What Is True?
June 5, 2004
 

Letters on Religion and Hell


Letter #1: Christian Churches - Apr 25/04
Letter #2: Judgment of the Wicked - Jun 5/04

See also Ch 4 of WCG Experience - on Hell


Note: Letters have been edited slightly for presentation and clarity. Last names and email addresses are not included. Also, additional comments have been added to my original responses.


Christian Churches - Apr 25/04


...I know now why there are so many Christian churches without one voice. This Preacher or whatever he is must have gone to the seminary to disprove Catholic Theology instead of bringing Christians together as one. No wonder the Muslim religion is growing more than the Christian religions.

You people are arrogant and think your interpretations are the only way. I believe God will judge you harder than all others for creating division within the Body of Christ. I have many people in our Church that were once church of Christ, but we never taught against that faith to get them into ours.

Do what Christ sent you to do and quit creating division. I pray that you quit teaching something you know nothing about and quit taking the worst part of Christian churches and find the best of that church. Don't tell me what you know about my Church but tell me what I can do to become closer to our Lord and Savior. Then I will listen to you and know you truly have a calling. May the peace of Christ and His Wisdom be with you

Mike D.


[1] Response:

Thank you very much for your email.

I just wanted to clarify that I'm not a Christian any longer, more of an agnostic or deist, and I try to explain that now and then at my site. My main point in writing is to describe my past experience in the Worldwide Church of God. I'm not sure which page you read, but mainly I'm trying to explain why I joined that church in the past when it had its original beliefs and what was attractive about it, and what was oppressive about it, and how my beliefs eventually changed over time. It's not just about beliefs - it's also about abusive practices.

I don't know whether you are familiar with that church's past, or if you were a member, but there are a lot of things about some abusive churches ("cults") that even the members aren't aware of. There is a lot of deception and abuse, and I think it's beneficial to explain that to people so that they don't fall into the same trap.

I was a very religious person at one time and I studied the Bible a lot. Years later, as I learned more, I became critical of my Church's beliefs, and later on even of the Bible and Christian doctrines in general. I like to focus my criticism on the leadership. But I try to be fair to people, including people who believe in Armstrong's doctrines and I feel a lot of empathy towards religious people in general. I'm not an atheist. Even so, you may not be too interested in hearing an unbeliever explain his unbelief.

-A.J.



Judgment of the Wicked - Jun 5/04


...If you don't mind I would like to ask you what you think about my interpretation of Rev. 20:10. Well here's my interpretation:

Rev. 20:10 says: "And the Devil who was misleading them was hurled into the Lake of Fire and sulphur, where both the wild beast and false prophet [already were]; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." (N.W.T.)

The main words here that need to be explained is "forever and ever." Well, we need to always remember how the Greek word aion that forever comes from in Rev.20:10 is used elsewhere in the scriptures so let's examine how this word is used. In Philemon 15 it says: "Perhaps really on this account he broke away for an hour, that you may have him back forever," {N.W.T.}.This was a person talking to a person here, not a person talking to God.

We also need to remember how aion and the Hebrew word ohlam are equivalent because of ohlam being replaced by aion in the Greek Septuagint in scriptures such as Deut. 15:17and Job 41:4.  Deut.15:17 in the Greek Septuagint uses the Greek word aion that forever comes from in Rev. 20:10 to replace ohlam and Deut 15:17 reads: "he shall be your servant forever" and Job 41:4 which does the same thing reads: "Will you take him as a servant forever?"

So we see that the word aion that forever comes from in Rev. 20:10 can refer to things that have an end.

Now the next question that needs to be answered is, since it says forever and ever instead of just forever does that mean that it does not have an end?

Well, let's look at some scriptures to help us answer this question:

Nehemiah 9:5 says: "And the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijiah, Shebeniah, and Pethaiah, said: "Stand up and bless the LORD your God Forever {ohlam} and ever {ohlam}!" According to verses 1-4 of this same chapter the Israelites were gathered together and then in verse 5 the Levites obviously talking to the Israelites told them to stand up and bless {or you could say praise} the LORD their God forever and ever.

But Psalm 115:17 says: "The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence." Psalm 6:1-5 says: "O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten in Your hot displeasure. For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give you thanks?" according to verses 1-5.

David, who is saying this, is talking to Jehovah and he brings out how the dead do not remember Jehovah, so obviously when the Levites in Nehemiah 9:5 said for Israel to bless Jehovah there was obviously going to be an end to this blessing of Jehovah.

Remember too that aion is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word ohlam and ohlam is used twice in Nehemiah 9:5. So obviously when Rev. 20:10 said that Satan, the Beast and the The False Prophet are going to be tormented forever and ever it means that they will be tormented until they are completely destroyed.

Please tell me if you believe I'm wrong on anything and why you believe I'm wrong. Well, looking forward to your reply.

Michael V.



Response:



Hi Michael,

I remember arguments like that very clearly when I was learning my former church's teachings years ago. That verse is one of the most challenging to the idea that hell is a temporary punishment, because it seems to be saying that at least these two human beings - the beast and false prophet - (assuming they're not purely symbolic) - are tormented forever in the lake of fire and not just the devil. Because it's always translated as "they" shall be tormented, not "he".

The issue you brought up I've heard before too. My church taught that the devil was tormented spiritually forever, since he couldn't die, but the beast and false prophet had long since died - ceased to exist consciously - in the lake of fire. Aion was explained as "age-lasting" and *maybe* it refers to a temporary age, but just as likely it means *forever*.

I checked out the Scrivener Textus Receptus Interlinear Greek New Testament (1894):

kai {AND} o {THE} diaboloj {DEVIL} o {WHO} planwn {MISLEADS} autouj {THEM} eblhqh {WAS CAST} eij {INTO} thn {THE} limnhn tou {LAKE} puroj {OF FIRE} kai {AND} qeiou {OF BRIMSTONE,} opou {WHERE [ARE]} to {THE} qhrion {BEAST} kai {AND} o {THE} yeudoprofhthj {FALSE PROPHET;} kai {AND} basanisqhsontai {THEY SHALL BE TORMENTED} hmeraj {DAY} kai {AND} nuktoj {NIGHT} eij {FOR} touj {THE} aiwnaj {AGES} twn {OF THE} aiwnwn {AGES.}

Nope, even when I believe strongly in my church's teachings, part of my mind was never convinced that all these verses fell into line. So I can't get past it.

I don't agree with the logic of your argument, because I believe when they used the word "forever" in the Old Testament for example - supposedly they didn't believe they would live forever - but it means "forever" as far they were concerned, literally or metaphorically. They expected their society to praise the Lord forever. I think the phrase in Rev. 20:10 probably means "forever".

There are contradictory ideas of hell in the Bible. There are a lot of Greek concepts in the Bible. So I came to this conclusion some years ago. It's not possible for the Bible - a collection of books - to be consistent. Human beings - inspired by spiritual forces, tradition, experience or using their imagination - create different ideas about what happens to people after death. There is always some truth and wisdom in various books of the Bible, but it is not consistent, and it is not all truth. I don't believe God wrote the Bible.

There is a complete break between the New Testament and Old Testament. All of a sudden, the focus is off the Law and Commandments, and on the doctrine of Grace. Paul mysteriously is seen to take over the whole Gentile side of the church and is in conflict with James who runs the Jerusalem church and other apostles. You can see him criticize these apostles in his writings. Peter gets put down constantly in the Gospels and in Acts. After the book of Acts begins, other disciples, and the family of Jesus, hardly get a mention.

Some scholars believe James to have been a Zealot and very loyal to his people - against Roman culture, and they believe that the New Testament was put together to graft a different religion onto Judaism in an attempt to undermine its anti-Imperial influence I can't say exactly how correct that theory is, but I can see for a fact that it makes no sense for Paul to be one day persecuting the church, and then the next day to suddenly be the most important apostle and dominant voice in the New Testament. There is obvious friction between Paul and others, and it seems obvious to me that the division is being partially covered up by how the New Testament is put together.

See, for example, Galatians 2:12, where Paul is talking about Peter. And if you read through the New Testament you can get a sense of the tension between Paul and James in different passages. Some of the passages are very important, and Armstrong makes the wrong assumptions when he quotes Paul's attacks on "false apostles." (2 Cor. 11:13) It's not clear who he is talking about in this verse but I know how it seems to me.

As far as the Old Testament goes, I see the passage where Moses is angry at the Israelites that they didn't slaughter the women and children along with the men, and God had supposedly required them to do that. Would that be acceptable at any time? No. But I rationalized it when I was a believer.

See Numbers 31:14-18. I don't believe in collective guilt or violently invading the territory of others. Religion should work to rid the world of those practices, but it usually seems to achieve the opposite.

Those are the major reasons where I had to reject the Bible as the inspired Word of God. It's written by human beings. I can extract wisdom from it but I have to think critically about everything I read.

Watch out for rationalization. It's an endless circle. If something doesn't seem right, if it's not consistent, if it doesn't add up, you need to pay attention to those contradictions. Don't buy in.

The author of the Book of Revelation may believe strongly in what he is writing, and he has a lot of intriguing ideas, but that's it. There isn't any reason to worry about verses based on biblical authority, because biblical authority collapses under examination.

Just test the Bible with universal concepts of right and wrong, which are discovered by reason and experience, and which are also included in the Bible and Ten Commandments. When I re-examined the Bible, I found examples of dishonesty and intrigue in the New Testament writings, and religiously-justified mass murder in the Old Testament.

-A.J.


Letters on Religion and Hell continued










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