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More Conflicting Bible Texts

  • Eternal Hell (Continued)

  • Baptism of the Dead

  • Who Went to Heaven?

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Last month we examined a few Bible verses used to support the idea of an eternally burning hell. This month we will consider a few more verses on this topic before moving on to other conflicts. To begin this study, please consider a critical point. The Bible is like the human body in that both have many different systems operating in perfect harmony. Many specialties in medicine exist today because each system of the body is complicated. The Bible also has many complicated topics. A wise physician knows that every system in the body is related to all of the other systems. No system can be treated or isolated without affecting the others. Similarly, wise Bible students know that if only certain Bible verses are used or isolated from the other Bible topics the result will be internal conflict.

The topic of eternal reward is complex and this leads to diversity and confusion. I like to think of eternal reward as an umbrella topic because it includes many sub-topics such as God’s character, justice, mercy, grace and law, His judgment of mankind, man’s fallen nature, the state of man in death, the atonement provided by Jesus, the rescue of God’s people, and the annihilation of the wicked. So, no position on eternal reward can be considered trustworthy until all the sub-topics operate in perfect harmony.

About A.D. 65, the apostle Peter wrote two letters to Christian converts suffering in Asia Minor because of their life and faith in Jesus. His first letter is important in this study because Peter’s choice of words in Peter 3 and 4 are sometimes used to support the idea that when Jesus died on the cross, He went to Hell and offered salvation to those who had been there since the days of Noah. After you read my commentary below, you may want to read all of 1 Peter 3 and 4 in your own Bible so that you can consider Peter’s thoughts without interruption. My comments are in brackets []:

1 Peter 3: 18-22 “For Christ died for [your] sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you [near] to God. He [Jesus] was put to death in the body but [on the third day He was] made alive by the [Holy] Spirit [Romans 8:11], through whom also He [Jesus] went and preached [for 120 years through His servant Noah – Genesis 6:3] to the [spirits [the people who were living then*] in

[a] prison [of godlessness and rebellion – see Isaiah 42: 6,7] who disobeyed [blasphemed the Holy Spirit] long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through [from] water, and this water [that cleansed the Earth of rebellion and godless people] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – [I’m speaking] not [of] the removal of dirt from the body but [of your faith and your public affirmation to follow Jesus and] the pledge of [allegiance that you made to Jesus, and that of maintaining] a good conscience toward God. It [is your submission to God’s Spirit through faith that] saves you [and this gift of salvation has been made possible] by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has [come out of the tomb and] gone into Heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.

*Note: In Bible times, the word “spirit” was used in different ways. A spirit could be an invisible demon. (1 Timothy 4:1) A spirit could be an angel from God. (Hebrews 1:14) A spirit could be a human being. (1 Corinthians 14: 32, Hebrews 12:9) The Greek word for spirit is pneumas which means wind. The ancients generally thought of spirits in two ways. If a spirit had no body, it was a ghost. (Acts 23:8) If a spirit had a body, it was human (or an angel in human form). (Hebrews 13: 2, 2 Corinthian’s 7:13) If Peter’s expression “spirits in prison” is understood from the perspective that Jesus preached through Noah to the antediluvians, textual conflict dissolves.

1 Peter 4: 1, 2 “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body [from evil people], arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body [from evil people] is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthy life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.”

1 Peter 4: 3-5 “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation [immoral and careless living], and they heap abuse on you [because they hate righteousness]. But they will have to give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

1 Peter 4: 6,7 “[Dear brothers, God is not willing that any should perish.] For this is the reason the gospel was preached [among you and] even to those who are now [physically alive but spiritually] dead, so that [upon hearing the gospel] they might be [awakened and] judged [condemned within their hearts by their sins. All of us have sinned] according to men in regard to the body, but [men who repent and] live according to God in regard to the Spirit [will be saved.] The end of all things are near. Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray [for God’s sustaining power and grace every day].”

Summary: Does peter mean to say that Jesus offered people in Hell a second chance? If so, what sinner would choose to remain in Hell? If God wanted to save everyone before the flood came, why did He close the door to the ark before it began to rain? The Bible teaches these is no second chance for salvation after death. (Hebrews 3: 7,8; 9: 7, 28) We determine our eternal destiny in this life. Again we see that if apparent conflicts are not properly resolved, they will put the Bible in a state of internal conflict. Given the many sub-topics involved with eternal reward, Peter’s words can be resolved. Peter is not advocating the idea that while His body was resting in the tomb, Jesus’s spirit went to Hell and offered evil ghosts (who had been captives since the days of Noah) eternal life.

If we read all of 1 Peter, we find that Peter is advocating a glorious and powerful truth. Peter had seen the manifestation and power of the Holy Spirit in his own life many times. Peter saw the Holy Spirit bring a young man to life (Luke 7), brings Dorcas to life (Acts 9), and put a husband and wife to death. (Acts 5) Therefore, Peter exalted the ministry of the Holy Spirit in 1 Peter 3 and 4 by reminding readers that (a) rejecting the Holy Spirit leads to death – this explains why so few were saved from Noah’s flood and (b) the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can give a spiritually dead person a new life in Christ! Peter’s thoughts are focused on the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit, and when the choice of words are put within this framework, the textual conflict dissolves.

I would like to close this discussion on eternally burning hell with a short explanation. Last month, we noticed that Jesus spoke of “eternal fire” when He said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut if off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” (Matthew 18:8) Of course, this text can be used to support the idea of an eternally burning hell. The Greek word in Matthew 18: 8 translated “eternal” is aionios which is often translated as everlasting or eternal. However, the root word for aionios and aion and it means an age or period of time which develops the idea of something being eternal or everlasting.

With this information in mind, please consider Jesus’ words: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31) The Greek word for “age” is aion and it is translated “world” in the KJV.

Given the nature of the Greek language, I understand Jesus meant that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven during this period nor the period to come. At the end of the 1,000 years, the Bible indicates that fire will fall from the sky and devour the wicked (Revelation 20: 9) and they will be reduced to ashes. (Malachi 4:3) Because the fire will burn for a period of time to purify Earth of sin’s curse, aionios is the appropriate word in Matthew 18: 8. Instead of translating the word to mean eternal or everlasting fire, this phrase could be better translated to mean, “It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the fire that will annihilate the wicked at the end of the age.” Of course, translators are not concerned with internal conflicts, their work is to translate each Greek sentence into an English equivalent. Resolving textual conflicts is another task altogether, reserved for Bible students who love God’s Word.

Apparent Conflict #3 – Baptism for the Dead

Does the Bible teach that one person can be baptized for another? Mormons believe this is the case. Please consider the following quote taken from the official Mormon website and as you read, look for the underlying reason:

“Jesus himself, though without sin, was baptized to fulfill all righteousness and to show the way for all mankind (see Matthew 3: 13-17). Thus, baptism is essential for salvation in the kingdom of God. We learn in the New Testament that baptisms of the dead were done during the Apostle Paul’s time (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This practice has been restored with the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith first taught about the ordinance of baptism for the dead during a funeral sermon in August 1840. He read much of 1 Corinthians 15, including verse 29, and announced that the Lord would permit Church member’s to be baptized in behalf of their friends and relatives who had departed this life. He told them “the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God” (Journal History of the Church, 15 Aug. 1840).

“Because all who have lived on the earth have not had the opportunity to be baptized by proper authority during life on earth, baptisms may be performed by proxy, meaning a living person may be baptized in behalf of a deceased person. Baptisms for the dead are performed by Church members in temples throughout the world. People have occasionally wondered if the mortal remains of the deceased are somehow disturbed in this process; they are not. The person acting as a proxy uses only the name of the deceased. To prevent duplication, the Church keeps a record of the deceased persons who have been baptized. Some have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed the names of deceased persons are being added to the membership records of the Church. This is not the case.” (Source: http://www.mormon.org/faq/baptism-for-the-dead)

Three observations: First, Mormons view baptism as a sacrament instead of an ordinance. A sacrament is something required for salvation, an ordinance is something recommended for salvation. Because Mormons believe a person cannot be saved without baptism, they practice baptism for the dead. Second, Mormons recognize that millions of people have lived and died without any chance of hearing the gospel of Jesus. Therefore, they consider it an act of kindness to serve as baptismal proxies for people who would not otherwise be saved. Finally, Mormons believe that death, the mortal body is temporarily separated from the immortal soul.

Notice this quote: “Death is not the end; Death is really a beginning – another step forward in our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. Someday, like everyone else, your physical body will die. But your spirit does not die, it goes to the spirit world, where you will continue to learn and progress and may be with loved ones who have passed on. Death is a necessary step in your progression, just as your birth was. Sometime after death, your spirit and your body will be reunited – never to be separated again. This is called resurrection, and it was possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (See 1 Corinthian’s 15: 20-22).” (Source: http://www.mormon.org/faq/topic/death/question/life-after-death)

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (~A.D. 55), Christianity was about 25 years old. The believers had hundreds of unanswered questions and endless confusion. There were many reports of miracles, but very little knowledge. The apostles had their hands full because Christianity had attracted a diverse body of people who were eager, but ignorant, excited, but frustrated with endless conflict. The New Testament had not been written so Christian doctrine was up for grabs. Some converts in Corinth had been Pharisees and others had been Sadducees. When they joined the church, they brought their religious baggage with them. This explains why some converts were conducting proxy baptisms. As former Pharisees, they believed among other things (like circumcision), that baptism was required for eternal life. On the other hand, many of those converts who had been Sadducees still denied there was a resurrection.

Paul wrote chapter 15 to specifically clear any questions about the death and resurrection of the saints. If you understand the setting in Corinth, that Paul is actually pitting Pharisee against Sadducee converts in 1 Corinthians, huis style and explanation of things will make you smile. First, he takes on the Sadducees:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, [He is] the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29)

Paul does not advocate baptism for the dead. He simply highlights the conflict between Pharisees and Sadducees because both sides are advocating positions that do not belong within Christianity. Paul does not validate baptism for the dead in any of his writings because the whole idea is contrary to the way that God saves individuals. One man cannot be circumcised for another man. Likewise, one man’s faith cannot save another or one man’s sins condemn another. God has not overlooked the salvation of millions of people who never heard the gospel of Jesus. (John 10:16; Romans 2: 14-16)

One more point: The believers in Corinth were curious and confused about the nature of the body that would be given to the saints at the resurrection. Therefore, Paul wrote: “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come [out of the grave]?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just as a seed, perhaps wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as He has determined, and to each kind of seed He gives its own body.

All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are heavenly bodies [Sun, moon, stars] and there are earthy bodies [trees, mountains, and fields]; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthy bodies is another.

The Son has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and stars differ from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown perishable [the body dies returns to dust, later], it is raised imperishable [a body made for everlasting life]; it is sown dishonor [our bodies are cursed by the ravages of sin], it is raised in glory [free from sin’s curse], it is sown in weakness [subject to sickness], it is raised in power [free from sickness and deformity], it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body [not the body of a ghost, but a glorified body, like the body that Jesus was given at His resurrection*]. If there is a natural body, there is a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15: 35-44)

*Note: Jesus is called the first fruits of the dead because He is an example of what we will be after we are resurrected or translated. (1 John 3: 2)

The saints will know each other (1 Corinthians 13:12) and have physical bodies in Heaven, just like Adam and Eve did before the fall.

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