Letters on Religion and Hell Continued
Ch 4 of WCG Experience - on Hell
Continuing "Judgment of the Wicked": Reply by Michael
*Editor's note: the writer capitalized some of my words, which I've bolded. Mail is edited for clarity.
Thanks for e-mailing me back. Here's some of what you said:
"Well, first of all, I want to comment some more on that Galatians passage.
In MY VIEW, Paul is painting Peter in a certain way as being a hypocrite.
People who believe in the Bible as the Word of God ASSUME that Paul is
directing fair criticism at Peter (Cephas).
If you look at it MORE REALISTICALLY, however, either Peter is torn
two completely different types of Christianity or else he is actually not
agreement with Paul at all, and is therefore not a hypocrite. We only hear
Paul's version of events. I BELIEVE it is only Paul trying to make the
Peter-and-James -faction look bad in the eyes of his Gentile Christian
I don't believe that me or any other Christian that believes
Paul is directing fair criticism at Peter (Cephas) is assuming any more
than you are. And if we are, prove it instead of just saying that we are
assuming and instead of just saying that your view is more realistic than
ours, please prove it. We cannot just automatically assume that since some
things may seem to be out of place or not right in the Bible that it has to
be wrong but instead we need to examine these things we think are wrong and
see if they truly are wrong or if it was just our own understanding that
Here's some more of what you said:
"Anyway, to get to your point
about standards. I was saying that some writers
of the Bible are dishonest, but as you can see, I wasn't referring to
Peter's alleged behavior. I know that you accept that Peter and the others
and it's always Peter did this and Peter did that, always picking on Peter
are just ordinary human beings who have problems with sin.
I'm talking about something deeper. I'm saying that it is the writings
themselves that are written dishonestly, and therefore they are not holy,
not the truth, not inspired by an honest God. And it's not an ordinary sin
for the Bible writers to paper over the truth the way I'm alleging."
be waiting for you to actually present some sort of valid proof to this
statement because I don't believe you have presented any yet. Here's some
more of what you said:
"If you go through the book of Acts you see Paul
ends up back in Rome with
his pals to finish up his mission of trying to undermine and usurp the
Jewish religion. Was he a good man or a bad man? I THINK he was motivated
his own spiritual beliefs, but I think he felt that the end justifies the
means. And the end never justifies the means."
Exactly you thought, but you
cannot force this interpretation on the Bible unless of course you have
valid proof of your interpretation in the bible...
Here's some of what you said about Moses:
"To get to your point about Moses.
My response is this: first of all, IT
ISN'T GOD SAYING THESE THINGS about killing women and children (or the men
for that matter). IT'S A MAN - MOSES. And Moses doesn't have a right to
women and children. If God is just, God can't order the killing of all the
women and children either, because even if some of the women had done those
things, not all of them had done them, and none of the children would have
been guilty. If God sanctioned that, then he's not just. Furthermore if God
is just, then he wouldn't execute anyone except for certain specific crimes
such as murder, and only after a trial - and at least you can agree that
there would have to be at least one witness - because this is a biblical
standard. There has to be at least one witness for each of the accused [Editor's note: I should have said two witnesses]. But
instead of individual justice we get "collective" "justice", which is not
justice at all. We get a lot of that in this world because it is very human
to be unjust.
You can still say that God, in your belief, has the right to kill anyone he
wants, but we only have the word of Moses that he was speaking for God. For
all we know, Moses was a murderous conquering man who was inspired to do
what it took to succeed in his goals, and it had nothing to do with God.
Moses believed that the end justified the means. God comes across looking
very bad in this passage. It's easier to assume that it's not God involved
at all, at least not the God we want to believe in. It raises issues of
conscience when we try to fit this passage into our beliefs about God being
associated with goodness and justice."
Numbers 31:14-18 says: "And Moses
was angry with the chiefs
the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds who had
come back from the war. And Moses said to them, Why have you kept all
women safe? IT WAS THESE who, moved by BALAAM, were THE CAUSE of
SIN AGAINST THE LORD in the question of Peor, because of which disease
on the people of the Lord. So now put every male child to death, and
woman who has had sex relations with a man. But all the female children
have had no sex relations with men, you may keep for yourselves."
know what kind of people these children and woman were? Do you know how
evil they were? The children could have grown up to be very horrible people
(like murderers, fornicators, idolaters,adulterers, homosexuals,thieves,
drunkards or even child molesters) and God could have actually been saving
other people from horrible things by taking their lives.
How do we know
that God did not lead Moses to say what he said because after all he was
God's prophet according to Deuteronomy 18:17,18. Romans 6:23 says: "For the
wages of sin is DEATH; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ
Jesus our Lord." Romans 3:23 says: "for ALL have SINNED, and fall short of
the glory of God." Even babies are born into sin according to Psalm 51:5
which says: "Behold, I was brought forth in INIQUITY; And in SIN did my
mother conceive me."
So if all have sinned (even babies have sin in their
nature) we are all deserving of death (even babies) but God out of his
demerited kindness keeps people like you and me (who sin) alive, so I
believe what God wanted done in Numbers was totally right (after all babies
would not even be alive if it wasn't for God).
Here's some what you said (you were the one who said it right?) on your
website: "For example, see Points 28-31 on the "Basic Christian Doctrine"
page http://www.carm.org/doctrine/basicdoc.htm at "Christian Apologetics &
"Those who reject Jesus will go to Hell - Rev. 20:11-15
Hell is a place of fiery punishment - Matt. 25:41; Rev. 19:20
Hell is eternal - Matt. 25:46
The unsaved go to hell forever - Rev. 21:8 " (7)
This is what they teach. Here is a Christian ministry presenting biblical
verses as arguments in favor of the traditional doctrine. But how do we
reconcile the quote from the book of Job? Ultimately the Bible is
CONTRADICTORY. Armstrong interpreted the same verses and used other verses
in order to argue against the traditional idea of hell - and I'll discuss
his beliefs in more detail later. Again, that is more EVIDENCE that the
Bible is contradictory."
(I added the capital letters for emphasis).
25:41 says: "Then will he say also to them on the left hand, `Depart from
me, you cursed, into the ETERNAL FIRE which is prepared for the devil and
Here's what Matt. 25:46 when speaking of the same people and
the righteous says: "These will go away into ETERNAL PUNISHMENT, but the
righteous into eternal life."
So, according to verse 46, eternal fire here
means eternal punishment which is eternal destruction according to 2
Thessalonians 1:8,9 which says: "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them
that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be PUNISHED WITH EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION from the presence of the
Lord, and from the glory of his power."
Also I would like to point out how
Matt. 25:46 says: "These will go away into ETERNAL PUNISHMENT, BUT
(obviously showing a contrast here) the righteous into ETERNAL LIFE."
point is, it shows in this verse that eternal life and eternal punishment are
two different things, therefore showing that these people who go away into
eternal punishment will not experience eternal life (or immortality) and if
they will not experience eternal life they will not be able to live forever,
and if they cannot live forever they certainly cannot be tormented forever
(which would require some sort of life).
Matt. 25:41,46 does not prove the
traditionalist view but instead disproves it.
I would like for you to
explain more fully your interpretation of Rev. 21:8 and I would like for you
to explain more fully why you believe it contradicts some other parts of the
bible. Well, I'll be looking forward to your reply.
First, about hell. Your references to Matthew 25 are completely understandable to me, and I agree with your interpretation. The contrast is made between eternal life and eternal punishment. I wish this was more convincing, however, but it's good enough. I think your argument is logical, reasonable and valid.
The other passage you mention, 2 Thess: 1:8,9, is more convincing in favor of the annihilationist point of view because it mentions everlasting "destruction".
I think Rev. 21:8 backs the non-traditional annihilationist view that I used to believe in, and I still prefer it to the traditional view. So you and I agree to that extent - we both prefer the annihilationist idea of hell, except that I don't believe in it anymore, and I don't believe in the traditional view either. Anyway, here's the passage:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Actually that verse was just part of a quote from a traditionalist ministry on their doctrines, so I never gave any opinion about that verse. After studying it, it seems to back up the annihilationist view very well. Fire and brimstone imply destruction. Also, the term "second death" implies a cessation of consciousness like in the first death, because of the way we interpret Paul's comments about those who have died in the first death being asleep. (See 1 Cor. 15:6).
As far as contradictions, well, Rev 20:10 is the one we discussed before, and is not so clear. You asked me about it and I don't think it would be an issue in anyone's mind if it clearly backed annihilationism. I remember it being the most difficult verse to explain - and why should it take so much effort to explain these verses anyway? Even if there was just one verse like this, it should, if we're perfectly rational - which we're not - make us think carefully about accepting the Bible. I never resolved this verse as long as I was a Bible-believer. It went to the back of my mind. That's it.
Also the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) is also not so clear to me. I found that Armstrong's explanations of it were fine at first, but later on, they became unsatisfying. So there may or may not be other verses - I can't think of any right now - but those two passages were enough to keep me from being 100% convinced that the Bible consistently refers to an annihilationist hell. I was 99% convinced and put difficult questions out of my mind until my belief system started to break down years later.
Again, the whole point for me is that annihilationism is more just, but it's still only an idea and I have no proof that there is going to be any kind of hell or punishment or reward of any kind after death. The traditionalist idea of hell is immoral and unjust, whether it's in the Bible or not. As far as what happens after death, I hope for justice and mercy. We should expect both - in this life and the next.
About the capitalized words, all of these words like "assume" are words that imply uncertainty or incomplete knowledge about truth. This is the reality of being human. There are some truths we are certain of, but there are other assertions or opinions or accounts of events that we can not be certain of, that are even unknowable. A human being should evaluate and judge all statements he reads or hears, and even judge carefully what he sees with his own eyes - especially on television for example. I think we can talk about "proof" in a common sense way, but there is no final "proof" about things we don't have first-hand experience of. I have certainty about many important issues in life, but when it comes to theology and even science and second-hand stories, I only see "evidence" and "doubt" and I use those concepts to make up my mind about whether to accept something or not. It's not possible just to lay out a list of points for a person and convince them anyway. The person reading them has to work through the same reasoning point by point in order to accept the "proof".
Some attempts by the Church to "prove" things seemed to convince me in the past but over time they failed. Their "proof" failed because it wasn't good enough or because it was a concept that was impossible to prove. For example, the Church tried to prove the Bible was the Word of God by quoting Daniel 10-12. But this fails, because I only have to doubt that that part of the Book of Daniel was written before the history represented by Daniel 10-12. The proof collapses as soon as I doubt the assumptions. And believe me, I doubted deep down the assumptions even while I was a believer, because I already knew how some scholars had dated the Book of Daniel. But I believed anyway. My doubts were not enough to stop me believing, but the "proof" became just an argument.
I'll try speak from my own experience. When I believed in the Bible, it did not occur to me to question Paul's point of view in this Galatians passage. When I read this passage as a believer, I interpreted Paul's statements as being the Word of God. Paul says Peter drew back from eating with the Gentiles because he was "afraid" of those from James's group. After I learned more about the Bible and started to question it, other interpretations became possible.
How about this interpretation: Peter was not convinced that Paul's teaching - on law and justification - was the truth. Paul doesn't say that Peter was uncertain about which side to take. Paul doesn't say that Peter might have doubted Paul's views regarding eating with Gentiles. Perhaps he was uncertain and doubtful about which side to believe. Perhaps Paul had not proved his case to the main body of Christians, and the majority were still on the other side.
Read Galatians 2 - without the rose-colored glasses. Paul spends the early part of the chapter bad-mouthing and minimizing James. He calls James and the others "those who seemed to be leaders", "those who seemed to be important". He says they "added nothing to my message", calls them "those reputed to be pillars". He talks about "false brothers" spying on his freedom in Christ. When I was a Bible-believer, I believed that the "false brothers" came from the devil and were trying to undermine the true religion. I overlooked Paul's attacks on James, and it never occurred to me that Paul was referring to James and Peter's friends as "false brothers", which is what the context implies.
It never occurred to me that there was a huge conflict going on between two different belief systems.
But after learning more, I changed my interpretation to the following: Peter was torn between two different religions - the religion of Paul and the religion of James.
Paul calls the other side "the circumcision group". Paul had persecuted (Acts 8:1-3) these people he was now criticizing. Important leaders of the Church were in conflict with Paul, and yet Paul's point of view dominates the New Testament.
Paul failed to convince them that they were wrong about circumcision or wrong about eating with Gentiles. I'm not saying that I agree with their teachings but I think Paul was the "false brother" from their point of view, attacking their religion - which he had physically attacked early on. Jesus hadn't cleared up all these other issues for some reason, and the Church became completely divided as soon as Paul arrived on the scene.
Why does he have the right to criticize the Jerusalem leadership? How much do we know about their views on him? We know very little. Here is another verse, 2 Peter 3:15-16 that indicates there was trouble over Paul's views. The story is murky and one-sided. That's the bottom line for me. The New Testament is murky.
Here are some more points of evidence in answer to your challenge of valid "proof" concerning scriptural dishonesty or corruption. Again, this word "proof" implies certainty or being convinced. For me, I'm certain and convinced, but to somebody else, these points are just arguments that may or may not convince. I'm going to throw these statements out as summaries. I won't try to go into detail with them, partly because it's impossible to cover them in a reasonable time, but I'll mention some references. However, I know very well that you are familiar with the Bible and are studying it and will be able to discern - sooner or later - these patterns in the Bible.
In Paul's epistles, he fails to mention much about the human life of Jesus or his teachings and his family. In my view, this implies a break between the gospels and the rest of the New Testament. In other words, one explanation is that Paul didn't think about a human Jesus at all, because there was no human Jesus to him - only the light and voice (Acts 9:1-6). Arguments along these lines are made at jesuspuzzle.org. But an explanation of the problem is not necessary to present the problem. The problem is the lack of references to a human physical Jesus in Paul's writings.
What happened to the 12 apostles? (See Matt. 10:2) If you noticed in Galatians 2:9 Paul mentions only James, Cephas (Peter) and John. Also, Acts 15:13,14 mentions James and Simon (Peter). What happened? After the early chapters of Acts the other apostles are gone. This is another disconnect with the Gospels. A good reference for these issues is James the Brother of Jesus by Robert Eisenman.
Another major issue, and no offence is intended to Christians, because I know Christians don't believe there is any ill will in the New Testament against the Jews, but it's critical to my change in belief:
See Matthew 27:22-25:
20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
23 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
The problem with this passage is that it is not believable. Supposedly the Jewish leaders persuaded the whole multitude to turn on Jesus and to cry out simultaneously - all the people: "His blood be on us, and on our children!" - to announce a curse on themselves and future generations. This would never happen. A group of people would never say something like that. This casts doubt on the motivation of the whole crucifixion story. It is a device to smear the Jews of Jerusalem in order to justify the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D (an event which supposedly comes after the gospel of Matthew was written).
The Roman governor Pilate, who was actually brutal (see Luke 13:1), is presented as so caring and helpless in the face of the crowd, in order to divert the reader's blame away from the Romans who tortured and executed this man, whoever he was. The theme of the New Testament is to undermine the Jewish leadership and culture and to exalt the Roman Empire.
I can't tell whether the crucifixion of Jesus did not happen, and I can't say that Jesus was not a real person, but I know - with certainty - from passages like this that the New Testament is not reliable, and therefore is not the Word of God. The above verse is another passage that I studied for years over and over without, as far as I remember, consciously noticing the problem.
I've left the more serious topic for last.
The Bible represents Moses as speaking for God. The claim is made that the women were to blame for Israel's sin. *All* of the women? And therefore, according to Moses, they should have been all put to death, without trial, without witnesses, without evidence. Just collectively murdered, because "God says."
No, I don't know what kind of people they were, and neither do you. I assume some of the women were ruthless in their actions and motivated because of the general fear of the Israelites, but I don't think they were all that way, and I don't think the children were that way.
In any case, regarding the ones who were involved in this incident, do actions like these - whatever they were - deserve death? If so, why? Because Moses says so? Moses places himself above the law. He can make it up as he goes along. Just like any human being, he creates a law that is beneath God's law, contains parts of God's law, which is determined by nature and experience and reason and men's hearts, and calls it God's law. Maybe it's the best he can do, but is it God's law? The escape clause in Moses' law is that "God" can do what he likes and "God's chosen leaders" can do whatever they like. Human society reached its highest point when human beings decided that rulers are not above the law. Moses was not at that point, because he could always claim that God gave him authority to do whatever he told the Israelites to do.
Also, no, I don't know how evil they were at all, and neither do you. How can a whole people be "evil"?
And the children "could" have grown up to be horrible - you mean some of the children could have grown up to be horrible I suppose, but in normal day to day life, we don't yet punish people for what they will or might do in the future, or for the possibility that they might become horrible. (I imagine there are "social engineers" busily working away at that idea however). That's a rationalization to justify Moses' actions, and it isn't even mentioned by Moses as far as I know.
Another assumption. I'm sure these societies were flawed and full of terrible sacrificial practices, and probably they invaded other peoples too, but that doesn't mean every individual was involved in these practices. You seem to think that their cultures were completely evil and corrupt, and therefore their children would automatically grow up to do horrible things. That is the justification for the Israelites invading those other nations. That is their version of the story.
I don't know that God led Moses. I question the whole thing. God - unjust or otherwise - can do whatever he wants but we human beings consider the killing of children a crime. It's only a human belief or a doctrine that babies are born into "sin", and therefore we all deserve eternal death based on that idea. Even if it could be proven, we should not allow human beings to play God and kill babies. There are babies dying in earthquakes and fires and floods, and maybe that is "God" killing them, or maybe it's just nature. But if human beings do it, it's a crime.
Here is a biblical passage containing a principle that contradicts the actions of Moses as well as the arguments you used to justify his actions. See Ezekiel 18:1-20:
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
Look at it like this. Imagine you saw a massacre on the news, and the man was getting angry at his troops for not slaughtering the women and children. He explained in his speech on television how the women were at fault because they deliberately led his people into doing evil things that were self-destructive. Maybe they supplied them drugs for example. And he claimed that God had wanted them to kill them all in revenge.
I would react very strongly against such a man. Because it would never occur to me to believe that a just God was speaking through him. If there was such a spiritual encounter going on, I would assume it to be an evil demon. Second, I would call him a whiner for blaming others for his people's own weaknesses. Third, I would accuse him of attempting mass murder, and I would be amazed that he was in power. But not amazed for long - because I would remember all the historical leaders like Moses and their influence, and I would remember the modern world dictators and what people let them get away with every day.
Right and wrong exist in reality, in human experience, in a higher natural law, a law of God. Right and wrong don't depend on Moses or what some people wrote in the Bible, some of which may be correct. Everyone needs to judge what is right and wrong, but it takes effort and wisdom and experience. People have to go through a lot of suffering or studying to wake up sometimes. There are people at the "top" who claim special status. Many people fall into line and are fooled by even the worst of these people. They want to control others, and they write some of the books and re-write history in order to achieve that control. They want you to believe that their lives have special importance and the lives of ordinary people have no importance.
Eventually - it took me years - you just need to pop through a couple of barriers in your thinking and
you'll recognize these or other problems in the Bible. Our minds are easily misled and confused by wishful thinking. It's not a minor thing. The world is full of deluders and delusions that tear at our will to survive and undermine our ability to assert our own identity.