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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Absurdity of the Atonement

I remember sometime in 1994 the thought popping into my head: "How could the death of someone 2000 years ago have any impact on me and my sins today"? The thought troubled me and I pushed it out of my mind, believing at the time that it must be from the Devil. Since 1994 I have studied and researched just about everything I could find on the atonement. I am convinced now more than ever that it is absurd to think that the death of Jesus of Nazareth could pay for any one's sin.

Christian apologists seem to ignore the problems with the atonement. They focus all of their efforts on the resurrection. I told Mike Licona, the Apologetics Coordinator at the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention), in April when we had lunch: "without the atonement, the resurrection is meaningless." He said he had not thought much about it. William Craig admits that there needs to be a lot of research done on this subject. He writes:
The doctrine of the atonement is one of those areas of Christian theology which is most in need of careful philosophical analysis. In fact, if any of you readers are contemplating graduate work in philosophy, here is a great dissertation topic! You can be almost guaranteed publication of your work, given how central and philosophically underdeveloped a doctrine the substitutionary atonement is. Unfortunately, my areas of research interest have not included the atonement, so my remarks here will be at best sketchy. My hope is that they will provoke others to tackle and think further about this important doctrine.

Meanwhile, evangelical Christians seem to just take it for granted that the death of Jesus pays the price for their sins, even though it is illogical, immoral, illegal, and unjust to punish an innocent person.

Marlene Winell writes:
The most serious demand for unquestioned belief is, of course, the atonement. First the believer is to suspend familiar notions of justice, such as punishment of the guilty as opposed to an innocent party. You are then expected to accept the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin; that wongdoing must be paid for, and not necessarily in proportion to the crime. A father's sacrifice of his innocent son is supposed to be not only just but generous and wonderful. Then the temporary three-day death [actually about 36 hours] of this one person is supposed to wipe out all the wrongdoing and ineptitude of the species. And finally, you should believe that all you need do to erase the responsibility for your actions and enter a haven of eternal reward is to believe. It's no wonder that once a convert has wrapped his or her mind around this story, anything can be accepted as truth (Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion, 1993, p. 75).

Paul himself admits in 1 Corinthians 1:18-29 that the "preaching of the cross" is "foolishness." The Greek word translated "foolishness" is μωρία (mōria) from which we get the English word, moronic. Paul acknowledges that it is foolish to believe that one's sins can be forgiven through the cross of Jesus but God planned it that way "to confound the wise." It seems that according to Paul, God wants man to sacrifice his intellect in order to be saved.

The church Father Tertullian said something similar in De Carne Christi:

The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed--because it is shameful.

The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is silly.

He was buried, and rose again: it is certain--because it is impossible.

In the second line, the word translated "silly" is the Latin word ineptus. It means: unsuitable, impertinent, improper, tasteless, senseless, silly, pedantic, absurd, inept, without tact . For this reason, Tertullian is often quoted as having said: "I believe because it is absurd".

I agree with Tertullian and Paul. The atonement is "absurd" and "moronic." I used to believe it because it is what I was taught and it had a psychological appeal. I can no longer believe something so absurd. If there is a god and he condemns me to hell for not believing something that is so patently absurd, then he is unfair and unjust. Why would a god create man with the largest brain of any animal and then expect him not use it? Why would he expect me to believe something just because it is written in ancient book and his followers have never been able to agree among themselves exactly what that ancient book means and exactly what one must believe in it in order to be saved?


  1. This is why I'm leaving this blog for more productive work. Your exegesis has become as sloppy as your logic is twisted. If you are going to lift texts out of their context to make them fit your conclusions, then only those who are simply looking for someone to scratch their ears will listen.

    The context of Paul's statement is this: the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. But for those who are being saved we know it is the power of God.

    The problem isn't intellect. For those who have experienced God's forgiveness, all the pieces of the puzzle fit together perfectly. For those who refuse to aclnoewledge their sin and need of forgiveness, spiritual blindness prevents them from seeing. Paul calls this the wisdom of God. You call it foolishness. To those of us who have experienced the powers of the age to come, your ranting simply reveal the condition of your heart: spiritual darkness.

    You curse what you do not understand. And yet the key to understanding is what you refuse to accept: you, Ken, are guilty and deserve punishment. On this hinges the foolishness of the message of the cross. It is grace that is illogical. That God would be willing to die for someone who curses him and mocks him is illogical. That God would accept the judgment Christ took as an acceptable substitute for the end time judgment is illogical. That's why it's called grace. It's undeserved. It's a free gift. It's God's riches freely given to undeserving sinners at Christ's expense.

    Go ahead and curse and mock and raise your fist in protest. You are free to make that choice. I choose to accept the offer. It will continue to be impossible for you to understand as long as your heart remains hard and unbelieving. But if you were to turn--then you would understand. I pray that God in his mercy will continue to grant you the freedom to make that choice. One day you won't.

  2. ---


    Firstly, his exegesis isn't quite that sloppy. I've actually had several Christians use that EXACT Pauline reference when debating with me, with the exact same meaning Ken gave it. That the message of the cross is absurd and needs to be taken on faith, and that's why I can't intellectually wrap my head around it. In fact, after calling Ken's exegesis sloppy, you then go on to agree with his interpretation. Strange.

    You go on to claim that "for those who have experienced God's forgiveness, all the pieces of the puzzle fit together perfectly", but then you don't go on to explain how they do regarding the atonement. What you are claiming here is faith, and nothing more. You don't need to access your intellect once you have faith, but if that's the case, by what right do you, or God, have to damn a Mormon? I'm sure you have a bucketload of answers to why Mormon theology is completely wrong, but don't you see what you've done there?

    You've used logic and rationale to dispel someone else's mythology, but you are unwilling to apply the same standards to your own. This is what John Loftus calls the "Outsider Test for Faith". If it's plain to see why Mormom theology is absurd and thus easy to reject, why must we eschew reason and rationale when analyzing the claims of evangelical Christianity? If it's equally ridiculous, then it should be equally rejected.

    Your claim that Ken is a sinner in need of forgiveness is equally not unique for Christianity, and since that's the case, there has to be some sort of sift to devise which, if any, religion holds the answer on how to have one's sins forgiven. Again, how would we determine such a thing? Faith, obviously, isn't the answer, because that's the situation we're currently in, and it seems that most of the world is DEAD WRONG, no matter what you believe. What's left to determine which faith should be accepted? Logic and rationale, which you use ALL THE TIME, but when it's brought against your chosen faith, instead of answering the objections, you jump to adhominems, claiming that Ken (and others like him) are being rebellious, unwilling to admit their need for a Savior, and unwilling to accept God's grace. But, the fact is, even if we were willing to admit all this, it still does nothing to show Christianity is THE answer.

    So, please find another debate tactic, because arguing from faith does nothing to convince anyone, unless they are incredibly credulous. The only problem is, those same credulous people go on to become Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Scientologists (talk about an absurd faith; evangelical Christianity is totally outclassed by this one) and many other ridiculous faiths. It seems that God's favored ministerial tactic (faith) is being used to damn billions of souls to heaven. And you wonder why atheists aren't his biggest fans....

  3. DCGriff:You curse what you do not understand. And yet the key to understanding is what you refuse to accept: you, Ken, are guilty and deserve punishment.

    Let me ask you a question. What has the average person done to deserve eternal torture? Even Stalin and Hitler do not deserve ETERNAL punishment.

    You are trained to believe that all humankind is nothing but vile trash that deserves the utter contempt of our creator. Christianity makes our very existence an affront against a holy God. Wonder why a perfect God would have made such trash? We are all given an impossible standard and then told that we are garbage because we cannot live up to that standard.

    I do not take such a dim view of my fellow human being--we are capable of evil, but we are also capable of doing great things.

  4. DC Griff,

    I did once believe the very same thing you do right now and you know it (unless I was the biggest liar around or totally self-deceived). As I said in the post, I believed it because 1) it was what I was taught to believe and 2) it had a psychological appeal.

    I came to the conclusion after much reflection that it is absurd and can be explained based on the cultural thinking of the ancient peoples. I realize that it is an emotional subject for a believer. It is almost like I am insulting your wife or your mother.

    I believe my exegesis is correct. Paul said that the cross was foolishness but that God had chosen that means of salvation to "confound the wise." Yes, he also said that it was the power of God for salvation to those who would believe it. I don't know how else you can understand what he is saying other than one must forget about his intellect, his reason, and just believe it and then once you have experienced it, even though it is absurd, you will know it is true.

  5. These guys never seem to answer the objections. They just object to the objections. And they claim the objector doesn't understand, is grossly misrepresenting the facts, has a ax to grind against his Creator, etc. This is standard operating procedure.

    It's like the teenager who, after getting a commonsense lecture from a parent, snaps back with, "You just don't understand!"

  6. You can beleve that the atonement is absurd and moronic but you wont be agreeing with Paul or Tertullian. Because you got the phd I know you know that Turtullian context was Marcion and his dualist stuff, and he saying tha Christ did things that was beneath Gods dignity for the benefit of man. And Paul was saying that preaching Christ crucified seem like foolishness to the Greek and his philosophy not that he -Paul- was preaching foolishness.

  7. Keep up the great work you're doing here. Don't let the deluded sway you. I've lost readers for some things I've argued for too. But the rest of your readers appreciate your fully informed scholarly arguments.

    And thanks for the full Tertullian quote.

  8. ---


    Nice game of semantics. Paul said that what he was preaching was foolishness to those who aren't saved. Of course it's not considered foolishness by those who are believers...they are believers after all. Paul's point was that to the wise man, the cross of Christ was absurd. This means that, intellectually, the cross makes NO SENSE! This was Ken's point, but so far, neither you nor DCGriff explicitly concede his point, yet in your objections, you've both agreed with him.

    The Gospel writers saw no need for rational discourse, neither did Paul (even Paul's "philosophical" debates were just him preaching the Gospel). The Christian relgion can only be taken by faith, but once this is done, you have no foundation for argument, unless you want to have a screaming match where all you yell is "MY FAITH IS BETTER!!". Once you try to rationally defend Christianity, you must defend all of it, and Ken has shown over and over how irrational, illogical and mind numbingly ass backwards the doctrine of the atonement is.

  9. "It will continue to be impossible for you to understand as long as your heart remains hard and unbelieving."

    What about those of us whose hearts are curious and puzzled, but still find it impossible to believe? Where do we fit in to this schema?

  10. DCGriff said, “If you are going to lift texts out of their context to make them fit your conclusions, then only those who are simply looking for someone to scratch their ears will listen.”

    Ah yes, 1 Corinthians, the book were Paul lifts texts out of their context to make them fit his conclusion. Not only does Paul lift quotes but gets all of his quotes and facts wrong. No wonder Christians are confused.

    1 Corinthians 29:19 - “For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

    I’m thinking Paul’s wisdom was destroyed and certainly his intelligence was frustrated. His quote isn’t even close to what is written. Not according to the Hebrew writings and not according to any other translation of Isaiah 29:14.

    Isaiah 29:14 - “...therefore, behold, I will continue to perform more wonders against this people - wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of its wise men will be lost and the understanding of its sages will become concealed.”

    The wisdom of the wise men, not all wisdom, is not destroyed, but lost temporarily. It is understanding of the sages (learned men of that generation), not general intelligence that will be concealed for awhile. This is because the false prophets will be exposed and destroyed. Just a few sentences later, as it is actually written, Isaiah speaking for the Almighty says,

    Isaiah 29:20 - “...for the fierce man is no more and the scoffer has ceased to be; and all who strive for iniquity will be cut off; those who with a word cause man to sin and ensnare the one who gives rebuke at the city gate (true prophets), and misleads the righteous with falsehood.”

    The context of Isaiah 29 is a rebuke to the people who wanted to join forces with Egypt for protection instead of following the words of the Almighty. It is the Torah that the Jewish people must follow. [Read the account of the final king of the northern tribes of Israel, King Hoshea who was more evil than the previous evil kings.]

    Paul is misquoting Isaiah for his own purposes. The quote has nothing to do with the concept of atonement.

    My logic says that if the wisdom is destroyed and intelligence is frustrated how can anyone have confidence in what they come to know? Such is the nonsense of Paul.

  11. God chooses to override His logic because of His love

  12. Tertullian is often misrepresented in this text. He never thought Christianity was anti-rational (cf. De Paenitentia 1,2 & the following articles - James MOFFATT, Aristotle and Tertullian, Journal of Theological Studies 17 (1915- 16) 170-71; R.D. SIDER, Credo quia absurdum?, Classical World, 73 (1980) pp.417-9).

    I personally like the quote from Roger Pearse on the phrases Ken cited, "The popular understanding of this phrase means we have three words related neither to the chapter before or after. That cannot be right. Both sides belong to the faith side, in fact. The argument as such is scriptural, as between two people disagreeing on a point of Christian belief, not as between believer and unbeliever. Indeed the non-Christian holds views considerably less 'rational' to a modern perspective, than otherwise -- that Christ was some form of semi-physical ghost, not a man, although he looked like one. So no argument for whether or not the resurrection happened, per se, is to be expected. Still less is any discussion of the truth of the Christian religion part of this, except as regards the argument with Marcion." Tertullian was not defending the rationality of Christianity as a whole, but opposing the specific Gnostic heresy of Marcion. The quotes must be understood in that context.

    DCGriff, Thanks. Well said.

  13. Tertullian also said he was eager see his adversaries writhing and screaming in hell. What a guy.

  14. Hey, I'm not the one who brought him up in the first place. Just pointing out that these quotes are not being used as Tertullian intended.

  15. David,

    You will need to be a little clearer in what you mean regarding Tertullian as I could not follow your point.

  16. David saying the same thing I was saying (wich you should know cause you got the phd) the the Turtullian context was pertaining to Marcion and his dualist stuff, his disregarding Christs suffering and death. So Tertullian saing that Christ did all those things (crucified, died, rose again) and tho that was beneath Gods dignity it was for the benefit of man, and stateing the same thing many still state today - that these things seem hard to beleive unless they were true and witnessed.

    And putting that quote "I believe because it is absurd" is a bit misleeding so i challenge you to show me exacly where Turtullian wrote that statemnt. here, Ill put it in latin for you to make it easier to find :)
    credo quia absurdum

  17. Chaz,

    I showed in the post above how the translation is derived. The word ineptus can be translated absurd . Thus the sentence:

    The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is absurd (Latin, ineptus).

    So he is saying that it is immediately credible (i.e., believable) that the Son of God died because it is absurd.

    Regardless of who Tertullian is arguing against, he is still maintaining that the notion that the Son of God died is absurd, yet it is for this very reason that he believes it.

  18. The Latin word ineptus means: absurd, awkward, silly, inept, impertinent .

    Check any Latin lexicon. Here is one on-line.

  19. mr pulliam, you refuse to believe that God would atone for man's sin by punishing the innocent Christ because punishment of the innocent in place of guilty is illogical and immoral. I agree it is illogical and immoral. Why do we believe this is illogical and immoral? Where do our ideas of logic and morality come from? Have they been developed over the years as societal norms? Or are they woven into the universe by the creator in much the same way as the physical laws of gravity and thermodynamics. If we look back thru history, we will find that virtually all societies have held the punishment of the innocent is immoral. Morality and logic are not creations of man but are discovered by man as part of the creation in much the same way that the physical laws are created by man but discovered. If you can accept this, then you can see that God is free to act outside of His moral rules in the same way that He is free to suspend His physical rules, which is really what miracles are all about.
    Why would God suspend His moral rules? The scriptures often use the picture of a father to describe God to us. Think about how you would be willing to suffer injustice for your children and you have a small inkling of how our father God is willing to suffer injustice for us. God's love for us causes Him to override what is logical and moral by punishing Christ for our sins. The whole message of the new testament is that God loves us more than anything. That is why in 1 corinthians 13, paul explains that in end everything passes away except love. We will never understand this love. It is beyond our comprehension. All we can do is accept it.

  20. ---


    If God's love allows him to send anyone to hell for eternity, than I'm not interested in his love, thanks.

    Also, using 1 Corinthians as your definition of love severely cripples your argument, since God doesn't live up to his own definition of love (he is jealous, keeps a record of wrongs, quick to anger, etc...)

  21. ---

    Also, if you're interested in equating morality with physical laws as both being created by God, then they are both equally arbitrary, since it's easy to see that the physical laws could be different. If that's the case, then God's punishing people for breaking arbitrary laws of morality would be just as nonsensical as God punishing people for defying the law of gravity by learning to fly.

    You might want to rethink your conception of Biblical morality, because you are on some thin ice there.

  22. Jake,

    You say: Why would God suspend His moral rules? The scriptures often use the picture of a father to describe God to us. Think about how you would be willing to suffer injustice for your children and you have a small inkling of how our father God is willing to suffer injustice for us. God's love for us causes Him to override what is logical and moral by punishing Christ for our sins.

    Two problems:

    1) If God "suspends" his moral rules and acts contrary to them, then he is immoral and not the perfectly holy and righteous God that evangelicals claim he is.

    2) The analogy of a loving father being willing to suffer for his child is correct and noble. But that is not the problem . The problem is why that suffering was needed and how that suffering can pay the price that someone else deserved. The problem is not with the substitute who was punished but the punisher who was willing to accept the punishment of an innocent.

  23. dear exploring, God sends no one to hell. His will is that none should perish but that all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ 1 timothy 2:4. However we all have freewill, which God will not override. As C.S. Lewis said in the end there are only two kinds of people, those who say to God, 'thy will be done' and those to whom God says 'all right have it your way'.

  24. Ken, (1)It is not that 'suspends' His moral rules, it is that He chooses to show mercy and love in spite of what the moral rules call for. If for the sake of our friendship, you choose to forgive me for some insult, i am still morally at fault. You haven't acted immorally by forgiving my immoral acts, you have decided that there is something more important than holding me to the moral standard ie our friendship. This is something similar to what God did on the cross.
    (2)The punisher and the punished are the same, this is the mystery of the trinity. Why did He choose this way? We can't say. His ways are above our ways and past our finding out. Remember He never did answer Job's questions about why. The counsels of God are beyond our capacity as finite beings.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Jake: "The punisher and the punished are the same, this is the mystery of the trinity."

    Jake, the trinity is a post-New Testament theological development of the church that people have read back into the text. Nowhere do we see God hanging on the cross, punishing Himself, God dying, God being raised from the dead.

    "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." OK, we have one party ("the Lord") laying iniquity on another party ("him"). They're NOT the same party. Trinitarianism makes a complete muddle of the Bible, all for the sake of a metaphysical formula that a bunch of bishops voted on hundreds of years after the New Testament was penned.

  27. Jake, are you saying that the person who is finally damned really wants to be in hell, that he prefers it? I know this is a standard evangelical argument, but I find it nowhere in the Bible. And even on the surface, it sounds too much like an argument of desperation.

    This "God sends no one to hell" is completely contradicted in Scripture, too. Didn't Jesus picture the judgment in terms of him actually saying, "Depart you cursed"? Sounds like he's sending them there (whatever we determine "hell" to be). Also, in Revelation, the text talks about God casting people into the lake of fire. Doesn't sound much like they're marching off to that destination willingly. (Again, whatever "the lake of fire" is supposed to be.)

    Also, this idea that "free will" is so sacred even God won't touch it ... well, it's crazy. That's like me saying, "Yes, I told my children not to go near that cliff. But I love them so much I won't violate their free will if they choose to disobey me. I'll let them fall off. That's not as bad as violating their free will."

    Besides, couldn't God convert lots of people without "overriding" their free will? Maybe just provide a compelling revelation or bring certain influences to bear upon them. After all, God knows what it would take to get through to each person, right?

    BTW, if you talk to some of your Calvinist brethren, they'll show you a wealth of biblical examples where God does override human free will.

  28. dear steve, Your picture of salvation is much to small. Admittly it has been popular in evangelical circles to reduce salvation to a single choice, and i agree it does begin with a single choice. However i believe biblical salvation involves an ongoing committment to trust, follow and obey Jesus Christ. We are all by our own choices either moving closer to God or further away. In the end we will by our choices either spend eternity with Him or without Him. Hell is that eternal place where He is not. Earth can be the beginning of hell if He is totally excluded as we can see in some places where He has been excluded.

  29. While we are on the subject of Latin translations, the word "Peccatus" is translated in the Bible as meaning sin, whereas when I studied LAtin school, it meant "burden" as in carried on the back of a donkey -a load. If you translate sin as burden, doesn't that make a lot more sense of penal substitution? Jesus would have saved us from our burdens- not our sins.

  30. Jake,

    Evangelicals today are so squeamish about the "tortured forever" part ... unlike your forefathers, who never seemed to shrink from lurid descriptions of it. Instead, you guys euphemize about simply being in a place where God isn't.

    BTW, if the unbelieving will "perish" and "not see life," why does it follow that they will spend eternity somewhere? Will God resurrect them and give them immortal, imperishable bodies, just so they can keep on existing in pain?

  31. Clare, the anccient Greek word would be hamartia wich come from Aristotle and mean a zillion differnt things, but usually discribed as 'missing the mark'. Like from archery.

  32. ---


    You may think SteveJ's vision of salvation is much too small, but your picture of salvation suffers an even greater dilemma.

    It's unbiblical, and thoroughly unbiblical at that.

    Take some time and read Paul's view of salvation to see just how unbiblical it is, or just read John's gospel.

    SteveJ, great points about free will. If anyone wants to know if God impinges upon peoples' free will, just go to a children's hospital, and ask some of the more enfeebled children if they "chose" their current conditions.

    The Free Will Defense is the most desperate attempt evangelicals have come up with to get around the glaring and obvious issues with their theology.

  33. dear steve, I don't say there will be no torture, just that it is not God doing the torturing. Surely you know folks in this world living in a tortured state of their own making. The worst form of torture is to be a lonely, forsaken soul and to know that it was your choices that put you there.
    We all have an eternal soul and we all will spend eternity somewhere, God is life and the source of all life, therefor those who reject Him will not see life.

  34. Mr. Ken,

    I dont beleve that Tertullian 'maintaining that the notion that the Son of God died is absurd, yet it is for this very reason that he believes it'. He's obviously useing exageration with irony, just like he learnt from that old dude Aristotle. Here, read it for yourself.

  35. "We all have an eternal soul and we all will spend eternity somewhere, ..."

    TOTALLY unbiblical. What text demonstrates that each person has an immortal soul?

  36. Chaz. Thanks for the ancient Greek translation. I don't know any Greek apart from the alphabet. So if translated correctly, Jesus died on the cross to save us all from "missing the mark" or having heavy burdens to bear? There doesn't seem to be much point in that. Anyone else want to come up with an ancient aramaic word for "sin"?

  37. ---


    Have you ever read the Bible? Your perception of hell doesn't square with the Bible, even a little bit.

    The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God punishes us for our sins, and the reason people go to Hell is for punishment's sake and punishmet's sake alone. God sends people to Hell if they have not accepted Christ as their Savior WHETHER OR NOT THEY WANT TO GO TO HELL!

    You are espousing such a watered down, fluffed up version of Christianity, it's not worth even rebutting your claims. You need to argue from the Bible, since we can't argue with your imagination.

  38. steve, mark 9:43-48, matthew 18:8, matthew 25:46
    are just a few of the verses that tell us of eternal hell. Each of is immortal. That is awesomeness of the choices in front of us. We will live with those choices forever.

  39. Jake,

    I'm curious ... in those verses you provided, what method do you use to determine what's to be taken literally and what's to be taken figuratively? For instance, Mark 9: 43-48. First, the mention of "hell" there is the word "Gehenna," which refers to the Valley of Hinnom, a garbage dump southwest of Jerusalem that was always burning. It was a literal place that the listeners would've been familiar with. The fires never went out, and there was a particular sort of worm bred there.

    That, and the verses are saying it's better to cut of your own hand and go through life maimed, then to go to "Gehanna." Yet, clearly, all Christians don't take that literally. So, again, what method is used to determine that one portion of the sentence is literal, and one is not?

    Matthew 18:8 -- same problem.

    Matthew 25:46 -- the section itself is a pretty works-based one. It was the works of the person that Jesus rewarded, even though those people didn't know him.

    **God is life and the source of all life, therefor those who reject Him will not see life. **

    Then all the non-Christians shouldn't have a problem, as the opposite of life is death, not eternal punishment in hell.

  40. Exploring, I don't say people want to go hell. I'm sure that in most cases they don't. I am saying God wants no one to go hell and does everything He can to keep them from it. He sends no one to hell.
    In the end we all end up in one of two places either with God or without Him. We get to choose. The whole message of the new testament is God has a made a way for everyone to be with Him.
    The punishment for our sin is separation from God. He doen't need to add to it. Eternity without Him will be torment beyond our imagination. I'm sure you have spent a weekend or day with a perfectly selfish person or someone who is petty and mean spirited. It can be miserable to be around cetain people. Now imagine being a place filled selfish, bitter, angry people who no longer have the physical things of this world to distract them from their misery. And you are in this place forever. This will be a place of gnashing of teeth and wailing without ceasing. A place where Jesus says the fire never goes out, i believe He is referring to the fire of misery in their souls. The knowledge of what they have become and the knowledge that their own choices brought to this place. My friend God does need to add this punishment.

  41. Clare,

    The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The Latin translation was THE official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries and so the Latin word you refer to was a translation of one of the biblical words for "sin." Actually there are a number of words in the Bible which refer to "sin." harmartia is the most common Greek word which does essentially mean to "fall short" or "not measure up." Romans 3:23--"for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." There are many other words though which are translated "transgression," "iniquity," "evil," etc. All of these concepts are included in the doctrine of sin. Sin in its most basic form is a transgression of the law of God. It is disobedience and rebellion. Hope this helps

  42. Chaz,

    Perhaps Tertullian was using hyperbole, perhaps Paul was using hyperbole, but I am just quoting what they said. I personally don't think its hyperbole, I think they are acknowledging that salvation through Jesus' death on the cross makes no human sense. They are arguing in makes divine sense but not human sense.

  43. Jake: "... God wants no one to go hell and does everything He can to keep them from it."

    Wow, that's some pretty unimpressive omnipotence. The Almighty throws up His hands and says, "I've done everything I can and nothing works."

    Also, you assume hell will be populated with all ghastly, egocentric monsters of iniquity. Really? The nice little old lady down the street who's Jewish -- she's a beast who will help turn the afterlife into a chamber of horrors? Is that what you think?

    Here's what I think: Deep down, you know the traditional dogma of hell is so unjust and morally repulsive that you must gerrymander whatever unlikely explanation will blunt the idea's troubling implications. I understand. I wrestled with the doctrine for a long time and finally gave it up.

  44. ---


    Like SteveJ said, your idea about Hell seems a little, um, imaginative.

    What about my grandfather, an old Jewish man who vehemently rejects that Christ is the Messiah (he's still waiting for the messiah), but talk about an unselfish, magnanimous man. He would give you (and he doesn't even know you) the very clothes on his body if you needed them. He's the only reason that my mother and two sisters and I were able to survive when we were younger, as he paid our rent and bought our groceries every month, while taking care of his sickly mother 24/7 (he actually lived at his mother's house to care for her, instead of living with my grandmother).

    Oh, and he deeply and passionately loves God. The only thing that separates him from a Christian is that he denies that Christ is the Messiah. He repents of his sins, prays, fasts, and tries to live an upstanding and morally imitable life.

    Yet, you say he's going to hell because he doesn't want to be with God. THAT COULDN'T BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!!

    Your view of Hell, while being ridiculously unbiblical, doesn't comport with the facts of reality AT ALL. Stop clammering on with this liberal, watered-down version of Hell and get on with facing up with what your "Good Book" teaches about what God's planning on doing with nearly 90% of the people on this earth.

    Sending them to a torture chamber for all eternity...

  45. Ken,
    The official Catholic church translation of the Bible is obviously the one which most agrees with their idea of sin (a lot has to do with sexuality and masochism). "Falling short of.....God's expectations" does not have quite the same implications and certainly does not deserve eternal damnation (I agree with Steve here)

  46. I think we're all missing the point. If, as Christians insist, Jesus was God Incarnate, he got what God ordained & what was coming to him. Part of the point of the Atonement, according to some claims, was for God to come to earth as a man and share in our suffering, for which, as the creator and arbiter of all things good and bad, God is responsible. The problem is, he could not have atoned for all the suffering of mankind and animalkind with 3 hours on the cross, or a hundred, or a million. The sacrifice of Jesus is only unjust if he was a mere mortal man.

  47. steve and exploring, All right you dont agree with my picture of hell. I think the real problem is you have decided that God is unfair and sends people to hell unfairly and you dont want to reconsider that your version of how things are may be incorrect. You set up a straw man that represents what God is supposed to do and then you complain that He is acting unfairly.
    Since none of us have been there, we are all to a cetain point guessing. I believe my version is consistent with the bible. Please explain where the bible contradicts my version, which by the way is not my version but has been held by many in the church for a very long time.
    God has died so that we don't have to go to hell. Wouldn't you agree, that is doing everything He can. What more would you have Him do? Except for overthrowing man's freewill and forcing them to accept Him, I don't see what esle He can do.
    I never said your grandfather was going to hell. I believe as long as he follows the light that he has and continues to seek God, he will be saved. Which by the way is consistent with long term church thinking.
    I think you should spend a little more time discovering what the church really believes before being so adamant in your rejection of it.

  48. This comment has been removed by the author.

  49. No, Jake. I don't see your view as "consistent with the Bible" at all. I'm unaware of any text that says hell is merely a "minus-God" place where people are free to act out their depravity.

    Actually, I don't think there is one, consistent voice in the NT about the fate of the wicked. Some texts teach total extinction of the lost (appears to be Paul's view). Others suggest the popular doctrine of eternal torment. Still others suggest universal redemption.

    I'm convinced that if the church at large had always been universalist, you would be, too. That's the way people are.

  50. ---


    This is a site devoted to the teachings of Evangelical Christianity, and I was brought up an evangelical, therefore I am versed in the evangelical point of view. That being said, I agree with SteveJ in that your viewpoint is wholly inconsistent with the Bible, not just in dealing with Hell, but with the nature of how God punishes sinners.

    Let's look at the Scriptures. Now you seem to imply that God doesn't punish people as much as they punish themselves. Well, do we have any reason to believe that God is wont to inflict pain on those who have sinned against him? Yes we do.

    From Deuteronomy, Chapter 28 "The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. And the heavens over your head shall be bronze and the earth under you shall be iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed...And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beats of the earth and there shall be no one to frighten them away. The lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed, . The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually and there shall be none to help you. You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her...Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless...The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head."

    Now, if God does this to people while they're alive and on the Earth, why should he suddenly becomes hands-off when he sends them to Hell? The point is, God actively punishes people for their sins, and this is the Biblical portrayal of Hell. It is a place where people are actively punished by God and "The smoke of their torment rises up forever and ever. There is no rest, day or night..."

  51. What does everyone think about the eastern orthodox view of the atonement of Christ, popular also in Celtic Christianity.

    The emphasis is more on healing, and being reconciled with God, enabled to share in His life, not so much the concept of a debt being paid.

    God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself..

  52. Grace, where can we read a succinct exposition of that viewpoint? I'm not familiar with it.

  53. Steve I will try to find a succinct exposition to share.

    Wanted to share this beautiful Christian Celtic blessing with you also.

    Deep peace of the running wave to you
    Deep peace of the flowing air to you
    Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
    Deep peace of the shining stars to you
    Deep peace of the Son of peace to you, forever,

  54. ---

    Jake, you indicated that we have been setting up a straw man argument, but I don't think so. Consider Matthew 10:28. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." This verse makes it unequivocally clear that it is God who inflicts the punishment in hell. He doesn't just simply allow us to destroy ourselves, but he ACTIVELY destroys the body and soul in hell. That goes directly against your viewpoint that "it is not God doing the torturing. Surely you know folks in this world living in a tortured state of their own making. The worst form of torture is to be a lonely, forsaken soul and to know that it was your choices that put you there." Your viewpoint is totally unbiblical.

    Besides, you imply that Hell being a miserable place due to so many unbridled sinners creating some sort of chaotic, anarchistic society. But, again, this is an unwarranted position given the words of Jesus in the Gospel, where he likens Hell to outer darkness (Matt 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). This indicates that there is no intermingling between inhabitants of hell. They are alone and suffering as God "destroys their soul and body" so that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is not the description of a hands-off God who just gives sinners over to their devices. So, yes Jake, your picture of Hell is not biblical.

    You keep insisting that we look at the beliefs of the church, but that's just inane. The only place we should look is the Bible, since the church throughout history has had several different, contradictory viewpoints about many a doctrine. No, what we should do is look at what the Bible says, because I couldn't care less what the church has espoused, if it's not biblical. I'm interested in whether or not the Bible is true or false, so I'm going to look at what the Bible says, and what your preach is not found in the Bible.

    Now, I thought your viewpoint on Hell was unbiblical, but your claim that if my father just simply responds to the light that he's been given, that he will be saved, might be the most heretical thing you've said yet. You've basically just called Paul and Jesus liars. Jesus says in John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." What about when Paul and Silas are asked pointedly about how to be saved. Paul and Silas reply, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will saved, you and your household." You must believe in Jesus to be saved." So there you have it. You have to believe in Jesus specifically to be saved, and if you don't before you die, you will be punished by God when he places you in Hell.

    Now, SteveJ brought up a great point. The Bible's inconsistency regarding hell is a real eye popper. Firstly, the OT, save a lone passage in Daniel, says nothing about Hell at all. It only speaks of Sheol, and Sheol is just the abode of the dead and is definitely not a place of afterlife suffering (this is can be seen by Job's imploring God to send him to Sheol so he no longer had to suffer while alive). Daniel, which was written in the mid second century BCE, is the first instance of any type of afterlife, everlasting punishment. Here's my question: Why did God wait SO LONG? Why did he not mention anything about Hell in the Book of the Law? Why no mention during the aforementioned curses in Deuteronomy? Why?

  55. ---

    Beyond that, Paul has a rather conspicuous failure to mention Hell in all of his letters (pseudigraphical or otherwise) save the mention of Tartarus (a Greek concept of Hell and certainly not unique to Christianity) and this was not even directed at humans but was in reference to how God was imprisoning fallen angels UNTIL the final judgment. Again, in all of Paul's letters, no mention, NOT A SINGLE ONE, about the fact that sinners will be cast into hell for all eternity. Rather curious, no? This is from Paul, whose effusive diatribes are a hallmark of his style says not a damn thing about eternal hell. Very strange, indeed!

    And could God have done more to keep people out of hell? Yes, he could have never created us. Easy, peasy, no one suffers, no pain, no misery, and God, who is supposed to be self-sufficient, would have been none the worse for it.

  56. Grace,

    I plan on doing some posts on the Eastern theories of the Atonement at some point. Basically, they see the incarnation as the central point in the atonement not necessarily the death. God by becoming man undoes through his life and his death what Adam "messed up." Irenaeus was the first to put forward this idea.

    For the Western church, its the death that is central to the atonement, and the death is in some sense a payment for sins.

  57. Ken, I will look forward then to reading your posts, and will enjoy hearing everyone's thoughts.

    In the Episcopal church, also, the incarnation, is very much stressed, and how we are changed through our unity with Christ, "to be like Him."

    I think I may have mentioned this in another post, but my thought is that there is probably some measure of truth in all these various theories, and analogies used by the church to frame the atonement of the Lord.

    But, I think they all must fall short of the reality itself, and must seem crude in comparison.

    Finite human minds, or words cannot fully describe or apprehend it.

  58. Interesting that as non believers you call me heretical. I think the problem is i dont subscribe to your version of orthodoxy. My point is that sin is what puts people in hell if they do not accept the saving grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Your jewish grandfather may accept that saving grace, i dont know if he will or not. I dont believe any of us can tell another person whether they are or are not saved. Salvation is between each person and their saviour. The whole point of christianity is that it is a personal relationship with Christ that saves us, not some subscription to someone's version of orthodoxy. The really important question is are you in Christ? Have you come into Jesus Christ by submitting your life to His rule? That is the only way to be saved, and all these arguments about atonement and hell are insignificant next to this question.

  59. I don't think anyone's calling you a heretic. Certainly not me (I have a long history of heretical views). The point is, you claim to believe in the New Testament, yet the view of hell you proclaim is utterly absent from it ... flatly contradicted by it, in fact. We're just calling you on it.

  60. Jake said>2)The punisher and the punished are the same, this is the mystery of the trinity. Why did He choose this way? We can't say. <

    God needed to evolve, and the only other option left would have been for God to simply forgive everyone.

    But then that meant nobody would have ever had any reason to join any special group.Leaving no option for anyone ever being able to tax that right of belief.Salvation could not be considdered to free or people wont pay anything for it.Thats not good for business.

    Theres really little mystery Jake.

  61. But then that meant nobody would have ever had any reason to join any special group.Leaving no option for anyone ever being able to tax that right of belief.Salvation could not be considdered to free or people wont pay anything for it.Thats not good for business.


    If God simply forgave us fallible humans for being just what he made us to be, then the priests would be out of a job.

  62. I guess we'll find out soon enough if the atonement is absurd. I'd love to know what a better option is. Do you have a problem with other religions or only Christianity?

    So thankful I'm secure in my faith..

  63. Several times throughout the scripture Paul is said to have "reasoned" with the people when talking to them about God and the gospel. That would indicate to me that the intellect was involved. You are grasping at straws on this foolishness thing...

  64. Alicia,

    I have problems with all forms of superstitious beliefs. As for a better option? How about if there is a god, he doesn't condemn us for what Adam supposedly did, how about he exercise some love and grace in relieving the unbelievable suffering on this planet, how about he make himself known if he wants people to worship him. Revealing himself to bronze age superstitious people who wrote down conflicting stories of their encounters with the divine is not very convincing. Especially when there are hundreds of other such stories in other cultures which contradict the Hebrew version.

  65. Beatrice,

    Paul's "reasoning" with the Jews out of the Scriptures was his attempt to argue from the Hebrew Bible that Jesus was the Messiah. It does not cancel out what he said in 1 Corinthians 1 about the cross being foolish or moronic. (those are his words not mine).

  66. Hi Ken,
    I know we all think differently about things and truthfully I think very different than most Christians. I don't read blogs but came across this yesterday and it really made me think about why it is I believe what I believe. I went home and read and prayed and was in turmoil over the reality of how people can dismiss Jesus and the Cross, etc. But I know it is a reality. I don't feel a condemnation from Him and I do feel love and grace. I read something you wrote and it made me think about why a person who isn't "clean" from the blood of Christ couldn't have access to God and why God couldn't just accept everyone even if they don't believe in Jesus. And it hit me that we see in scripture that satan comes face to face with God (example in Job). So it made me think that it isn't that one can't come face to face with God if they reject Him. It is just that He won't allow someone who clearly rejects Him and scoffs at Him to dwell with Him forever. It just doesn't seem unjust or unfair that if someone rejects Him that they can't dwell with Him. Thank You,

  67. The Cross was not foolishness to Paul, he was saying it is foolishness to you Ken..

  68. Oh Ken you are getting this all wrong! It isn't just suffering here on this planet! Look at all the good, and not just from the natural beauty. But let's start there. Mountains, birds, trees, seas, etc. Isn't this something good that God gave us? And what about all the good that happens every day? The starving children in Africa is gut-wrenching but I am working with a group that is over there now teaching them how to build crops and irrigate. God is doing something to help these people. He is using these people to help this starving land. This is such beauty to me. So there is both good and bad in this world and that doesn't mean that we can't believe in a God just because there are hard things.

    Would you believe in God if there was no suffering?

  69. Alicia,

    Stop and think for a moment about what you are saying: clean from the blood of Christ . Doesn't that strike you as bizarre? The blood of someone cleanses you from sin? How? and Why? One of my big questions is why does someone have to die before God can forgive? We, as humans, are better than that. If someone wrongs me, I can exact a penalty from them but I am praised as noble and loving if I forgive them unconditionally without requiring a penalty. Yet, the God of the Bible seems to be blood-thirsty. There is so much blood and violence in the Bible at the hands of God and it is not over yet. According to Revelation 19, blood will flow as high as the horse's bridle when Jesus returns. You worship a violent and blood-thirsty God. If you study history, you will see that this is how most ancient peoples conceived of God. Its their ideas and beliefs not a true revelation from God, in my opinion.

  70. Joshua,

    I commend you for the work you are doing. I have not ruled out the possiblity that there may be a divine being or force in the universe. I just don't think its the God of the Bible. If there is a God, he is not all loving and all merciful. Apparently his/her/its attitude towards humans is about the same as our attitude towards ants and spiders. If one is suffering, we don't care.

  71. Anon.,

    Paul was saying it was foolish but if one would go ahead and believe it, one would experience the power of God. I used to believe it and I thought I experienced the power of God. I have since come to the conclusion that my experience was no different than hundreds of other types of religious and mystical experiences that people (who have no association with Christianity) have experienced.