Posts Tagged ‘Revelation’

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On Eternal Conscious Punishment…

August 31, 2012

On the topic of Eternal Conscious punishment:

“Then [there] will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and the will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”[1]  Jesus spoke these words on the road to Jerusalem, and hence they have been the source of great anticipation and great apprehension for almost two thousand years.  Jesus spoke to His disciples about an impending moment of time, a moment impending still.  Most who read this text can detect the tension, the glorious and awful day of the Son of Man’s return.  We read this text confident with the knowledge that, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but (His) words will not pass away.”  The day is coming when; the trumpet shall sound, the elect shall be gathered, the wicked cast aside and the kingdom of God will endure forever more.  Then what? You might ask.  What is next?  What of the wicked?  Shall the wicked endure in punishment as the righteous in delight?  Can God’s kingdom, where the corruptible has become incorruptible, exist?  With the wicked present, suffering torment in light of God’s justice?

From the first Easter on these questions persist.  Christ’s resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples and community secure our faith’s belief in the like-resurrection awaiting the righteous; this belief is fundamental to that faith.[2]  His resurrection serves as a first-fruit of the promise, that for the saints, there is victory in death; “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]  Death’s sting shall not be removed for all however, for some will be raised not to inherit the kingdom, but to reap eternal punishment.  Our aim will be to address what shape that eternal punishment will take.

This view can be described as the orthodox position or traditional position within the church.  Throughout the history of the Church, many diverse individuals have found common ground on the profession that “the wicked will suffer the pains of hell forever.”[1]  “It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it.”[2]  To dissect this position let us take it word for word.

Eternal:  This means that the wicked that are cursed by God and have rejected His grace shall face punishment forever.  Jesus himself foretold that He shall declare to the wicked on the Day of Judgment: “depart from me in to the eternal fire…” and to the condemned He shall say, “…go away into eternal punishment.”[3]  This is furthermore declared in book of Christ’s Revelation, “and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night…”[4] The torment that awaits the wicked shall not end but shall endure eternally.

Conscious:  The conscious in Eternal Conscious Punishment denote that those who exist in torment and punishment forever will be cognizant of the punishment they receive and shall react with all the attributes of consciousness.[5]  In the previous passages mentioned, when Christ addresses the Day of Judgment, those who are cast into the outer darkness shall, “weep and gnash their teeth.”[6]  This is powerful imagery in that when one gnashes teeth it is in response to the infliction of pain.  There are no unconscious individuals who weep, none who knowingly gnash their teeth.

Punishment:  For those who hold the belief that the wicked shall suffer Hell eternally and consciously also believe that there shall be punishment.  Indeed just as “no eye has seen, nor ear heard… what things God has prepared for those who love him,” so too what has he prepared for those for do not love him.  “Hell is torment beyond comparison, the outcome of marvels, wrought by the greatest marvels of divine omnipotence, torment beyond any we could conceive.”[7]  These are strong words and powerful images, not the substance of joyous thought.  Those who cannot bear the thought of any suffering in such a manner, for such a time, have sought different interpretations of the same texts sighted.  Their conclusions hold that the future which awaits the damned is just as permanent but far different in experience than the one listed above.

I support the position of eternal conscious punishment; and I shall briefly outline the justification for said support.  My argument is really two-fold: one that ECP represents the majority and orthodox position and this fact is by no means incidental.  Two, I believe that ECP belies a consistency both biblically and theologically, which has accounted for its support throughout the development of Christianity and Christian Doctrine.

Orthodox for a Reason

The adoption of ECP as the orthodox view within Christianity was not an arbitrary choice.  Its support is first detected within the proclamations of Christ which lie at the very heart of the Faith.  Throughout the gospels Jesus proclaims the fate of those who fail to heed the call to follow Him.  Matthew 25:30, 41, 46 all speak to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, in the “eternal fire” for the purpose of “eternal punishment.”  Jesus affirms in Mark chapter 9 that the same fire is “never quenched.”  We see in Luke 16 He tells of the rich man and Lazarus, and the torment of the rich man.  Jesus first raises the dichotomy of eternal reward mirrored by eternal punishment.  “Matthew, as D.A. Carson notes, ‘uses the adjective aionios… only for what is eternal.’ The punishment that the lost suffer in hell is parallel to the bliss that the righteous enjoy on the new earth.”[1]  Like ripples in a pond Jesus’ testimony of future eternal punishment was adopted and perpetuated the apostles.

The apostles expanded and added interpretation to the gospels’ record of Jesus’ teachings.  While the word hell is not mentioned in Paul’s writings[2] there can be no doubt that from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, Paul proclaims that God’s judgment awaits the wicked.  The author of Hebrews considers eternal judgment to be a “foundational elementary teaching.[3]” James, Peter, Jude and John, in their letters, all allude to coming torment for the wicked apart from Christ.  The pinnacle of this commentary comes in apocalyptic narrative form in John’s Revelation of Christ.  We have mentioned some of the passages previously, suffice it to say, Revelation chapter 20 stands as a vivid picture “emphasizing that hell is just [and eternal] punishment for the wicked.”[4]  As the church developed and strengthened, so too did the affirmations of this doctrine by the early church fathers.

By the late second century the theologian Tertullian arguing against the Gnostic heresy and the denial of physical resurrection argued that the enduring punishment in view is akin to “never-ending killing” the continual conscious penalty for those who die in sin.[5]  Tertullian led to Augustine in AD 400; Augustine to the Council of Constantinople in AD 553;[6] from Constantinople to Aquinas in AD 1270; on through to Luther and the Reformation in AD 1553.[7]  In fact, “from Augustine to the Reformation, only the ninth century Irishman, John Scotus Erigena, positively denied an eternal, or even material hell.”[8]  ECP, as a doctrine of the church, maintained almost unparalleled loyalty throughout the churches history, this loyalty springs from its consistency with biblical theology.

 


[1] Matthew 24:30

[2] I Corinthians 15:14-19 “ And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hopein this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

[3] I Corinthians 15:57

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04.

[2] Beale, Christopher W. contr. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Pub. 2004.) 139.

[3] Hebrews 6:1-3 (Beale, 140.)

[4] Beale, 141.

[5] Peterson, Robert A. contr. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove, IL. IVP, 2000.) 119.

[6] Constantinople declared that “whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end… let him be anathema.” Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. (New York, NY. Simon and Schuster, 1976) 340.

[7] Peterson, 119-122.

[8] Johnson, 340.

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04. Indeed Peterson goes on to list 11 prominent figures from Christianity History who subscribe to this doctrine; among the 11 listed we find: Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, and Millard Erickson.

[2]  Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (USA, Hendrickson Pub. Inc.

1999.) 870.  Hodge also attests that the broad reception of this view among the church is due to more that simply church authority in protecting doctrine, “it was universally received before the external church had aggregated to itself the right to dictate to the people…what they must believe.”  The churches teaching on this was not upset or challenged by the reformation rather the reformation continued and affirmed the doctrine of ECP.

[3] Matthew 25:30 (emphasis mine), and Matthew 25:41 respectively.

[4] Revelation 14:11

 [5] The most chilling account of this conscious torment is found in Luke 16:19-31.  Here Jesus tells the story of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus; both die and head into eternity, the rich man to Hades and Lazarus to Heaven.  The Rich man Begs Abraham to dip the tip of his finger in water to quench the burning of his tongue, and even to send Lazarus back so that the rich man’s brothers might be warned.  Both requests end in denial and the realization that such torment is irreversible and permanent.

[6] Matthew 25:30

[7]  Winklhofer, Alois. The Coming of His Kingdom: A Theology of Last Things.

(New York, NY. Herder and Herder. 1966.) 86.

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Catholic Authority: The Word on Tradition…

July 7, 2012

Below is a brief overview of the sources, transmission, and interpretation of divine revelation within the Roman Catholic Church with particular attention to the functions of: Scripture,  Apostolic Tradition, and the Magisterium.

For the Church authority matters.  By what authority a church or religious institution claims to exist and speak into the lives of its adherents is of primary importance.  Within the Catholic Church authority is primarily derived from one source;  the revelation of God.  Understanding how that revelation was manifested and received is key to understanding the authority of the Catholic church and its mission.  God in his wisdom chose to reveal Himself and to make known to mankind the “hidden purpose of His will.”[1]  The majesty and impact of this act has not been lost on the church, and in fact, has served to animate the activities and construction within the church, of the apparatus necessary to share this glorious revelation with the world.  Our task here will be to examine the elements, sources and impact of the church’s use of this revelation; and how this differs from and/or fascinates protestant evangelicalism.

That God chose to reveal himself to the world is not in dispute within the church.  How God accomplished this revelation and how the church responded has often been a point of division throughout the history of Christianity.  For the Catholic Church,  there are three primary sources of God’s revelation to man.  This trinity of divine revelation takes the form of two modes of transmission and mode of interpretation.  God.  God transmitted His word through two sources; sacred scripture and tradition.[2]  These two occupy the same space and serve to work together and form a unified front of the truth of Christ.  They “are bound closely together and communicate one with the other.”[3]

Sacred Scripture is the actual written word of God, recorded through the work and breath of the Holy Spirit.[4]  This Scripture is the record of God’s deeds made manifest in the history of salvation. The word both confirms and is confirmed by the works of God in history.[5]  Chief among God works recorded in the Scriptures is the incarnation of the mystery of His Son.  Christ serves to make the revelation of God to man complete.  This leads us to the second mode of God’s revealing transmission, tradition.

Holy tradition is the entirety of God’s word communicated from God to the apostles by Christ and by the Holy Spirit.[6]  These are the oral teachings of Christ, recorded in the gospels, which informed the first church fathers, the apostles, as to the construction and actions of the Church.  The church is the product of Christ’s incarnation and work here on earth; indeed it is the focus of God’s revelation through His son and the Holy Spirit.  As such, the church “does not derive certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone.”[7]  But rather it must derive its certainty about truth from the work of scripture and tradition together.  And each must be accorded “equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”[8]  These are the two modes of the transmission divine revelation.  And both for “one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.”[9]  Of chief importance to the church is its mode of interpreting this sacred deposit and communicating this truth to its believers.  This task falls under the work of the Magisterium.

The Magisterium serves to, “give authentic interpretation of the word of God,” to the people of God within the church.[10]  It is not superior to God’s word, but is indispensable to the work of God, acting as the servant of the word; “teaching what has been handed on to it.”[11]  While not equal to God’s word, it exercises its authority from Christ to the “fullest extent” when it serves to defines dogma from God’s revelation.[12]  This si the work of define truths from Scripture and tradition to inform the life of the believer and conform the behaviors of the faithful to the image of Christ.  This work is necessary to the effectiveness of the Scriptures.[13]

These three elements of divine revelation weave together the tapestry of divine authority as exercised by the church.  Each mode serves to inform the other and bring definition to the will of God for the believer.  And each is of indispensable importance to the authority of the church on earth.  We shall now examine the sources the church uses to proclaim this authority.

As was evidenced in the discussion above, there are three sources and methods by which the church has developed the doctrine of divine revelation.  More than any other doctrine, this one has woven together its substance and its subject.  How do we know what to believe about the Scriptures? We know from the Scriptures.  What informs our thoughts on tradition?  Of course, the history of tradition within the church.  Each of these doctrines is joined together by the work of the Magisterium.  The Catechism speaks to revelation in a section entitled “God comes to meet Man.”  Within that section on divine revelation, the chief source of catechetical instruction comes from Vatican II and the document Dei Verbum.  Dei Verbum was solemnly promulgated by Pope Paul VI, to follow in the foot steps of “the council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.  The presentation of this doctrine within the teaching of the church reflects very much the substance of this doctrine in practice.  It is often difficult to tell where Scripture begins and where tradition ends, or visa versa.  This is a key point of Criticism among evangelical and has been since the Council of Trent.

While the elevation of the entirety of Scripture as the infallible word of God is commendable, the chief complaint among protestant evangelicals is the equal elevation of tradition.  Placing anything on par with the word of God as proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, recorded in writing by the priests, prophets an apostles; is viewed as unacceptable.  Whether catholic or protestant, one can not deny the importance or the role of Christ’s church on earth.  Jesus gave his life for His church, His bride.  But the protestant desire for sola scriptura (scripture alone) is based on the belief that Scripture alone is “God breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.”[14]  Also there is an appeal on behalf of evangelicals to examine the fruit of the church’s history concerning the practice of its tradition and Magisterium.  By misinterpreting the  perceived oral teachings of Christ, the habits of the early church fathers and even the composition of the canon to include apocryphal books and treating them as authoritative on par with the explicit recorded word of God, much damage has been done to the witness of Christ on earth.  The word has been given, and the mission is clear to Go into all the word, teaching what Christ taught, making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Father son and the Holy Spirit.  Elevating any human teaching or tradition to the level of this truth is bound to compete with the spirit of that mission.

In concluding it is worth examining this doctrine in terms of mystery and fascination.  As an evangelical protestant, I must admit to finding some attraction to the permanence and authority with which the Catholic church operates.  There is perceived, unquestioning adherence to what the church teaches and often times a confidence which grows from those convictions.  I think the evangelical world is beset by variation and independence of conscious to the point that it can be very difficult to discern what is true and authoritative; what truly should inform our lives?  The Catholic Church would appear to have answers to these questions.  And that perception is alluring and enticing, and its authority is attractive in this post-modern world.  The reality of course is that perception is often greater that reality.  The Catholic Church is not a monolithic body of mindless automatons.  But rather it is a vibrantly diverse group of over a billion people, some following the letter of the tradition, others not.  Ultimately evangelicals, myself included, must root our confidence in the word of God, for it alone possesses the power to save the souls of men.[15]  Our tradition must be that sole adherence to the word, which was made manifest in the Son.  The Word full of Glory, glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.  Lacking in nothing.

 

Glossary

The Holy Scriptures: The speech of God as put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit, organized in the Canon, called the Holy Bible.

 

Tradition: The entirety of the Word of God entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.

 

Magisterium: the servant of the Word of God, it is the teaching office of the church, giving authentic interpretation to the Word of God, whether in written form or in tradition.

 

Dei Verbum:  (The words of God) the Chief document of Vatican II discussing the revelation of God to the Church through the Scriptures, Holy Tradition and the role of the Magisterium.

 

Sola Scriptura:  One of the five Solas of the reformation.  Testifying to the belief of the reformers that scripture alone should instruct and inform the life of the believer and that tradition and the Magisterium were in no way equal in substance, importance, or function to the Word of God.

Bibliography

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ligouri: Liguori

Publications. 1994. Sections 50-141 the Revelation of God and Sacred Scripture.

 

Dei Verbum. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. Promulgated by His

Holiness Pope Pail VI, November 18, 1965


[1] Dei Verbum (DV) Ch1:2

[2]Catechism Sec. 81.

[3] Catechism Sec. 80

[4] Ibid Sec. 81

[5] DV Ch.1:2

[6] Catechism Sec. 81

[7] Catechism Sec. 82

[8]Ibid.

[9]DV Ch. 2:10

[10] Catechism Sec. 85

[11] Catechism Sec. 86

 [12] Catechism Sec. 88

[13] Ibid.

[14] 2 Timothy 3:16

[15] James 1:21

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Hope and Fear Revealed…

May 4, 2010

Revelation 19-22.

Out of all the chapters in the Bible these three are, for me, the most awe inspiring and frightening.  My fright does not come from any fear of abandonment or uncertainty quite the opposite.  These passages inspire a fear of God, a healthy fear, one we are far too reticent to embrace today.  There is so much packed into these passages, theologically speaking, that it is safe to say no two groups have found agreement on their total meaning.  And I must be honest in saying that my speculation as to “the end” spelled out in these chapters is just that, speculation, marred by a fallen mind.  So I leave these chapters with two primary thoughts; one fear and one hope.

My fear.  The pervasive all encompassing nature of God’s Holy Glory.  Throughout these chapters, verse by verse, we are confronted with God’s un-yielding holiness.  We know the song that we will sing eternally, from previous chapters and from Isaiah “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”(Rev 4:8)  This song is made manifest in God’s actions throughout 19-22; God will judge completely the whole of heaven and earth and the armies of Heaven WILL bring recompense against the wicked.  The birds will gorge on the flesh of the wicked, on the beast and the false prophet, and Satan himself will be cast into everlasting seperation from all that is good.  Those who are not chosen, separated out and made holy by Christ, finding their names absent in the book of life; WILL be cast into the lake of fire.  These ends and these judgments are certain, they WILL happen and they should inspire us to warn others of what will come.  We must tell others that while God’s judgement is certain, so too is His grace to save all who call on His name.

My Hope.  One of the most touching verses in all of Scripture is found in Revelation 21:5, “and he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”  Thanks be to God that this phrase is true; that it has been true throughout history; and that it will be true for all of eternity.  Where would I be if not a new creation in Christ?  What hope is found in the truth that He who made the world; who will judge the world to utter destruction; shall once again remake the world, heavens and earth to and for his glory.  And from that glory this new creation shall never pass.  Darkness will perish and night shall be no more, God will be the light and all of us found in Him shall reign with Him forever.  I and all of this creation yearn for that which will be made new for His glory; that I may enjoy Him forever and sing Hallelujah to Him who called me out of darkness and into His marvelous light.