Tuesday, November 09, 2010

OT hell

I'm reposing some comments I left over at Rhoblogy:

steve said...
John said...

“Let me ask you: have you ever known an atheist to speak at a funeral about how the deceased is ‘nowhere’?”

So you’re admitting that atheism is not something we should talk about in settings where it actually makes a difference.

“They just released a new version of Saw. You should go watch it.”

I don’t keep up with the various installments of the Saw franchise. So that says more about your viewing proclivities, not mine.

“It features people getting ripped open, flayed, burnt, stabbed, gouged, etc.”

From a secular standpoint, what’s wrong with that?

“But they rarely address the vexing difficulty that, despite the Old Testament revelation, no one seemed to know about eternal hellfire for thousands of years. People were dying and going to perdition in droves while the prophets warned people about comparatively trifling dangers on this side of the grave -- pestilence, captivity, etc.”

i) To the contrary, the prophets do mention hell (Isa 66:24; Dan 12:2).

ii) That’s also implicit in certain Proverbial statements regarding the divergent fate awaiting the righteous and the wicked.

iii) But even if the OT were silent on the subject, that doesn’t mean no one knew about it. It could just as well mean everyone knew about it. Some things aren’t mentioned because they’re so familiar that everybody takes them for granted.

steve said...

i) You're shifting the goalpost when you introduce the qualification of everlasting "torture."

And that's an atheistic caricature of hell.

ii) You also disregard alternative explanations of Ecclesiastes, such as we find in Waltke's OT theology.

iii) Dating Daniel (or Isaiah) late won't salvage your contention since liberals also date Ecclesiastes late. So even if (ad arguendo) we interpret Ecclesiastes your way, chronology doesn't save your theory.

iv) You're also shifting the goalpost from first insinuating that the OT is silent on the topic to your fallback claim that the OT speaks with more than one voice on the topic.

steve said...
Brabble Frabbitz said...

"Again, neither you nor Steve have shown that the OT suggests the wicked dead go to a place of never-ending torments after death."

The Isaian imagery of unquenchable fire and immortal maggots graphically suggests eternal misery. If the dead were consumed by fire and maggots, the fire would go out and the maggots would starve.

I'd also add that the imagery is distinctly unpleasant–and intentionally so.

Likewise, the Danielic language of everlasting shame and contempt clearly enunciates eternal misery.

Your quote from Spurgeon is a bait-and-switch since the question at issue is not what a Victorian Baptist believed, but what the Bible teaches.

Moreover, Spurgeon hardly speaks for Christian tradition generally on this issue. Consider Turretin's metaphorical treatment of hellfire.

steve said...
Brabble Frabbitz said...

“Immortal maggots, eh. The text doesn't call for that.”

Indeed it does. If the maggot never dies, then the maggot is immortal–in which case the human host shares in the immortality of the maggot.

“Nor does your assertion about unquenchable fire prove anything. If a group of firemen are incapable of putting out a fire, it "cannot be quenched." But that certainly doesn't mean the fire burns on for all eternity.”

If you wish to gloss the fire/maggot imagery after the manner of the annihilationist would, then it’s nonsensical for you to turn around and blame God for failing to warn sinners of everlasting “torture.” For on your own interpretation, the operative terms don’t demand unending duration. Likewise, your interpretive approach would also apply to NT imagery, which carries over the stock imagery of OT judgments.

As such, you’ve backed yourself into a dilemma:

You can’t say that God failed to warn sinners of everlasting “torture” unless there’s some reason to postulate everlasting “torture” as the otherwise unspoken fate which awaits them.

But if, on the one hand, Scripture does, indeed, teach everlasting “torture,” and cognate language is employed in both the OT and NT alike to denote that fate, then God did indeed forewarn them.

If, on the other hand, you relativize all this terminology, then you remove the basis for asserting a dire fate which God failed to reveal.

Hence, your objection is incoherent.

“There are temporal judgments mentioned in the Old Testament that involve ‘unquenchable fire.’ I'm always amazed at how theology so predisposes people to see things that aren't there.”

i) Off-hand, the only specific OT verbal parallel I can recall would be Jer 17:27. Yet you insinuate that this usage is fairly common.

ii) In any case, an obvious flaw in your argument is the context of temporal judgments. It’s the context that delimits the force. But the viewpoint of Isa 66 is eschatological.

“Remember, we're looking at dead bodies in this text, not souls or imperishable resurrection bodies. You may want to read it over again, because you seem to have sailed right past that point. And this is your proof! Dead bodies being eaten by worms -- enough flesh to ensure they don't die -- somehow proves souls writhing in eternal torment for eternity?! (Complete with immortal maggots to provide a touch of ambience.)”

i) You disregard the parallel between the fate of the righteous and the wicked in Isa 66.

ii) You also overlook the association of the Hinnom valley with the netherworld via the cult of Molech, a god of the underworld (e.g. Isa 57:9), in whose name and place the valley was defiled by child sacrifice.

iii) And (ii) is reinforced by the eschatological perspective of Isa 66.

“As for Daniel, you know as well as I that there are many places in which the wicked become a hissing and a byword forever -- objects of never-ending shame. We have plenty of precendent for this idea being at least possible for the Daniel text. Nothing demands fire or torments. Certainly not immortal maggots.”

Well that’s silly. I wasn’t proposing that you transfer the imagery from one text to another.

steve said...
Paul C said...

"This doesn't make any kind of sense, but I suppose that's only to be expected. Tell us, Steve, how the immortality of a maggot magically confers immortality on its human host?"

They never die because they never run out of a food source. That's the thrust of the imagery.


  1. John said...
    "But they rarely address the vexing difficulty that, despite the Old Testament revelation, no one seemed to know about eternal hellfire for thousands of years."

    We need to take into account the progressive nature of revelation. There were hints of hell in the OT just as there were hints of an afterlife. It only makes sense that the righteous will go to a blessed afterlife and the wicked to a cursed one. God condemned necromancy in ancient Israel, but never corrected/condemned the tacit belief upon which the practice was founded. Namely, the belief that the dead have continued consciousness.

    Gen. 35:18 "It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin." (NASB)

    The underlying Hebrew word for "soul" is elsewhere translated "life" in some translations. But if the correct translation in this passage is "soul", then the passage suggests that Rachel's personality was distinct from her body and that she was "departing" or separating from her body. (Cf. 2 Tim 4:6;
    2 Pet. 1:14-15)

    Gen. 37:35 "All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father wept for him." (ESV)

    While this verse can be translated and interpreted in a way that would not imply what the ESV translation does; the ESV (following some commentators) nevertheless implies that Jacob will go to a "place" called "Sheol" where Joseph current was. If it's translated correctly, then it can refer to the grave since Joseph couldn't have been buried (having been eaten alive by animals).

    1 Kings 17:21 "And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” (NKJV)

    Again, the underlying Hebrew word for "soul" can be translated "life". But if the correct translation is "soul", then this passage suggests that the child's "soul" was distinct from the body of the child.

    Deut. 32:22 "For a fire is kindled in My anger, And burns to the lowest part of Sheol, And consumes the earth with its yield, And sets on fire the foundations of the mountains." (NASB)

    This verse suggests that God's anger against evil is (or will be) manifested in a "place" called "Sheol". It may or may not be physical (or have a physical location). But at the very least the passage seems to imply (rightly or wrongly) that it's analogous to the heat and "fire" that oozes out of the tops of (and from the depths of) volcanos (which to the Israelites might seem like another kind of mountain).

    See also the "rephaim" or "shades" in Job 26:5; Ps. 88:10; Isa. 14:9; Isa. 26:14,19

    Job 26:5
    "The dead are in deep anguish, those beneath the waters and all that live in them." (NIV)
    "The dead tremble under the waters and their inhabitants." (ESV)
    "The departed spirits tremble Under the waters and their inhabitants." (NASB)


    More could be said. But all one needs to do is just read the various defenses of hell by leading Evangelical scholars.


    If it's translated correctly, then it can [CAN'T] refer to the grave since Joseph couldn't have been buried (having been eaten alive by animals).