimes, "Raimon Panikkar, Catholic Theologian, is Dead at 91," New York Times (sept. 4, 2010)

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.