“We might not like it, but it’s in the Bible, so…”

I’m very much disturbed to see how often it is that Christians are so devoutly interested in upholding their scriptures that they don’t mind if either God or neighbor gets black and blue in the process.

The trick to being an evangelical these days seems to be the willingness to maintain that evil is not necessarily evil when it comes to God. Besmirching His character under the ironic cover of defending God, what passes for good Christian apologetics is actually much more of a defense of prized doctrines such as inerrancy or Augustinian/Reformed soteriology than the only thing worth defending, viz. God’s character. Defending both our carefully constructed doctrines and God’s character cannot always be done simultaneously because they are often at loggerheads (or else many popular apologists would be without a job). Slick, ear-tickling apologetics serve the much-in-demand function of reassuring people that the Bible is everything they think it needs to be in order for their faith to remain comfortable and unquestionable.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more successful result if someone were consciously trying to relieve Christians of their responsibility to grow up into mature men and women of God. Unlike what I wanted to believe long ago, I do not find it so easy to believe that the truth can be discerned by looking for “that than which nothing more counterintuitive can be conceived.” Now I am convinced that we need to be willing to question things that conflict with our conscience. In some cases, we may have to disagree with Scripture; in many others, we may find that we have simply been forcing something unnatural onto the text.

Regarding the atrocities of the Canaanite conquest: do you think it’s better to worship a God whose morality requires exceptions and redefinitions of key concepts than to live with the uncertainty that perhaps even the biblical authors were not fully aware of the depths of God’s grace? Are you content to excuse even the worst charges against God if by any means it vindicates your Bible and the comfortable theological confidence it gives you?

Regarding the destiny of unbelievers: are you willing to accept lying down the damnation of your unbelieving brothers and sisters, shrugging it off with a mere, “Like it or not, that’s what the Bible says”? Forgetting the examples of Moses and Paul, are you content to cling to that ill-founded defense in assurance that your own fate is secured? Search your heart: are you nursing a strong prejudice against the idea of inclusivistic or universalistic Christianity in order to ensure the relevance of your religion’s special claims? I beg you to reconsider your priorities. As with the brutalities described in the Old Testament, if the Bible truly does unequivocally aver that some souls can never be recovered (which I doubt), it should be the fervent hope of every lover of God that the Bible is wrong about it. Where is the passion for what is right and compassionate that motivated the characters of Job, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and Paul to contend with their Maker over their understanding of His words? “The Bible says it” simply isn’t good enough.

I’ll be blunt: Holy Scripture or “historic, orthodox” doctrines notwithstanding, the only way God is worth worshiping is if He’s good and loving through and through. I will not subjugate love to scarcely warranted glory or petty retribution disguised as justice. My faith is in a God whose soul is more lovely than ours, who has a higher, more wholesome sense of love and justice than we are able to walk in as humans. My hope is built on nothing less than this!

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  • Steve, do you WANT to fight me? Because I’m going to Georgia in a couple of weeks and I will throw down any time you want. 🙂

    • Hahaha! Thanks for a bit of levity — I didn’t want this to be so much a rant as an impassioned plea. I would love to talk it over when you come around — after meeting Ruthie, of course (important things first). 🙂

  • Steve,

    I love your zeal for the heart of a righteous God. However, the good news is that you do not have to forsake your faith in the Scriptures as the word of God in order to cling to that God you so rightly worship. All you have to forsake are the misunderstandings of the Scripture – whether those are the misunderstandings of conservatives or the misunderstandings of liberals.

    Alas, misunderstandings cannot be identified and shed quickly and easily. It takes time, and prayer, and obedience. Most of all, it takes reading the Bible through the eyes of Jesus Christ with a view to do rather than a view to opine on what’s been read.

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  • Wm Tanksley

    Now I am convinced that we need to be willing to question things that conflict with our conscience. In some cases, we may have to disagree with Scripture; in many others, we may find that we have simply been forcing something unnatural onto the text.

    It’s one thing to stand on one’s conscience because one’s conscience has been informed by Scripture (as Luther famously said). It’s another thing entirely to insist that one’s intuition is superior to the scriptures, no matter what they say.

    For millennia God did not reveal anything about the afterlife — He allowed the Hebrews to believe the same as the surrounding cultures, and they wrote down hints that range from annihilation to a gibbering spirit-world, both of which you see in the surrounding cultures. Then Christ came, and spoke confidently of heaven, hell, and the afterlife — “if it were not so, I would have told you…” Part of Christ’s appeal has been His confidence in what He says (“He spoke with authority, and not as the scribes”).

    do you think it’s better to worship a God whose morality requires exceptions and redefinitions of key concepts…”

    Do you know of a definition of ethics whose principles are iron laws that apply without exception? To the best of my knowledge, this is a feature of ethics: although the principles of ethics are universal and objective, their application all too often pits principles against each other, and one must give.

    You know this is true: God knew His creation would suffer, and yet He created, thereby causing the suffering He foresaw.

    I’m not saying that any of this excuses or defends any doctrine of hell. I’m saying that your objections do nothing against a doctrine of hell. They claim too much, and therefore are easily brushed aside. Many of the arguments of those on your side are more weighty and difficult.


    • But I do believe that my intuition has been informed by Scripture. I just don’t know on what basis you think we can presuppose that it all hangs together without conflict. We all pick and choose: I choose based on my conscience; you choose based on what makes a more systematic theology from a presupposition of inerrancy, which I have found gives us some horrendous results.

      To the best of my knowledge, this is a feature of ethics: although the principles of ethics are universal and objective, their application all too often pits principles against each other, and one must give.

      Indeed: I just refuse to allow the most basic principles of goodness and love evident even to children (“such as these”) to be what “gives”.

      I am certainly under no illusions that these objections disprove hell (as you implied, there are plenty of other arguments that problematize the concept), but that we should use the heart which God is supposed to be fashioning after His likeness within us to determine matters like this is surely something worth considering.

      • Wm Tanksley

        Even if we drop inerrancy and presume just enough historicity to allow us to believe the claims that are repeated and would be transmitted by witnesses and in the presence of witnesses, we still keep Jesus’ teachings about hell, though. I do admit that I’m still adjusting my perspective on preterism, so I may find myself losing some of the hell passages in favor of AD70; my jury’s still out on that.

        No, I don’t think we can use our hearts to determine matters in which we have no experience. We can use them to inform those matters, thus telling us that Dante didn’t get hell right, and that the flames, smoke, and darkness aren’t the actual story; but I don’t see how we can simply declare the whole thing immoral and therefore moot. There’s a LOT more work to do.

        Oh, while I was digging around on the web I found this: http://www.awitness.org/contrabib/history/jebusite.html. It looks akin to what you discussed during your recent review; I thought you might find it useful.


        • Hi again William,

          I think you’re engaging a point that I’m not trying to make. I didn’t say that there is no room for a theology of hell. The existence of hell was not my point, although I think there are some ideas to be wrestled with concerning its nature and purpose. There are plenty of concepts of hell that do not make God out to be a sadistic tyrant, a helpless old man wringing his hands at his impotence to save his creation, or a dispassionate robot droning “sin equals punishment, punishment equals eternal separation” repeatedly. I believe in something akin to hell myself; I simply refuse to countenance the notion that it’s much at all like most evangelicals seem to think it is (and I don’t think Jesus agreed with them, either).

          No, I don’t think we can use our hearts to determine matters in which we have no experience.

          Surely this holds true for those who watched their families destroyed by people who believed that their YHWH whose “tender mercies” they extolled ordered their village razed. Surely they had enough experience to theorize about God! And I don’t think it’s all that far a stretch to realize that genocide is just genocide, even if we haven’t experienced it. I reject outright any suggestion that there are mounds of information not yet taken into account that would vindicate the idea of eternal conscious torment, or that there will be people sent to an eternity of pain and loss because God made them a certain way and they had no say in it.

          That page you pointed to looks really interesting — thanks for the link!

          • Wm Tanksley

            I’m not trying to talk about genocide; if that’s your point then you’re right that I’m not engaging. I thought we were talking about Hell, and from that to the Bible’s testimony on Hell, and from that to our personal moral convictions on the punishment aspect of hell. I can see a remote link to genocide, but before we can discuss that it seems to me that we have to discuss WHY you trust the Bible while discounting the genocide passages, and why that discounting should or should not apply to the hell passages. It seems to me that the critical grounds you give for discounting the genocide passages do not apply to the hell passages; you’d have to have some other grounds.

            Clearly you also have moral grounds, but there are moral grounds for supposing that there is hell, so long as one is not so foolish as to suppose that hell literally means what Dante depicted. You can’t simply dismiss your opponents by pretending they disobey ethical principles and you don’t; the fact is that both sides have to face the reality of conflicting principles.

            You’re welcome for the link. I found it interesting — although now on lengthier reading I wouldn’t want to cite that website as a primary source, due to a substantial amount of “nuttiness”. (A word to the wise.) But I’m sure you can pick out the wheat from the chaff.


          • Scott Gray

            1. God is a God of love; hell as a place of eternal torment for those judged not worthy enough by God cannot exist; scripture is wrong about the existence of hell; my worldview is consistent.

            2. hell is a place of eternal torment for those judged not worthy enough by God; God is not a God of love; scripture is wrong about the loving nature of God; my worldview is consistent.

            3. God is a God of love; hell is a place of eternal torment for those judged not worthy enough by God; Scripture is correct about the loving nature of God and about the existence of hell; my worldview is inconsistent.

            Pick one.

          • Yes, in addition to the moral grounds that first gave me reason to doubt the Canaanite genocide, there are critical grounds for supposing that the Conquest didn’t even happen (as written, anyway). Given higher criticism of the Gospels, the same is true to a much lesser degree for Jesus’ affirmation of the existence of hell, although it seems very likely that he did teach gehenna (not “hell”), appropriated hades for one parable, and taught judgment (whether or not it was conceived as post-mortem is up for debate).

            I tried to make it clear in my last comment that I’m not denying hell: I’m denying the existence of an eternal, involuntary separation from God by which some people define hell, whether or not torture is involved. Unless you can adduce some tenable moral grounds for positing such a thing, which none I have encountered have been able to do, I will not believe that my denial that such a fate of unbelievers will obtain is even equally as morally dubious as the belief you’re seeming to argue. First you must describe to me what you think hell is, and the moral grounds you think that support it.

            I have no wish to “dismiss [my] opponents” — this was an open letter to my “opponents”, soliciting (as always with blogs) – dialogue, hopefully with the points I raised in the post, which I am disappointed that you have not so far done enough of. You, conversely, cannot simply dismiss the moral problems with certain conceptions of the fate of unbelievers with a mere hand wave and an evidence-free implication that there are moral problems with denying the existence of hell (which again, I have not done).

  • Scott Gray


    If you’re willing, could we unpack this a bit?

    you said “evangelical…willingness to maintain that evil is not necessarily evil when it comes to God.” In particular, what texts do you feel portray God as evil (in action, or principle)?

    What is your understanding of evil?

    What might be the motivation of an evil act or principle by God (assuming you feel God is an anthropomorphic entity–am I correct in this?)


  • One example in particular stands out (mentioned in the post): the OT claim that God commissioned the wholesale slaughter of the indigenous peoples of Canaan. I do not believe these people were commissioned by God at all.

    When I said “evil”, I was not trying to allude to a cosmic principle (still less to define God as an anthropomorphic entity!), but was using it as Scripture itself defines it: killing people in cold blood was prohibited by God, and doing what God finds abhorrent is, in biblical terms, “evil”. I was trying to point out the discrepancy in their beliefs.

    And I do not define God as anthropomorphic (few would: they’d say it works the other way around), but I would say that the only hope we have for making any useful interface is to find points of contact between Him and humanity; I trust that love is one of those points of contact.

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  • Steve, you are channeling George MacDonald here. 🙂 I think you raise a great point. What are we more concerned to defend, the reputation of the Bible or the reputation of God? It’s ironic that some of the original reformers themselves, like Luther, were in favor of jettisoning canonical texts that, they felt, inaccurately represented God. At some point, questioning the text became heretical, even within that same reformed tradition.

    • In the words of a famous occasional MacDonald channeler, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master…” 🙂

  • We tend to leave Jesus out of this discussions, and we are the poorer for it.

    Consider that James and John came to Jesus and asked if they should call down fire on those who were rejecting Jesus’ ministry (Luke 9:54-56). Of course, they were recalling the incident where Elijah did this (2 Kings 1), but Jesus’ hermeneutic guided Him differently. Note that He didn’t speak against Elijah or against the book of Kings. Similarly, when He had followers who saw Him as the heir of David, he would not allow them to use the swords as they wanted and as David had. Again, Jesus saw the Scriptures in a way that led Him a different direction.

    My proposal is that we seek Jesus to learn His way of understanding the Scriptures. Let us find out what allowed Him to live a life of peace guided by the Scriptures while we feel we have to put them at arm’s length. Let’s not forget that He shunned the violence of the OT (even to the point of shunning a hateful thought in His heart) while completely embracing and extolling the OT and saying that its every jot and tittle would be fulfilled.

    If Jesus did not see a conflict between trusting God and trusting the Scripture, why should we insist that such a conflict exists?

    • We simply don’t know if Jesus saw a conflict between trusting God and trusting OT Scripture; he never said there was or wasn’t such a conflict. But the case can and has certainly been made that Jesus’ talk of “fulfilling” the OT was subtle subversion — for every practical purpose he was making the claim that he was superseding Scripture, call it whatever you want. The fact is, he did little to encourage application of the Law or many other aspects of the OT, but he certainly allowed some of it to inform him (as do I) and he used it to his advantage. Let alone the reality that he did not have a death wish, or at very least didn’t want people to write him off too quickly, either of which possibility would have discouraged an outright challenge to anything in Scripture. The fact that the Gospels record him couching his teaching in ways that suited his audience’s evaluation of the OT isn’t enough; we simply don’t know exactly how enamored he was of the OT. A more interesting and fundamental question is this: should we assume that his acceptance (or rejection) of it is wholly determinative for us?

      I am glad that at least you agree about certain baseline ethics, which is the main point anyway.

      • Steve,

        You said, “we simply don’t know exactly how enamored he was of the OT. A more interesting and fundamental question is this: should we assume that his acceptance (or rejection) of it is wholly determinative for us?”

        My jaw must have dropped when I read this from you because these are two of the most well-established themes in the NT: 1) that Jesus was enamored (to use your term) with the OT, and 2) that His ways are an example for us to follow.

        Maybe I misunderstand you, so please clarify.

        I hasten to remind you that we are not only in agreement about the necessity of bringing our consciences (“certain baseline ethics”) to bear on our Bible reading, we are also in agreement that hell as an afterlife phenomenon of unceasing torment is not true (though for slightly different reasons: that is, I do not have to reject the Bible’s trustworthiness to come to this conclusion because I believe it teaches this conclusion).

        • Mike, your jaw may well remain dropped following this comment as well. 🙂

          That Jesus taught from the OT and drew upon it for themes, concepts, and ethics is completely indisputable. But try looking through this site and see how often I cite Scripture favorably, prescribing certain of its teachings as a guide, formulating my conception of God by its light, and I am also thoroughly critical of it. We don’t have record of Jesus condemning much from the OT outright, but supposing his context forbade him from assaulting the Scriptures head-on, that’s completely understandable; to argue from that silence is not unlike concluding that there were no homosexuals in the 1950’s because there were no gay pride parades. Of course, there also exists the possibility that he didn’t need to lambaste inerrancy because the concept (as we know it) did not exist.

          I do trust that we are to use Jesus as our model, but surely not our model in every single belief he held. As a human, he almost undoubtedly would have accepted old world cosmology — must we? He also likely accepted an historical first man named Adam — must we?

          • Steve, we are in two very different places on this point.

            Given that Jesus said things like “Scripture cannot be broken,” “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law of the Prophets, but rather to fulfill,” “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away,” and more, it’s hardly an argument from silence that He did not dispute the Scriptures as you do. Moreover, on those occasions when He was accused of being unscriptural His answer was always to demonstrate that He was being even more scriptural than his accusers. His “amen” to the Scriptures could not have been more loud and clear. Your notion that He could have feigned allegiance to the Scriptures because of His audience cuts against His character and makes Him sound like a politician. On the contrary, He didn’t mince words for anyone and that’s why He was killed. I remain slack-jawed that you think His trust of the Scriptures could have been tepid or partial.

            As for Jesus being “our model in every single belief He held,” yes, that is precisely what I seek. Would that I could conform every single thought of mine to His! The biggest single obstacle to doing so is that I haven’t yet been able to discern all His thoughts. It’s a progressive endeavor. I don’t have any more problem accepting His cosmology than I do accepting the weather man telling me what time “sunrise” will be. “Must we” believe everything Jesus believed? Perhaps not. I’m just shocked that you wouldn’t want to.Why wouldn’t you want to believe everything He believed?

            Jesus is the pearl of great price in the Bible. Thus, the Bible is not an end in itself – it points to Him. I’m with you completely on the importance of human conscience, and that we shouldn’t violate it in order to obey an interpretation of scripture. But Jesus violated neither conscience nor scripture, and if we could understand scripture the way He did, perhaps we could more closely approach that ideal.

          • Anonymous


            In the historical and theological study of the words of Christ, it seems like our duty as Christians to fully understand not only the words themselves and their ramifications for our lives, but also the context in which those words were said. For instance, I don’t think any of us would suggest that Jesus was NOT a crafty fellow: his interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees within the texts we have portray a very wise, yet sneaky and subtle, individual. If we understand that Jesus was crafty and used the words of others against them, we must also assume that he was capable of doing the same with the Hebrew Scriptures that he knew so well. It’s hardly disingenuous to the Bible to suggest that Jesus (or St. Paul even more so) twisted texts out of their original contest to conform to a point that the original author was not attempting to make. As an example, the “Servant Songs” of Second/Third Isaiah have been interpreted as messianic prophecies since Paul (at least), but were not recorded as messianic texts in any Jewish tradition up through the time of Christ. In context, those verses are not about an eventual messiah or son of YHWH, but a theological statement about Israel taking the punishment for the rest of the world: “Isaiah” was reconfiguring an understanding of the Babylonian exile to explain why the Israelites suffered more than they thought they ought to; namely, that they were being “pierced” and “bruised” for the “transgressions” of the rest of the nations of the world.

            Steve, to the best of my knowledge, is coming from a perspective that necessitates taking into account this sort of historical-critical scholarship that has been in existence since the last two hundred years, and which casts serious doubts on what we perceive as historical truth-claims with the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean he agrees with everything that such scholars suggest (I know there are many who make claims that don’t seem textually or historically supported, but I’m still an amateur at this), but it does mean that we critically engage the text as text before we engage it as Scripture. We have to understand what the text says before we can understand what it is saying to us, in our time.

            I think the point that may be missed in your defense of Christ as supporter of the Hebrew Scriptures is that the modern perspective on the truth-claims of Scripture may not be the pre-modern or Second-Temple Jewish perspective on them. We have little understanding about how the Israelites understood “Scripture,” and we have evidence of conflicting accounts of historical events within the text itself. The difference in the Creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, or the conflation of the two Flood accounts in Genesis 6-9, or the vast theological differences between 1 Samuel-2Kings and 1-2 Chronicles suggest to the careful reader that a single, smooth narrative devoid of contradiction or duplication was ever intended.

            If you’re interested in an introduction to scholarship on the Hebrew Bible, I’d strongly recommend John J. Collins’ _Introduction to the Hebrew Bible_ (http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Hebrew-Bible-John-Collins/dp/0800629914/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302983224&sr=1-1). Collins is an excellent professor whose writing is completely understandable. You may not agree with him on every point (I certainly do not), but an introduction to historical-critical study may be helpful in future debates about the “historical Jesus” which attempt to dissociate dogma/doctrine from the conversation.

          • Eric, thanks for your thoughtful and extensive comments to my response to Steve.

            I am familiar with Collins and with much of what has come from historical-critical scholarship. I have received benefit from both. However, I find the historical-critical method insufficient to understand the Scriptures, particularly when compared to the introduction Jesus gives to the Hebrew Bible.

            I do not call myself a Christian. Therefore, I am not concerned about comporting with “Christian” approaches to Scripture. Rather, I am simply a human being and I read the Bible to find out what it says to human beings. I find that it makes promises and gives commands – all, ultimately, in the name of Jesus Christ.

            I find that modern churches, as you suggest, do miss a great deal of the Bible’s meaning by ignoring Second Temple Judaism, or, to say it more broadly, the essential Jewishness of the entire canon. I find that modern scholarship misses a great deal by largely ignoring Jesus’ perspective on the Scriptures. Such scholars seem to be bothered by things in the text that never bothered Jesus, and, conversely, He seemed to be concerned with things in the text that are of no concern to scholars.

            Steve is a bright guy, and a sincere guy. My issue with him – and with you, too – is that I think Jesus’ perspective on Scripture is not being given enough weight.

          • Anonymous

            A final quick point:

            Receiving the Bible as Scripture does not, in any way, necessitate receiving it has historically accurate in all aspects, nor as theologically cohesive. Nowhere in the text itself do we have a claim of either perspective.

            If you decide to delve deeper into historical-critical study (which isn’t the full way to read the text by any means), I think you may come to find that the plurality of voices (which often contradict one another) within texts that stretch across a millennium may actually evoke more faith in a God who offers no easy answers, but asks His children to participate in the continual asking and seeking of Truth.

          • Eric,

            I readily acknowledge the diversity you describe in the Scriptures. On the other hand, this diversity leaves me all the more awestruck when I consider the unity of its thematic emphases. The more I read it, the more unity I find in the diversity.

            I share your belief that our Creator wants us to continually ask for and seek truth. I also believe that He lets us find truth and not merely seek it in vain – I hope you share that view, too.

  • Scott Gray

    Hi Steve—

    Let me start with the anthropomorphic bit. What I meant was, we treat God as though he/she were an entity with a human personality. We have a relationship with God. We talk to God. And we have expectations of God, just like we have expectations of each other. If God is ethical, if that is the real nature of God, (and not just what we wish were true,) we can expect, I think, for God to behave ethically. And we can expect God to have ethical motivations for the things he/she decides to do. That’s what I meant by anthropomorphic.

    So when God does things (either real things in our daily lives, or things in stories/myths in scripture) that you and I judge to be unethical, there’s a disconnect between the idea that God is by nature ethical, and the unethical action that God has chosen to do, or to allow to happen.

    The Canaanite massacre is cited in one place in Deuteronomy 7:1-2:
    “When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.[a] Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”

    I don’t think the author of this text felt that God’s motives, and decision making, and behavior were unethical. On the contrary, I think the author felt these actions were extremely ethical—not just because they were beneficial to his cultural/ethnic ancestors, but because they were sanctioned by God. A prescription like ‘thou shalt not kill’ doesn’t mean ‘thou shalt not kill ever’ but rather comes to mean ‘thou shalt not kill unless it’s sanctioned by God.’

    It’s our (or least my) reading of these texts in a different context, that I judge the God presented in Deuteronomy 7 to be unethical. Certainly we could judge such decision making to be unethical if we use the Jesus teachings as our source of principles about what constitutes ethical behavior.

    The puzzlement for me is not the shift in context. It’s the notion that certain groups of Christians, and Christian individuals, who I would expect to root their ethics in the principles found in the Jesus teachings, still treat this text as though the God-actions in Deuteronomy 7 are ethical. And I think, although perhaps Matt and Wm can comment to the validity of this, that it’s rooted in the inerrancy beliefs about the text, and their understanding of how these scriptures are the word of God.

    My questions for Matt and Wm:

    –What is your understanding of scripture as the word of God? What are your beliefs about this principle? (a bullet list would be easy to talk from)

    –how do you reconcile the behavior of God told in Deuteronomy 7:1-2 with the principles in the Jesus texts and in 1 John 4:7-12?

    “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”


  • Rob

    >>>>>”For millennia God did not reveal anything about the afterlife — He allowed the Hebrews to believe the same as the surrounding cultures, and they wrote down hints that range from annihilation to a gibbering spirit-world, both of which you see in the surrounding cultures.”

    Huh?? Didn’t the “surrounding cultures” believe in conscious afterlife existence, with eternal suffering for some? Egypt and Babylon sure did.

    • Paul D.

      In early Egyptian religion, only the Pharaoh had a “ba”, or immortal soul that lived on after death and replenished itself each night from the Pharaoh’s mummified body.

      The Babylonian afterlife was a grim existence in the netherworld for everyone, not exactly the same as the one the Greeks believed in (which was borrowed by Christianity).

      • Anonymous

        The Babylonian afterlife was akin to the early Jewish conception of the afterlife as well. It is not until well after the Babylonian exile (e.g. books like Daniel and the Maccabees) that anything like individual afterlife is remotely mentioned, and even then the conception is framed by the inability of the Israelites to worship YHWH as prescribed in Deuteronomy when Antioches Epiphanes (IV) attempted to Helenize the culture in the 2nd century BCE. The idea of individual afterlife in which the promises of YHWH were made manifest arises simultaneously with the tension between those Deuteronomic promises (Deut. 30) and their lack of fulfillment in time. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that such historical events have a correlation with the rise in a belief in punishment or blessing being bestowed after death as that concept did not enter the religious milieu of the Ancient Near East until the same time.

        Also, keep in mind that Greek philosophy and theology of the immortal soul doesn’t enter the Hebrew Scriptures at all – that is a distinctly Greek (and later, Christian, concept).

  • Great discussion topic Steve. It’s a shame these end up as dogmatic exercises in futility. 😉

    • Gusmcattison

      Actually, I’ve been well fed by both Steve and Mike in this exchange. 🙂

      • I wasn’t trying to throw stones. 🙂 At the end of the day (that is, the discussion), when this winds down and everyone has had their say, everyone will continue to hold the same beliefs they held coming into the conversation.

        • Cynical, aren’t we? 😉 As Matthew Raymer likes to say, we don’t discuss
          topics like this for the rules, but for the exceptions.

          • Yeah. It sucks. 🙂 Plus I’m in a bad mood regarding my inability to make points clearly and coherently on my own blog in a discussion I’m having there.

            You have any pointers on how to debate & discuss without losing focus or getting “too passionate” about a subject? LOL

            I need to find some critical thinking exercises to work on my argumentation skills.

        • Gusmcattison

          Truth be told, I change my beliefs about every four seconds. Quick, say something to me, I’ll believe it!

          (Though not for long.) 🙂

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