The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP vs. JPH vs. Christian Universalism

James Patrick Holding (JP Holding or JPH) is a popular internet Christian apologist who is a featured ministry sponsor at and the Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministries ( He’s worked hard the past ten years or so to develop a respectable (if not always respected) presence on the net, and we have some mutual friends and associates in the field, including Victor Reppert (Christian philosopher, author, teacher, and scholar of C. S. Lewis’ theology, who runs the Dangerous Idea weblog); and Joe Hinman (aka “Metacrock”), who helped create the Christian Cadre apologetics team (which I am a member of) and who contributed a chapter to JPH’s tome on the resurrection of Jesus a few years ago.

JPH, like myself, works within the Lewisian school of Christian apologetics and theology: we both approach historical apologetics and trinitarian/Christological apologetics more or less the same way, and we’ve both arrived at some similar conclusions (via Lewis’ example and guidance) on things like the eternal suffering of the Son exemplified and historicized on the cross. In short, he’s (more-or-less) the same sort of Arminian I used to be (and mostly still am–universalism notwithstanding!) He has a clever sense of humor, and can be a bit acerbic and feisty sometimes (the main article I was asked to discuss is titled “hello” in the web address, for example!), but is typically a careful and qualified worker.

Recently I was contacted by a new member to ask if I or someone else would like to respond to JPH’s article of replies, “Questions About Hell from” to Gary Amirault’s article at “Is Salvation A Deliverance From Hell or Eternal Death?” JPH reprinted some of this material in Tekton’s What in Hell is Going On?, which was released last August (probably at least partially prompted by Rob Bell’s book); but JPH links to his recently rethought understanding of hell as eternal shame at the outset of his article, which is definitely a crucial part of that book. Anyway, I’ve bought the E-book, too, and will comment on it as I go.

Update from JPH himself (in private correspondence, with his permission to post for correction) on the question of the Rob Bell connection:

This will be a very long thread (I’m currently just under 40,000 words, and still lack a grand finale on 1 Peter disagreements, plus picking up some topics from WIHIGO), so to keep the reply contiguous I’ll be locking the thread. However, another thread will be set up parallel to this one for member commentary. :slight_smile: (And lo, it was accomplished! :mrgreen: )

I have emailed JPH, alerting him to the reply’s existence, in case he wishes to spend his own time and energy on the topic. As always I strongly caution our members not to take a lack of reply (which might be only apparent), now or later, to mean anything against JPH’s favor: we’re very busy as Christian apologists on a number of topics.

If JPH shows up on the board to comment, I am likely to be extremely protective of him (in gratitude for his willingness to participate here). So play nice.

Part 1 – On Shame And Honor And Punishment And Hell

[Note: JPH has recently alerted me that he has a new eBook on the atonement coming out that will update his positions from the article which he references and which I comment on below. Readers should be aware that some of my critiques may be out of date, although until I have a copy of the new monograph I may not know which ones.

Anyway, when I have access to his new text and have caught up enough elsewhere to comment on it, I’ll add a link to my new comments here, along with links here and there to where the eBook can be found.]

I largely agree with JPH’s article on “The Crucifixion, the Nature of Hell, and Shame” (which appears to have been written back at the time of the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ). For example, the NT texts never speak of the pain of the cross (although OT texts prefiguring it sometimes do speak of the physical suffering–a point JPH misses, though not fatally to his contention), but focus on the death and shame of the cross. The Ancient Near Middle East of the Biblical world was (and still mostly is) an honor and shame culture, and crucifixion was largely about the shame involved. JPH’s thesis is that the shame and degradation of the cross, not the pain primarily (although pain was an integral part of the shame), was the “payment” for our sins.

JPH thus avoids the critique that Jesus could not have suffered “enough” in those few hours to pay for all sins: it’s a question now of quality not of quantity, of the One Who is intrinsically worthy of highest honor voluntarily being dishonored. The idea of a god, and especially God Most High, voluntarily being shamed in their stead, would have been strongly attractive to people in cultures all around the Mediterranean (and in other shame/honor cultures, too).

(JPH also seems sympathetic to Glenn Miller’s defense of the idea that Jesus in His divine identity can never historically put that experience behind Him the way that someone who was only a creature could. Certainly I’m sympathetic to that concept; I’ve argued in favor of it myself in Sword to the Heart.)

More pertinently to our present purpose, JPH thinks that sin “is particularly an honor offense against God, in effect an insult to His honor and place by means of disregard of His authority and rules.” Certainly I can agree with that, although I would go much further and more fundamentally: I understand sin to be acting toward the fulfillment of non-fair-togetherness between persons, and so to be acting in direct contravention to the ground of our existence–Who is in His own self-existence an eternally coherent and active interpersonal unity. It is by God’s grace that no sinner simply pops out of existence (as a person at least) by sinning, just as it is by God’s grace that any of us exist in the first place: by God’s grace we keep existing as persons. God (I argue elsewhere at length) would be similarly sinning to act toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness with us; and by allowing us to cease to exist (much moreso by directly causing us to cease to exist), He would thus be fulfilling non-fair-togetherness with us.

In my soteriological account, it is not that God requires an infinite payment or repayment of anything: what He requires is that we do justice, righteousness, fair-togetherness, toward Him and toward all other created persons! By participating in the sacrifice of the Son, in a cooperative instead of a rebellious way (emblematic in the eating of the Lord’s Supper and being baptized into Jesus’ death–other traditionally recognized “sacraments” would also fit the principle), we cooperate with God; it is in this sense that the blood of Jesus alone is adequate to take away sin. Cooperating with anyone else would be less than full cooperation with God; and this is what God is leading us to do.

(That isn’t the only way in which I affirm the blood of Jesus alone to be adequate to send away sin; there is a cultural argument regarding covenantal promises as an instituted typology of Christ’s commitment to us, which I would argue from the basis of Hebrews 9, for example, among some other more metaphysical rationales. I’ll be discussing this much later when JPH brings up Heb 9:27.)

JPH’s position does clarify and simplify the question of sin being an infinite offense, but he isn’t very clear as to how Jesus, even in His divine identity, remains the only adequate payment of shame to the insult of God (including God the Son’s) honor. It is true that no honor of our own (being only acquired honor at most) can match His own ascribed honor (due Him by nature); but JPH shortly afterward affirms, I think correctly, that the whole point to God’s punishment of sinners is to shame the sinners (not to shame the righteous) so to lead them to recognize the need for repentance and reconciliation!

This leads to JPH’s attempt at connecting this idea to eternal conscious suffering in hell. JPH calls “old fashioned” the conception of Hell as a place of flesh in “extreme physical pain”; in fact, JPH (sort of) rejects the whole concept of physical pain in Hell, not merely the imagery of sizzling grids and torture devices–although torture devices were sometimes used as figures of divine punishment by Jesus, so perhaps “old fashioned” is not the best way to reject their literal application! I think it is going to be hard to get around the expectation of physical suffering, including by means of something analogous to fire (or by the Consuming Fire to Whom natural fire is merely analogous), when the unjust are physically resurrected to something that could be described in one place by reference to a lake of fire and in another by reference to the unquenchable fire of Gehenna. The fire itself may not be physical, but the suffering does seem to be.

No doubt, shame and disgrace are also routine descriptions of this state in the scriptures. I would say “gnashing of teeth” is more strongly indicative of impenitent anger, but of course the anger would be partly due to not accepting the shame and disgrace of the punishment. It seems strange for JPH to avoid or disavow the physical suffering, but as we shall see he also ends up, in rather the Lewisian sense, avoiding the notion of God actively punishing sinners, too.

JPH must avoid the notion of God actively punishing sinners, however–which I would say ought to be recognized by all sides of the dispute as an extremely common scriptural detail on the topic, whatever that detail may mean (although I take the detail to mean that God actively punishes sinners!)–because otherwise his first primary point would point to purgatorial universalism instead of to his Arminian variant of eternal conscious torment.

To wit:

I am more than a little fuzzy how receiving back the treatment/effects you give other agents with a multiplier effect does not result in the old-fashioned notion of physical suffering for resurrected doers of injustice; but more importantly, JPH here emphatically acknowledges that the response that God requires to His punishment is to repent, stop rebelling, and be saved!

This makes fine enough sense: JPH follows here the Arminian track exemplified by Lewis that God is essentially love and so must necessarily act in fulfilling love toward the object even when punishing a person. The person is free not to respond the way God wants; but JPH also affirms that the person, seeking to get away from the Presence of the greatest glory and honor possible, can never succeed in doing so because God is omnipresent–in Him all things move and have their being and continue to hold together.

If that’s the case however, then God’s punishment, with the goal of leading the person to repentance, would go on following the sinner, with the sinner never being able to escape it. That, combined with the Arminian scope of God acting to save all sinners from sin, would be technically universalism!–even if some sinners persisted in stalemating God with rebellion. It would still be universalism from God’s side of the account, which by any account is the account which ought to matter most when we’re talking about soteriology (the choices of sinners notwithstanding)!

But if God stops punishing them, then God isn’t requiring them to repent and be saved anymore either: the result becomes a sort of sad but inadvertent side effect.

JPH follows out this line of thought: it is not that God is punishing the person (although JPH doesn’t quite explicitly deny this), but rather that “[t]he person who is ashamed cannot come into the presence of God, but would indeed be driven away from it”, not indeed by God’s choice per se but, “by the very nature of the dialectic. …] Literally speaking, ‘Hell’ would be a life on the lam – always trying to get yourself further and further from God’s holiness,” but always being frustrated due to God’s omnipresence.

That isn’t a bad description of the impenitent shamed, but it does overlook Biblical examples indicating that those who are shamed (up to and including obscure passages about rebel gods, but also including very famous passages such as the Prodigal Son) can and do come back to the Father: when they choose to repent and accept their shame for its properly God-intended purpose!

It also, not incidentally, leaves the whole positive action on the side of the sinner, with God only making (or rather having only made) a provision for the sinner to come back. There is no going out after the 100th sheep, or even running down the errant sheep the way a king runs down a fleeing army to subdue and bring it back under loyal service to him (per Psalm 23.) This is the characteristic unbalance of the Arminian soteriology generally. (Calvinistic soteriology generally unbalances the other way, tending toward God being the only positive act-er in the dialectic. But the Calvs do at least have the right emphasis in Who is doing the primary acting in soteriology; which is something that Arminians do also frequently remember, too.)

Notably, JPH’s account does make room for people with lesser sins to (maybe perhaps) “be able to withstand God’s omnipresence to a greater degree than a greater sinner”. However, by the same logic the greater sinners would actually be less likely (even if in the long run) than the lessers sinner to be able to resist facing up to their sins as such and learning the lesson that God intends for them in their punishment!–the greater sinner would be proportionately more likely to repent and be saved from their sins!

Unless, of course, the punishment, and thus the goal of the punishment, is quietly dropped out of the account. (Obviously if the goal of God’s punishment isn’t what JPH and I agree it is, then this result wouldn’t necessarily follow.)

I agree of course that those who reject God’s grace will never grow so long as they reject God’s grace–but that in itself leaves open the principle of them to accept God’s grace at last (even if the worst sinner, finally repenting, lags behind those who started growing sooner.)

In short, it is difficult for me to see how exactly JPH is closing off the hope for such sinners, other than by quietly dropping the notion that God is actively punishing them. But at the very least this would seem to fly as much in the face of scriptural testimony as any Christian universalism would be supposed to do!

Next up: a bunch of agreements and non-criticisms!

Note (also added before Part 1 above, with minor positional differences): JPH has recently alerted me that he has a new eBook on the atonement coming out that will update his positions from the article which he references and which I comment on above. Readers should be aware that some of my critiques will be out of date, although until I have a copy of the new monograph I may not know which ones. My tentative educated guess at the moment would be that he has better incorporated the extremely numerous scriptural testimonies about God actively punishing sinners post-mortem, rather than denying that hell has anything to do with God’s anger (as he puts it later in his main article); since that is the main point at which his argument above runs most against the data.

(Update: JPH in private correspondence, posted here on the commentary thread with his permission, actually says he’ll be adjusting by going even farther in disassociating hell from God’s punishment, apparently also in disassociating God’s action in relation to those in hell. My comments on this will follow in the commentary thread afterward, not in this thread.)

Anyway, when I have access to his new text and have caught up enough elsewhere to comment on it, I’ll add a link to my new comments up at the head of Part 1, along with links there and at my revised Part 1 to where his eBook can be found.

Part 1.5 – Preliminary Comparisons With WIHIGO

As noted after Part 1, JPH has recently revised his understanding of atonement in some fashion that updates his hellshame theory (if I may coin a nifty sounding appellation!) in some way that outdates at least some of my critical remarks.

Or so he has told me. His new eBook monograph on the topic hasn’t been released yet, and he didn’t point me to a Tekton article on the topic.

That leaves me unsure of how to proceed next, because many of his replies to Gary Amirault’s challenges to non-universalist Christians (of various stripes) are heavily based on the argument and principles of his hellshame theory as put forth in the article he linked to when answering Gary.

JPH’s eBook What In Hell Is Going On?, released last summer, retains his honor/shame theory about hell (technically he calls it the agonistic theory, after the technical sociological term for a society built on competing for honor and shame).

To me it seems to be the same theory: "Hell is [JPH’s emphasis] NOT a place of literal fiery torture. It is a place – or perhaps state – of separation from God. The uncleansed sinner has a ‘polarity’ that is repulsed by the holiness of God. They cannot bear His presence, but since that presence in some sense permeates the entire creation, they can never truly get away from it – and certainly can never approach the manifested presence of God personally. The shame of their sin is such that all of creation, and God’s presence, is a constant rebuke and reminder of their sin and their unredeemed state.

“To this extent [JPH here quotes directly from his prior article on hellshame], hell is like a life on the lam – with the unredeemed constantly seeking relief from God’s presence (but finding none).”

My principle objections from Part 1 remain the same: this runs against the whole thrust of God’s original activity to save us from sin, and doesn’t really gell with the frequent scriptural testimony of God actively punishing sinners. God’s omnipresence already “permeates” all creation, so it isn’t as though He cannot dial back cognitive exposure to Himself if that’s a problem driving sinners away; and in fact the extreme driving factor of God’s presence to which the sinner is reacting by unsuccessfully fleeing, conflicts a concept of hell as a state of separation from God. And how does this not count as torture?–unless the effect of ‘rebuke’ is only an inadvertent side-effect of God’s expression.

We know (from long personal experience) that people can live without this level of exposure to God’s reality, and so therefore that God can allow people to exist without such a level of exposure. So is God actively choosing to relate in such a (yes quite literally) ‘painfully obvious’ fashion eventually?–or does this happen apart from God’s choice, even despite it? Would God prefer for the sinner to continue muffled away in bearable safety, or to be fleeing ever-unsuccessfully from the truth of God’s righteous omnipresence? If the former, what forced the situation against God’s preference? If the latter, then God is actively responsible for a situation that He could reduce in various ways back to non-torment levels. But then that’s active torment (if one doesn’t want to call it “torture” for ethical connotations, although I don’t know why “actively tormenting” someone would be any better), even if God the Consuming Fire is not merely a physical fire. But God the Consuming Fire is much more fundamentally real than what JPH is confusedly calling a “literal” fire. Both are literally real, but God is not at all a natural fire. Thus hell is not a state of existing in natural fire, nor even a state of existing in supernatural but still mere fire (analogous to natural fire-effect); but is a state of existing in unavoidable contact with what Christians have routinely called the Person of the Holy Spirit often figured metaphorically as fire–while trying to get away from that contact.

That would make sense of several things JPH is trying to say (and I would agree with those things, too); but it doesn’t make sense to disassociate this from being an active punishment from God. It also doesn’t make sense why this would be hopeless for the sinner: our state of being unable to bear the presence of God was no insurmountable barrier, in several ways, for God to act to save at least some of us from our sins, leading us to repentance and reconciliation with those we sin against (both God and created persons). God’s increase of the cognitive presence of God in various ways empowers us for, and leads us to, salvation from sin. Shame of sinners provided by God in the Old Testament, often explicitly leads to such repentance and reconciliation (and often in connection with a drastic and even punitive increase in the cognitive presence of God): which is no doubt one key reason why JPH acknowledges (or used to acknowledge???) that God’s principle goal in shaming someone is to lead them to salvation.

I’ll hold off further comment on WIHIGO until later. (While I have a lot of critiques, I do have some things to say in its favor here and there; my currently favorite thing being a new-yet-old concept I had never heard of before, of the “second death” in Rev 20!) My main point for now is that this particular eBook, more recent than his article on agonistic perma-suffering (or hellshame), does not clearly offer a significantly different notion of hell-as-shame than what I critiqued earlier. For example, JPH continues to deny that hell has anything at all to do with anger expressed by God. (“If hell is not anger expressed, but rather the experience of shame and separation from God, then Psalm 30:5 has no bearing in [sic] the subject.”)

On the other hand, one very interesting difference (possibly inadvertent) from WIHIGO, is an omission of JPH’s emphatic acknowledgment, in his original argument, that the purpose of God’s punishment, including His active shaming of people, is to lead sinners to repentance, reconciliation and restoration! (JPH may still agree with that, so far as I know yet; his argument in WIHIGO doesn’t exclude the notion, since although JPH acknowledges God’s post-mortem “punishment” per se several times he still disassociates God’s active action from the state of the hopelessly damned. This was a very important part of his original argument, since by his original logic if God was still acting to affect the damned with shame then He would still be acting toward their salvation from sin. But then their condition wouldn’t be hopeless yet.)

I’ll try to keep in mind topical overlaps with WIHIGO as I go (pardon the pun), and discuss them when appropriate, picking up any spares later. Also, some of the latter parts of WIHIGO are still borrowed directly from his article replying to Gary Amirault’s challenges, so naturally I will address those along the way.

In my original version of continuing Parts below, I tried to keep in mind possible revisions JPH has in mind for his agonistic suffering paradigm when discussing problems with his applications of hellshame below, specifically in terms of guesses about how he might synch up his theory better with repeated strong scriptural indications of God’s action in relation to people post-mortem (including in punishment). Per some private correspondence with him, though, posted by me here in the commentary thread with his permission (with remarks from me afterward in subsequent posts in that thread), JPH will be disassociating God even further from relation to people post-mortem, so also further from any notion of punishment per se. I don’t know specific details on that yet (as of 9/8/12), so I won’t be able to adjust my Parts below yet in that regard, but I’ll be removing references to my original guesses as to how he would revise.

PART 2 – A Bunch Of Agreements And Non-criticisms (and a few disagreements)

Having lodged one principle criticism to JPH’s argument in favor of (what amounts to) eternal conscious torment (or eternal conscious inconvenient variantly strong annoyance from shame, if JPH prefers :wink: ) over against universal salvation from sin, along with quite a few agreements on various topics (including a primary goal of God’s punishment: to lead sinners to repentance and reconciliation!), I’m pleased to say I have a bunch more agreements with JPH on the way! As well as some more criticisms.

JPH now starts giving his answers to a set of questions addressed to ECT proponents from an article by Gary Amirault of JPH’s article, to recap the reference, can be found here at “Questions About Hell from”.

JPH assumes others may have challenge-questions similar to Gary’s, and so doesn’t mention him again by name. But I wouldn’t have thrown up some of those challenges myself.

So for example I agree with JPH that Gary’s first question (although a popular tactic among universalists and annihilationists) “is oddly misplaced”. Gary’s question, as JPH rightly puts it, “is apparently meant to prove somehow that because the word ‘hell’ came out of a pagan root, so likewise did the concept. In and of itself, this is a fallacious argument.” No disagreement at all from me: the real question is what the scriptural concept of post-mortem punishment is (if any), and how this concept (or these concepts perhaps) can be most coherently understood. At any rate I have never once challenged ECT proponents on such a linguistic ground, and have no intention of ever doing so.

Nor am I in the least interested in trying to challenge ECT on the ground of appeal to Genesis 3 and its apparent lack of mention there. Nor am I interested in echoing a similar challenge from Gary about why Moses never mentions hell. (Not least because I know Moses does mention extreme punishment of sinners, apparently to the death and beyond!)

I wouldn’t bother to ask Gary’s challenge about modern Jews not accepting the modern Christian concept of hell either. Modern Jews don’t accept the Christian concept of trinitarian theism being in the OT either!

(I don’t recall offhand if Gary is a trinitarian–perhaps not, but there was rather more percolation about that topic in the 1st century and immediately before and after even among non-Christian Jews than non-trinitarians are commonly aware of. But the same challenge could be asked back to Gary even if he is a non-trinitarian: no non-Christian Jew accepts Jesus as the Messiah, and they know their OT better than most Christians, don’t they??)

Anyway, as JPH correctly retorts, what about the authority of NT era Jews who came to believe in hell? Also, he shows that at least some modern conservative Jewish rabbis do accept punishment in hell is real (following the lead of ancient mostly post-Christian Talmudic rabbis).

Of some incidental interest is the testimony JPH links to, indicating that at least some Jews tend to distinguish Gehenna from everlasting punishment. As I know from reports of 1st century studies, most Jews at the time did regard Gehenna as temporary punishment to be distinguished from eternal punishment. This does not mean Jesus had to follow them, of course: He could have been correcting a popular mistake of theirs. Although I don’t think He was, on the topic of hope for those in Gehenna anyway.

(It should be noted, against some fellow universalists, that practically no 1st century Jewish teachers on record, or afterward, whatever their position on the question of annihilation or ECT or post-mortem salvation or even universal salvation, had any trouble recognizing Gehenna to be a metaphorical description for post-mortem punishment–not merely a literal description of where some bodies would be buried after the fall of Jerusalem or otherwise! Be that as it may.)

JPH very reasonably skips over the next several questions, on the grounds he has already given, plus skips over several questions about the patristic writers which are outside his topical scope.

Strangely, either Gary doesn’t reference 1 Cor 15;29, or JPH doesn’t bother to address it, when Gary asks “Why did the early Christians offer up prayers for the dead?” (In 1 Cor, St. Paul references those who are baptized for the dead, although in a neutrally descriptive way: he doesn’t seem to be advocating such a practice per se, only mentioning it as an example granted by his audience.)

Of course, JPH could reply that the patristics who taught post-mortem salvation and/or universal salvation were (as JPH calls them) “wayward persons” who shouldn’t be used to represent “the early Christians”. (Gary’s reference is to the famous late 19th century work of Hanson, who I agree was overreaching his case in several places when trying to argue that universalism was the majority believe of the first several Christian centuries.) He’s just as within his rights to reply that way as we would be to say that non-universalist Christians, even if they were the majority, had gone off track thereby. (No Protestant, as I know JPH is, can consistently argue from majority early belief anyway; but that includes Protestant universalists.)

Moving on, although I sympathize with JPH’s desire to skip questions too vague to give any solid answer to, I’m not sure it’s a good idea in principle to “skip all further questions that assume the ‘burnings’ understanding”. Because the salient question is not about the burning; it’s about the hopeless finality, regardless of whether we’re talking about everlasting burning or only everlasting shame. However, if the questions he skips involve some kind of natural fire effect (which neither JPH nor I believe is true, although in somewhat different ways), then such questions would be logically irrelevant to his belief (even if appropriate to the beliefs of some other Christians).

I agree with JPH that an observation about a lack of continually desperate evangelism “may set out some guilt for lack of evangelism, and show that we don’t act consistently; but it isn’t an actual argument against hell itself.” A lack of consistent action according to our principles may be suggestive, but God knows we all fail at that sort of thing to some extent!–I may conveniently ignore or forget God’s existence (and especially God’s judgment) when I sin, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God’s existence or even in God’s judgment of sinners! It only means I’m a sinner, who ought to behave better than I do.

While I’m willing to agree that a lack of mention of hades by St. Paul is not the same as a lack of mention of punishment (for which there is at least one example at 2 Thess 1, although not many such mentions in Paul), I don’t think JPH quite gets away from the problem of teaching Christians what they ought to be preaching to other people: for whatever reason, this teaching in regard to punishment from God is (almost) entirely lacking in the Pauline epistles. It doesn’t help that when JPH wants to demonstrate that there are warnings of punishment in the preaching of Acts, he cites Acts 2:40, which involves an exhortation to escape from “this perverse generation”–not an exhortation to escape coming punishment! However, I am totally willing to agree with JPH (at least I’m sure he’d agree with this although strangely he doesn’t bother to mention it in replying here) that the NT (not even counting the OT) features plenty of warnings of God’s coming punishment, with hell-related language, not only in epistles other than Paul’s (including the very Pauline-related Epistle to the Hebrews), and not only in RevJohn, but in the four Gospels–not least from Jesus Himself! Paul’s relative lack of mention of such things (and the lack of it in the Acts preaching for that matter) is interesting, but in itself is not really more than curiously suggestive at best.

I agree with JPH that personal anecdotes about universalists “seem[ing] to manifest more of the nature and fruit of the Spirit than those who teach Hell” are statistically without use. Moreover, perhaps Gary hasn’t been around many Christian universalists (which would be strange), but I have and I can testify that we have our faults manifesting the fruits of the Spirit like anyone else, whereas I personally find many non-universalists manifesting the fruits of the Spirit. For that matter, I find many non-Christians manifesting the fruits of the Spirit! So I would never bother trying to challenge non-universalists with such a question.

(I might not even bother trying to answer a claim from non-universalists about universalism being a deception from Satan, which was probably Gary’s main point of intended counter-challenge, by appealing to fruits of the Spirit in us: plenty of Christians are taught that such apparent fruits are only a Satanic deception, too! Come to think of it, this is probably why Gary tried to make a comparative counter-challenge about the fruits appearing in “born from above Christians who don’t believe in hell” more than in those who do. It’s still a rhetorical begging of the question, though.)

Similarly, to skip ahead a little, I would never ask “If Hell is real why is it that those who preach it the most look more like Pharisees and the devil etc.”

I quite agree with JPH that the number of times a word is used means absolutely nothing, and I applaud his particular example involving the term “justification” (per se) appearing only three times in the NRSV (which Gary had mentioned as having only a dozen or so instances of the term “hell”). To which I would add that in other Bibles (such as the NASB, which Gary also cited as a “leading selling Bible” with only a dozen or so instances of “hell” as a term) “justification” shows up many more than 3 times. So the number of times a term occurs often just depends on translation preferences.

While I don’t agree that JPH’s reply to Rev 20:14 about fish transferred from bucket to bucket explains the notion of hades being explicitly emptied and thrown into the lake of fire along with death (the proper analogy would be a bucket being emptied and then thrown into another bucket along with the contents of the first bucket!), I’m willing to readily grant that the principle of hopeless inconvenience (whether punishment or not) could transfer from unembodied spiritual inconvenience in hades to embodied physical (as well as continuing spiritual) inconvenience in the lake of fire. Although at the time he wrote this article (up until today), I’m a little unsure if JPH was willing to acknowledge the physical inconvenience of resurrected evildoers.

(He tends to aim at disassociating God from actively inflicting the inconvenience, and at denying a very particular kind of physical inconvenience–burning in a natural or maybe supernatural mere fire–not at denying all physical inconvenience per se. He acknowledges in principle some places that physical pain fits within the concept of shame, although I only recall him saying so when he’s discussing the shame of the cross, not the shame of hopelessly lost sinners. The principle could be applied to them, too, however, and I may have simply forgotten where he explicitly acknowledges significant physical inconvenience of some kind.)

I’m fine with JPH’s explanation of the principle of God saving young children who err, although strictly speaking an age of accountability per se isn’t found in scriptural testimony. (JPH’s example of David expecting to see his son who died a newborn, as a result of the sin of David and Bathsheba no less, does indirectly imply such a concept as infant salvation, I agree.)

Relatedly, due to infant mortality (a point also emphasized by my and JPH’s teacher Lewis), I wouldn’t try claiming that “the majority of mankind will go to Hell” as some kind of rhetorical factor. As a technical factor suggestive of massive failure I might bring up this point with an Arminian (not a Calvinist) whom I noticed believing in majority damnation, but JPH doesn’t believe in majority damnation. (Calvs who believe in majority and super-majority damnation–not all do–would only answer that this result was God’s original intention so of course no failure at all occurred.)

I strenuously agree that “it is not a lack of hearing the Gospel that causes damnation; it is sin that causes damnation.”

I could also adduce Acts 17’s Mars Hill sermon as further scriptural evidence (as JPH probably is also aware) that “those who seek find”: Paul almost literally says that himself. More to the point, I certainly agree with JPH that, even if the seeking amounts to desperate groping (as Paul also indicates at the Mars Hill forum), “Those who want to know it, will be given the knowledge needed for salvation. Those who seek God will have God sufficiently revealed to them.”

How this doesn’t involve post-mortem salvation (of a particularly Lewisian sort), however, JPH neglects to mention. But he is quite sure that post-mortem salvation isn’t a scriptural doctrine! (Much more on that elsewhere.)

JPH’s answer regarding his ‘shame’ notion of hell’s existence, to the question of “why doesn’t the Bible tell us when Hell was created”, is good enough on its on terms; and I would never ‘challenge’ a non-universalist with that anyway.

(Among other reasons, the non-universalist could say “It was created when people died in the flood or when the first impenitent sinner died, whenever that was; or when Satan fell since impenitent sinning humans go to a place prepared not originally for them but for the devil and his angels.” These are all perfectly reasonable answers with more-or-less scriptural indications; and no one who accepts 1 Peter to mean that Christ descended into hades to preach the gospel to the dead ones imprisoned for their stubbornness since the time of the flood could reasonably deny that hades was instituted for at least humans at that time.)

Similarly, while I have problems with his theory in other regards, JPH’s hellshame concept allows for proportionately different results of intensity rather than one result fits all: although in another sense the same result (endless hopelessness) still applies. I do think it’s weird that he continues to call the result “punishment” when disassociating God’s action from the result–maybe this is some use of the word “punishment” that I’ve never heard of (if I may call back one of JPH’s own wry remarks!), but more likely JPH just hasn’t divested himself of the habit yet. (It is also possible that correcting this disassociation of God’s action from the hopeless result is one of JPH’s recent updates to his atonement theory.)

I am entirely fine with acknowledging that a mere social or cultural payment of crime-debt (by imprisonment for example) is not the same as repentance of a sin (although the two are not mutually exclusive of course), so serving jail time doesn’t necessarily involve “double indemnity” for God to punish the same crime afterward (assuming the crime for human imprisonment was even a sin in the first place!)

Since JPH seems to acknowledge that all people have an opportunity to be saved from their sins (in some fashion, although only before death), his proper answer to the “respecter of persons” challenge ought to be that, instead of the article he links to which is more about God rewarding obedience and attitudes. I’m not at all convinced that some of the verses he explains in that fashion involve God’s choice of persons based on their own merit or attitudes (which would also seem to include their virtues, although JPH emphatically denies this); even in regard to Israel and the patriarchs, God specifically says in various places (reiterated by OT and NT prophets alike) that He did not choose them due to their own merits. (Similarly, God did not choose them primarily for their own benefit, although they would certainly benefit from His choice, but for God’s own glory and to help other people.) Be that as it may, I do recognize that JPH’s actual position avoids a problem from Gary’s challenge there.

I agree that God has credentials (by which I think JPH means competency) and authority to sentence people to punishment, even (in theory, yet I would argue not in trinitarian principle) to hopeless punishment–although I find it a little odd that JPH affirms this as an answer to one of Gary’s challenges when JPH disassociates hell from a sentence of punishment by God per se. (But JPH’s new update to atonement theory may re-include God’s active punishment.)

I have no problem with JPH skipping circular questions about the evil of hell. (Although I expect Gary has in mind some OT citations about God’s coming punishment being described by God Himself as evils He will inflict–not that those verses would help Gary’s particular challenge here!) And Gary’s question, about whether God can design the ultimate evil of a soul since (per 1 Cor 13:5) love can think no evil, is really aimed at Calv theologians anyway, not at Arminians like JPH. On the other hand, it would be interesting to know if JPH regards a hell of ultimate hopeless shame where sinners continue doing evil forever as “good”.

This brings me to the end of this long swatch of JPH’s replies to Gary that I largely agree with JPH about.

But while I still have more agreements with JPH to come (not only next but also in future entries), it’s time for me to start covering my main problems with his replies.

Part 3: Disagreements on God In Communication With Wicked In Hades, and on The Question Of Torment

In Part 2, I found as many places I could most fully agree with JPH’s replies to Gary Amirault’s “challenging” questions from that Tentmaker article {inhale!} as possible.

While I still have some agreements with JPH on the way, I’ll be starting over from the top of his article of replies and running down my list of major disagreements with him, more-or-less in topical order.

One point (somewhat out of topical order) that I’ll be skipping over for a while, is the question of whether Jesus went to hades and preached to the captives held in stubbornness there. JPH’s brief answer to Gary’s challenge on this is that the Bible teaches no such thing (meaning post-mortem evangelism) anywhere, so the question is misplaced. However, he links off to another (very long but interesting) article against post-mortem evangelism; which is in itself very much worth replying to (even with some agreements on my part). But I’ll have to extensively address those articles later.

For now, I’ll pick up and re-apply some of my previous remarks about God resurrecting the wicked from hades. Although JPH is an eschatological preterist, as far as I can tell he still affirms the coming resurrection of the wicked as well as the good. Not all preterists do, but the concepts are far from mutually exclusive; so although I had some prior problems about how well the general resurrection fit into JPH’s agonistic theory, I don’t have a problem (yet, so far as I know!) with him affirming preterism and post-resurrection judgment. (Assuming I have correctly understood him to affirm both.)

What I will add as a problem here is this: if God (in any or all Persons) raises the wicked as well as the good, then logically God must still have some kind of active dealing with the wicked in hades. But this is something JPH has strongly denied. (He may have fixed this in his as-yet-unpublished eBook updating his agonistic notion of the atonement, but until then it’s still a problem.)

JPH might reply that, very well, obviously God has some dealing and even communication with the unrighteous in hades if He raises them from the dead and then judges them enough to throw them into the lake of fire/Gehenna status (along with hades and death, whatever JPH takes that to mean). And then after that God has no more dealing with them.

But it does open up a faultline in the theory that the unsaved flee post-mortem from an omniscient but uncommunicative presence of God: obviously if Christ descends into hades to communicate in any way with the unsaved (and JPH does seem to acknowledge God’s resurrection of the wicked to personal judgment, also apparently God’s active placement of the wicked into the state of the ‘lake of fire’), then that’s a serious breach of the principle that God has nothing personally to do with the unsaved in hades.

Moreso, obviously, if God evangelizes them there. Much moreso if God successfully evangelizes them there. But of course, even moreso again if God (much again moreso successfully!) evangelizes them after raising them from hades, too.

The concept of God actively putting sinners into Gehenna after the general resurrection leads us conveniently back to an early answer to Gary from JPH, about how JPH doesn’t hold the view of ECT involving “torture”.

The term “torment” seems applicable enough (although JPH warily shies away from that translation, too: used once in his agonistic article, not at all in his reply to Gary’s challenges), and is certainly a translation of a term used in the NT for what happens to the impenitent wicked post-mortem. But as a Greek term it not only referred to the refining of metals (which I take to be its primary metaphorical application when used in reference to punishments from God), but also came by a similar metaphor to be used for referring to examination of persons under torture. Jesus parabolically hands the unmerciful servant over to such a torturer; the author of GosMatt uses the cognate {basanistais} when translating the parable at Matt 18:34.

I can understand wanting to get away from the ethical connotation of the term “torture”–a connotation which implies goals for God that I would agree are unbiblical. But if the process of getting away from that involves denying God has anything actively to do with the suffering, then I would at least regard that as going against the Biblical testimony, too.

(Where a topic overlaps with further relevant commentary from WIHIGO, I’ll add a “WIHIGO notes” tag and print in some other color to clarify that I’m adding comments in hindsight from reading WIHIGO.)

WIHIGO notes: JPH is aware that the term refers to refining of metals, but thinks that its application refers to failed refining of metal, metal which fails the test of refinement. This doesn’t fit very well with other NT and OT uses of refinement in soteriology, which tend to involve God purging evil from rebels (even hardcore rebels) and bringing them to purity–a topic he notably omits in his WIHIGO discussion of the refining concept.

Meanwhile, although he also acknowledges that it’s easy to see how the term could be (and was) used as a metaphor for active punishment, he doesn’t think that the use of the term as oppression by agents (such as by demons in GosMatt) coheres with a sense of hell as a place of eternal punishment “though it is indeed unpleasant”.

Again, he acknowledges that the term means physical strain at Mark 6:48 when the disciples are putting effort into rowing against a storm on Lake Galilee, as well as the pain of childbirth (Rev 12:2). In fact every usage he acknowledges (aside from the torment of the Rich Man in the fire during the parable of Luke 16, which strictly speaking couldn’t be physical–although it’s clearly a relevant analogue to physical torment!), including Luke 12:47-48 (with misbehaving servants of God being punished) and Matthew 18:34 (where the king delivers the unmerciful servant to punishment by tormentors), explicitly involves physical suffering. (JPH simply doesn’t discuss the details, much less the contexts, of the unmerciful servant parable when discussing torment. He does discuss those contexts later, on the topic of whether the unmerciful servant can ever leave if he pays the final cent of what he owes–but he thinks the unmerciful servant, whose financial debt was forgiven and who was sent to jail by the king for being unmerciful, owes money to get out.)

JPH also admits that “there is some evidence” that basanos was associated with torture in secular literature. (As if the context of Matt 18:34 in sacred literature wasn’t enough.)

With all the uses of the term involving physical pain, often inflicted by an agent (and usually the agent being authoritatively God, directly or by parable), JPH allows that “[p]hysical pain can apparently be part of an experience of basanos/basanezo” but that “it cannot be used to automatically impose a meaning of physical torture”. Certainly I very much welcome “more information… to define it out in its contexts”: but when the contexts include impenitent rebels “drinking of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger” thus being “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (NASB Rev 14:10, accidentally mis-cited by JPH as 14:9), then I think we should consider that the unpleasantness is being inflicted directly by God in anger, whatever else we decide is true about the unpleasantness. (JPH is well aware of the contexts here when using verses 10 and 11 to argue against annihilation.) I definitely agree that the term “cannot be used to automatically impose a meaning of physical torture”, but the contexts indicate physicality and (usually) agency (most often God’s agency) in the torment!

JPH, as noted above, is aware that the underlying term usage involves a type of stone used in smelting processes to test when an alloy is pure enough gold. I don’t actually disagree that so long as purity “is never found in the unredeemed, the ‘trial’ never ends”, but his own cultural parallels do not involve a never-ending trial: the trial ends when the gold is refined enough; the trial ends when the criminal tells the truth–or agrees to pay what he owed for which he was imprisoned (such as mercy on his brother). This is aside from any use of fire in refinement, or a use of fire and sulfur/brimstone in medicine as a last-ditch curative for killing infection and saving the person!–also a job for maggots in the ancient world, not incidentally.

JPH thinks that Luke 12:46-48 (the parable of the abusive steward punished by the arriving master) “doesn’t bear the weight of scrutiny” as evidence of punishment actively inflicted by God post-mortem, since it is really “about Christians who receive due reward for their deeds in life”. That this involves punishment authorized by the master (standing for God/Christ parabolically) is so obvious, though, that he must attempt to interpret the “cutting to pieces” as “reflect[ing] an apt humiliation of a corpse”. In other words the spirit isn’t there anymore to suffer from it, so the operation would be only a symbol of the spirit’s humiliation (not an actual punishment inflicted by God or by God’s authorized agents).

But the context, although certainly about (criminally lax and abusive) Christians, doesn’t read that way at all: the misbehaving masters are not only cut in pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers (verse 46) but the cutting is specifically designated as “flogging” and “lashes” (verse 47), which is a normal practice of punishing living persons. By related contrast, the slaves who did deeds worthy of a flogging but who did not know the Lord’s will (as well as the stewards whom God assigns to teach them) will only receive a few blows. This is all quite explicable (if parabolic and perhaps poetic in application of actual detail) if living persons are being punished by God for misbehavior, but strains the sense of the passage if the blows are delivered symbolically upon dead bodies as an enacted sign of their shame.

Moreover, while the terms are different, the context of the parable involves the abusive steward giving blows to the slaves whom God put him over. Surely this is not supposed to have a primary interpretation of the abusive steward mangling the bodies of underlings he has slain in order to visually represent his shaming of the slain underlings…??

Lastly, the comparison of lashes received matches a precept for disciplinary lashings from Deuteronomy, which certainly isn’t about symbolically mutilating dead bodies but which was picked up and applied (including in the first century) as the basis for chastising misbehaving synagogue members.

Back to the question of contact in hades/sheol:

First an agreement. I am not even remotely interested in trying to challenge JPH by (Gary’s) appeal to the Davidic Psalm about “Though I make my bed in Sheol, lo, Thou art there.” ECT proponents can and do distinguish between disparate states of sheol/hades (not least on the basis of GosLuke 16 with the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man), and David clearly would fall in with the righteous in sheol. At most, there would be an admission that the King James’ Version has mistranslated sheol for “hell” there; but on the other hand, if we’re going to talk linguistics, “sheol” and “hell” fit pretty well together (the grave or the pit), so actually “hell” does work quite well for an ancient pre-English language family translation (carried over into the KJV and the modern day).

I am more interested in the context of the Psalm. The question is not entirely “moot in terms of non-believers”, even though “David himself would be regarded as ‘saved’”. Unlike some other Psalms where David distinguishes himself as being saved out of sheol compared to the wicked, in this psalm he is comparing himself to the wicked. The whole point to the psalm is to praise God’s omnipresence and omnipotence, which applies even to the wicked: “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold Thou art there!” (Psalm 139:7-8. On a rather backhanded ‘other hand’, this is a Psalm where David toward the end dares to challenge God to see how righteous he himself is in the hating of God’s own enemies! Not one of David’s more humbly self-conscious moments.)

But of course, JPH doesn’t claim that those who are hopelessly in hell are separated from God–the omni-presence of God is precisely the torment. (Um, inconvenient inadvertent annoyance.) So again the challenge from Gary is easily mooted. The salient question is not whether God is present for the unsaved in sheol (or afterward in their resurrection for that matter), but whether God communicates or has any dealings with the unsaved there. JPH thinks not.

But that seems very odd to me, if God’s omnipresence is so acutely perceived that the impenitent try to unsuccessfully flee from it: typically when God punishes someone by withholding direct communication and other dealings with them, He talks about withholding His presence. (And the lack of His presence is also intended to lead the sinners to repent, not incidentally.)

However, keep in mind that if JPH affirmed God does have any dealings with the unsaved there (which JPH denies: “[being present with the unsaved in Sheol] doesn’t mean [God] communicates or has any dealings with the unsaved there”), then that would involve (at least, if among other things) God’s active punishment of them there. Which would involve the goal of God’s active punishment of sinners. Which JPH has earlier acknowledged is to lead sinners to repent and be saved!

And which I agree about. But then, I’m a purgatorial Christian universalist.

Relatedly, JPH easily deflects Gary’s observation that everyone, good and bad, goes to the same hades/sheol in the OT. Or rather, he ought to have been able to deflect it easily: GosLuke 16 indicates that the righteous go to hades/sheol but it isn’t punishment for them.

Yet neither can I say JPH’s “agonistic paradigm” per se fits Luke 16 very well. The Rich Man’s inconveniences are presented as something very different from shame, namely “torment” (using the term for punitive inconvenience, i.e. “torture”). And while he clearly isn’t penitent for his sins, neither is he choosing to stay in his condition: he wants relief from his torment (though on his own terms, with Lazarus serving him and presumably sharing in his torment. I mean shame and inconvenience. :wink: )

Admittedly the parable indicates a great chasm fixed which does not allow the redeemed in hades to cross over to aid the punished if they wanted to. Whether the chasm prevents God from crossing over to help them is another matter. Obviously the chasm doesn’t prevent God from reaching them in order to resurrect them into bodies of some kind eventually!

Even at a basic theological level, though, the issue isn’t merely God’s omnipresence, but God’s active upkeep of derivative creatures in existence: unless supernaturalistic theism is false (which neither JPH nor I believe it is), those sinners in hades, just like anywhere else, must still continually be kept in existence by God’s direct intention. They don’t start to exist independently of God (or dependently upon something else which exists independently of God)–certainly not by being sinners! The greatest rebel sinner may (and by scriptural testimony does) want to believe this, but we shouldn’t!

Yet if God actively keeps sinners in existence in hades, then God must also be dealing directly with them in some significant fashion. God’s omnipresence isn’t a mere inadvertent background static. Even JPH himself agrees that the newly cleared perception of God’s presence by the impenitent wicked (from which they try to flee) is a direct result of God’s direct action to bring this clarity to them.

Next up: a historical heresy?

1 Like

Part 4: Disagreements on Historical Sensitivity To Heresy Among High Ranking Ancient Christian Teachers

JPH reasonably skips over more rhetorical questions from Gary along the line of “If hell is real, why didn’t X or Y say so, or say this or that about it?”, which being post-canon are outside his topical scope.

He does however somewhat address the question of why universalism was not (until quite late) declared a heresy. JPH suggests that “the mere fact that the word [heresy] was not ascribed to universalism [for the first five centuries or so] does not mean it was not regarded as wrong” but that “at best [the lack of it being attacked as heresy] means only that it was not regarded as widespread, serious or threatening enough to thus be labeled.”

But that doesn’t quite scan: the ancient proponents of universalism may be obscure to us now, but they were not obscure men of their time.

Origen was hugely respected as having practically invented Christian theological study per se (also for having outright invented text critical studies, principles of which modern textual critics including JPH himself still follow today); and his reference works were standard for centuries.

His successor a few generations later, Athanasius the Great, who championed orthodox Christology against the Arian heresy, was not a man who could be regarded as merely lax about small points of theological detail. He was also a man whose theology often added up to universal salvation, although his writing does contain a few points of apparent affirmation of eternal conscious torment, but in any case he was an avowed fan of Origen.

These were both men who, like Origen’s predecessor, Clement of Alexandria (also certainly a universalist), were specifically in charge of the first (and for a long time only) catechetical school of Christendom!–a school that taught doctrine not only to Christians but to Christian teachers.

The next great catechetical school, in Antioch, was founded by another definite Christian universalist and his successor (whose interpretative hermeneutics are still routinely followed today by both Protestants and Catholics compared to the rampantly allegorical interpretational schemes of the Alexandrian school, influential though those have also been throughout Christian history). Their successor Nestorius was condemned as a Christological heretic (one of the Antiochan founders as well, though not both) on points of doctrine so subtle that Nestorius thought the Pope was actually in agreement with him and was confused as to the excommunication. Each school went on to found another of the six great ancient catechetical schools, one in Syria (it moved around a little, but subsequently founded the first ancient Christian medical university) and one in Palestine at Caesaria–the second one was founded by Origen himself after he was driven out of his first position on political charges but not on his views of universal salvation per se. Gregory of Nyssa, succeeding the position and fame of Origen and Athanasius, explicitly held to a modified version of Origen’s universalism (removing some controversial points about pre-existent souls), and is the last great doctor still revered as such by both the Western and Easter Catholics. The man who was hailed by all orthodox scholars as the Orthodox of the Orthodox and as the Father of Orthodoxy, for his defense of trinitarian Christology at Chalcedon, and was chosen to preside over that council in its refutation of subtle Christological errors held by other trinitarian groups (both of which tended to be explicitly universalistic in soteriology, especially the vastly evangelical Church of the East who took Nestorius as their model), was not an obscure man. Nor were the great Eastern hymnists and mystics who followed him, even though afterward universalism was denounced by an Emperor and condemned in a local council (sort of.)

Hanson (whose book Gary was appealing to, and who tried to argue that universalism was by far the majority Christian belief for the first several centuries) was admittedly overstating his case. (Although his case could also be fairly accepted rather farther than I’ve briefly summarized above.) But if the universalism of these great doctrinal and anti-heretical men was not considered threatening enough to thus be labeled as heresy (even when a couple of them were eventually denounced for heresy on other grounds after their deaths) by other doctrinally meticulous men, this can only be because Christian universalism was held by men too important and influential to be thought worthy of denouncing by others–not until much later, after their deaths. One does not lightly accuse the founders and leaders of four of the six Christian catechetical schools of technical heresy: and yet they were denounced on other topics when enough other influential scholars and bishops thought it was necessary. So it wasn’t like they weren’t under critical scrutiny.

That doesn’t mean they were correct, of course; or even in the scholarly majority. (As to what the uneducated majority believed at any time, who knows?–but I doubt JPH would regard it as important. Augustine’s comments on the question could refer to popular universalism, popular annihilationism, a popular belief in the ‘refrigerium’ where eternally tormented souls are given various vacation days of reduced punishment in honor of Christian holy days, or any combination thereof.) But neither were these men working in obscurity off in a corner somewhere and so not worth bothering about. Their universalism wasn’t ideologically threatening in centuries rife with ideological threat, despite their public positions at (and as) the cornerstones of Christian doctrinal instruction and definition, whatever that lack of threat may mean.

Next up: scattershot disagreements, finishing out JPH’s article

Part 5: Finishing Out JPH’s Article vs. Gary’s Challenges

I assigned the relatively briefer Part 4 to addressing a (relatively minor) historical question, because that was the last of the larger replies I would make to JPH’s article of replies to Gary Amirault’s challenge-questions about hell.

Everything else I haven’t covered yet in his article can be handled somewhat (or even much) more briefly–although of course putting them all together will make for a longish Part!

Restarting then from the top of his article, and working downward more-or-less in order through portions I haven’t commented on yet, I might as well put one of my largest remaining replies first:

JPH’s overly brief dismissal of a universalistic argument from Rom 5 is a bit surprising, considering how important that chapter is in universalistic exegetics. Perhaps the brevity is because JPH thinks “This doesn’t directly touch on our points”. But if JPH thinks it is “unreasonable” “that the results of justification are brought even on those who [his emphasis] reject God’s offer of grace”, then one wonders how any sinner per se (who by definition intentionally abuses the grace of God one way or another) was ever saved by God’s grace and justified by God (now or later in a process)! We all reject God’s grace, and worse than reject it: that’s why we need saving from our sins. God doesn’t wait for us to accept His patronage before acting to save us–an action which has to involve an intentional resolve to justify us. And for whatever reason St. Paul puts it grammatically (I expect for prophetic emphasis of surety of fulfillment by reference to God’s extra-temporal omniscience, although there are other interpretations, too) that Christ’s free gift to all men results in justification (as though it is an already accomplished fact) for that same group of all men. Paul repeats this emphatically several ways over and over throughout Rom 5.

JPH thinks the “contractual/patronage” elements of Romans 5 “cannot simply be ignored”, but doesn’t bother to point out where those elements are in Romans 5. Apparently, it is very easy for someone who appeals to them to “simply ignore” them, too!

I will guess that JPH has in mind Rom 5:17, where Paul how-much-moreso contrasts death reigning through the transgression of the one (Adam), to the reign of those who, through the One Jesus Christ, receive the fullness (or abundance) of grace and of the gift of righteousness. The free gift has to be received to get that particular benefit of it.

But if Paul’s emphatic declaration is prophetic–that justification of life shall result to all men and that through the obedience of the One all (“the many” paralleling “the many” who were made sinners) will be made righteous (5:18-19)–as the grammar there certainly indicates in future results, and which fits with the notion in an earlier verse that justification has in some way (I would argue from God’s omniscient transcendent perspective) already been achieved for all–then there is not the slightest conflict: Paul is saying that eventually all sinners will receive the free gift and so benefit from the results of receiving the free gift. Everyone eventually contracts to the patron.

JPH thinks instead that “this means no more than that the offer of salvation is open to all men, not that it is given to all without consideration.” Which I will suppose is only inadvertent grammatic construction on his part, since he could hardly be affirming and then denying that the offer of salvation is given openly to all men: he means by “it” salvation, not “the offer of salvation”. But a prophecy that all will receive the offer, and so receive the salvation, does not mean that salvation is given to all without repentance and renunciation of sin–without a real and valid reception of the free gift.

I will also add that JPH’s agonistic explanation (elsewhere) of Jesus’ honorable act of merely providing an offer of salvation being “far greater” than Adam’s shameful act of transgression, does not square well with St. Paul’s affirmation here in Rom 5 that where sin exceeds grace hyper-exceeds as an avowal of God’s ability to overcome sin. (That JPH himself calls it a “mere offer” will be demonstrated later.)

JPH does not discuss Rom 5 in his article against post-mortem evangelism (which would be outside the topical scope for that article); nor in WiHIGO, which is rather more surprising (especially since he includes his next comment, on Psalm 30:5, almost verbatim from this article). Possibly I have just forgotten where he talks about it there, but my Kindle found only two places he mentions Romans at all, neither of which are Romans 5. Be that as it may.

Moving on (I’ll use seven dots to distinguish new topics afterward in this Part):

JPH reiterates, when replying to the question of why Psalm 30:5 says God’s anger is but for a moment, that on his position “hell is not anger expressed”; and he clarifies that he means “not God’s anger expressed” by going on to call hell the experience of indifference from God! But this not only runs strongly against scriptural testimony about God apparently not being indifferent about post-mortem sinners, it runs directly against JPH’s own claim (including here in this very sentence) that hell is the experience of shame from God. JPH stresses (elsewhere, not here) that shame is not merely a feeling one has about one’s self, but is an acknowledgement of what someone else thinks about us. Obviously, in connection with God’s omnipresence, from which those in hell try (ever unsuccessfully) to flee, then logically they must be fleeing (in shame) from what God thinks about them. But then God could not possibly be “indifferent” to them! Hell could (in theory) be the experience of God’s indifference, or it could be the experience of ever-persistent overwhelming shame from God, but it cannot logically be both. Nor could God be logically considered “indifferent” to persons whom He actively continues to keep in existence. (Nor could JPH be affirming even supernaturalistic theism, much moreso trinitarian theism, if he claimed that God was not still actively keeping those persons in existence!)

Yet remember that JPH acknowledges (or at the time acknowledged) that active shame from God involves the goal of repentance and reconciliation for sinners. JPH would actually be advocating purgatorial universalism in principle (even if it was technically an ongoing stalemate) if he didn’t try to simultaneously claim God’s indifference to those in hell. (Whether this has been now fixed in JPH’s update to his agonistic theory of atonement and thus of hell, what I’ve been calling ‘the hellshame theory’, remains to be seen. One way to resolve the problem here would be for JPH to change his position on the goal of God in shaming anyone–namely repentance and reconciliation–to a position where God could have that goal but not necessarily so.)

After this, I almost might as well not even mention that whatever else Psalm 30 is about (and there are at least some indications pointing toward God raising dead sinners from Sheol and saving them), it is absolutely not about God’s indifference to sinners!–although it is certainly about the shame, repentance and reconciliation of sinners to God as a result of God’s punishment of them.

If any indifference is testified to in this Psalm, it might be the indifference of souls who go to the pit/grave/sheol/hades. “What profit is there in my blood if I go down into the pit? Will the dust praise You?–will it declare Your faithfulness?!” But indifference of souls in sheol wouldn’t fit JPH’s position either, to say the least. I don’t argue anything from this Psalm, though, since obviously David did not go down into Sheol; consequently he may be only being poetic, not prophetic as a principle of application for others, about talking as though he had gone down and been raised up out of it. Similarly, while his statement could be read as foreshadowing about God not being content to let souls get into a condition of not praising Him for His faithfulness, David’s expectation could also be read as accepting such conditions as final. He can appeal to God not to let him enter that condition either way. The emphasis on God’s anger and punishment against sinners being only temporary and leading to repentance and restoration is more doctrinally relevant here. It does at least mitigate in principle against annihilation as a final result; but if against annihilation as a final result, then by extension also against eternal conscious torment (or hopeless inconvenience if JPH prefers).

WIHIGO notes: JPH fixes this slightly, while reproducing his reply from this article, by omitting an explicit reference to God’s indifference. But the rest of his eBook just kind of avoids the topic of whether God is indifferent to those in hell. Yet again, he doesn’t talk about the purpose of God’s shame in his eBook either. This seems to point to a forthcoming revision where JPH will deny that God’s purpose in shaming someone always has repentance and reconciliation as a goal, and will affirm that God is not indifferent to people in hell.

JPH skips over the question of why God didn’t kill Adam and Eve at the beginning and so thereby end the long terrible chain of misery that passed to their offspring before it began, on the ground that Gary qualifies the question with “if Hell is a real place of merciless endless torture” and JPH doesn’t adhere to the ‘merciless’ and ‘torture’ parts.

But even leaving aside the question of torture (and its relation to torment, as discussed at length in a previous Part), JPH’s position does seem to involve a lack of mercy from God. How is God being merciful to hopelessly lost sinners He keeps in existence to flee in some kind of endless spiritual inconvenience from His omnipresence forever (even assuming this doesn’t amount to torment of some kind)? Is God’s “indifference” to them in hell (as JPH has just finished insisting upon in his immediately preceding answer to one of Gary’s challenges) merciful? Since when does indifference count as mercy? Or, if JPH (as some evidence indicates) has afterward changed his mind about God’s indifference to people in hell, how is God being merciful to them in their hopelessness by ensuring they can never repent? Or would God be merciful to them if they could repent but they have made it impossible for themselves to repent over-against God’s will for their repentance and salvation (so He doesn’t seek their repentance anymore since that’s impossible now)?

Also, original sin (which JPH accepts much as I do, not as inherited guilt per se, but as an inherited inclination that no one reaching the age of accountability can ever succeed in resisting, leading inevitably to guilt) is rather more of a factor than a cookie jar not being put out of reach so a child won’t steal from it.

WIHIGO notes: The term “mercy” in any form occurs only twice at the very end of WIHIGO, when JPH ports over an answer from this article verbatim. I’ll be discussing that answer near the end of this Part, but I wanted to mention here that JPH references another article for details at I would comment on that article somewhere, but trying to access the page brings up the Tektonics broken link page.)

JPH’s extremely brief dismissal of 1 Cor 15:28 (and all the related universalistic arguments from the material in Paul’s paragraph there) very strangely misses the point: what does he think “overcoming rebellion” so that “God will be all in all” means??

St. Paul apparently thinks that “all will be as it shall be” (as JPH puts it, completely eliminating reference to God in the prophetic promise) involves the final rebels submitting to Christ (in some fashion they weren’t already several ways submitted to Christ) conjunctive with Christ submitting Himself to the Father.

JPH has to think (over against the contexts here) that “all will be as it shall be” involves some sinners never submitting to Christ the way Christ submits to the Father (assuming JPH would never suppose Christ rebels in any way against the Father, much less permanently so!)–and unless JPH was attempting a meaningless tautology along the line of “whatever will happen will happen”, then “what shall be” would have to involve God’s goals being completed and fulfilled: which would mean that God’s goals are fulfilled and completed by sinners never repenting and being saved from their sins but always continuing to rebel against God! (Which would be a Calvinistic position, not an Arminian one!)

Relatedly (picking up a related point from elsewhere), when St. Paul declares victory over hades in 1 Cor 15:55, it is true (as JPH replies) that Paul was writing to Christians whose salvation was already assured (JPH acknowledges, although on what ground I don’t know–possibly JPH doesn’t realize, despite scads of scriptural examples, that someone can break a contract with a patron??) But Paul was himself quoting from two different places in the OT where God punishes Gentiles and rebel Jews (respectively) to death after which they repent and are reconciled to Him. Thus, not incidentally, overcoming their rebellion. Preaching, from an apostle to believers, about the eventual salvation of unbelievers in the resurrection to come, as an assurance to the believers that their work in Christ shall not be in vain, would seem like an important concept for a Christian evangelist to keep in mind and not dismiss out of hand!

(JPH doesn’t mention 1 Cor 15 at all in his article against post-mortem evangelism, possibly because his Mormon opponent didn’t bring it up. But Christian universalists sure do, and in regard to post-mortem evangelism, too. The only reference to 1 Corinthians at all in WIHIGO that my Kindle search turned up was a verbatim port of JPH’s comment on 1 Cor 15:55. So nothing new there.)

Skipping ahead a little (in order to port two topics together): aside from other problems I have with JPH’s shame explanation for hell, I don’t see how it avoids the ‘infinite punishment for finite crimes’ problem. At best it simply redefines it, with infinite shame being the appropriate punishment (or result if JPH doesn’t want to consider it a punishment) of dishonor against an infinite being. Yet JPH thinks that it is no longer necessary to argue that a sin is an “infinite offense” or to even deal in terms of quantity (by which I suppose he means he doesn’t think his theory involves a result of infinite shame for finite dishonor.) But if the dishonor is neither a finite dishonor, nor one way or another an infinite dishonor (dishonoring an infinite God or infinitely dishonoring God), then what is he left with?!

JPH’s defense against the “infinite punishment for Jesus” challenge, would seem to still require that Jesus be permanently shamed. Gary’s question there isn’t about how Jesus could have suffered enough: it’s a question about Jesus bearing our penalties for us. If the penalty is hopelessly unending shame, then either Jesus bears the penalty of hopelessly unending shame for at least one person or else Jesus does not bear that penalty for any person.

WIHIGO notes: Although JPH hints that he will have more to say about this critique in the forthcoming update to his atonement argument, he doesn’t add anything new to his answer in WIHIGO itself. He still doesn’t address why Jesus wouldn’t have to suffer permanent infinite hopeless shame, permanently excluded from the presence of the Father yet unable to escape the hounding omnipresence always fleeing on the lam from it.

Obviously this would schism the Trinity badly, leading to the irrecovable suicide of God Most High and the extinction of all created realities, past present and future; but even on unitarian or modalist theology Christ’s hopeless fate would seem the necessary result of this kind of substitutionary atonement soteriology.

JPH currently avoids the problem by only talking about the Son’s loss of honor status in creation–not really (although he emphatically puts it this way himself) the Son’s “loss of ALL honor status”, since that would include permanent utter loss of honor by the Father (and the Spirit?) with hopelessly unending shame replacing Christ’s ascribed honor.

He also repeats the notion here (which I’ve saved for discussion now instead of earlier) that Christ’s honor, despite Him being the 2nd Person of God Most High, is only “the highest” “not infinite of necessity”. Which seems a strange theological denial; but then if Christ had infinite honor of necessity (the honor of God Most High, every Person eternally honoring all other Persons in spirit and in truth), Christ would keep His true honor on the cross despite the appearance of shame (a theme with some support in the NT and even in Isaiah’s Suffering Servant), and that would drastically undermine the agonistic atonement theory JPH is attempting.

JPH’s answer to the riddle for why hades is thrown into the lake of fire, amounts to a non sequitur: so “the Lake of fire [now] mean[s] final exclusion or shunning in a judgmental sense”, so what?–what does that have to do with why hades is thrown into the lake of fire? None of his few mentions of the LoF in WIHIGO add any clarity to this reply either; in fact, none of them try to answer why hades and death are thrown into the lake of fire to be part of the second death at all.

JPH does acknowledge (especially in WIHIGO) a number of standard universalistic (and annihilationistic) criticisms about eternal fires not being eternal, but only insofar as those apply to natural fires (even if supernaturally ignited), thus only insofar as he denies torment by some kind of “literal” (by which he really means natural) fire. Since JPH regards fire as being a metaphor for judgment and shame, then (on his theory) the translation “eternal” for such fire can still apply.

But that still leaves him with a pointless distinction in at least two ways: the damned in hades were already suffering the eternal fire of shame (on his theory) so throwing such people out of hades and into a lake of fire adds nothing; and it’s even more pointless (if possible) to put “death and hades” (at least one of which isn’t even a person, despite many ancient hymns about Hades personified trying to muster up courage along with Satan to withstand Christ raiding their territory and freeing their captives!) into an eternal shame.

To be fair, the addition of physical torment for the resurrected wicked would pretty easily explain the lake of fire imagery so far as impenitent sinners are concerned. But that still wouldn’t help explain the point to hades and death being thrown in the lake of fire, and JPH has so far tended to avoid the notion of physical suffering as part of his denial of ‘torment/torture’ per se in hell. (Whether he has revised this position in his forthcoming update on agonistic atonement theory remains to be seen.)

JPH (in this article and in WIHIGO which adds nothing to his reply) whiffs rather badly swinging at the challenge regarding “destroying the works of the devil” from 1 John 3:8. Admittedly the term translated “destroy” has a wide range of meaning, but the context of that verse involves a contrast between those who practice sin being of the devil and those who practice righteousness being righteous just as God is righteous. Obviously to destroy the works of the devil (the first sinner, who “sins from the beginning” and to whom belong those who sin), is to bring those who sin to stop sinning. Otherwise the works of the devil continue: they are not even “subverted” much less “undone” (very much less “dissolved into parts” or “broken” or “loosened” or even “lost”!)

Although JPH’s reply to Gary’s typo is cute (JPH doesn’t know where Romans 36:11 is–me neither!), he still ought to be able to answer the question of whether hell comes out of Jesus Christ or not.

Since JPH divorces hell from the notion of God’s active punishment, I suppose his answer would be no, and that “all” coming from Jesus Christ (and being for Jesus) shouldn’t be taken in that sense, i.e. the factors resulting in hell may come from Jesus Christ and with His permission in a way but against His will in another way. How all things are supposed to be for Jesus Christ is a whole other problem, if those things include sinners who will never repent of their sin and become loyal to God (Father, Spirit and Son). But I will return to this problem later.

(The question of whether hell comes out of Jesus Christ, and of whether hell (and/or those hopelessly locked into its condition) are for Jesus Christ, doesn’t seem to be mentioned in WIHIGO. Possibly this will be addressed in the forthcoming revision of JPH’s agonistic atonement article.)

While I sympathize with JPH’s complaint that Biblical poetry should not be misguidedly used, and that overly literalizing poetry is one way to misguidedly use it; the fact (in regard to Psalm 145:9) is that all God’s works giving thanks to Him (connected as in verse 9 itself to godly behavior) is an identifiable theme running through numerous levels of scriptural testimony including prophetics. The immediately preceding verse 8 would not be denied by JPH, who affirms total sufficient evangelism of some kind; why should verse 9 be exempted as only being poetry? A better non-universalistic answer might have been that Psalm 145:20 affirms that YHWH keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy. (But then JPH disassociates God from destruction of the wicked!–so maybe he would deny that as being only poetic form, too.) What God’s destruction of the wicked means is not discussed in Psalm 145; from an exegetical standpoint, a case from other scriptural data (one way or another) would have to be appealed to here. (This topic doesn’t seem to be in WIHIGO.)

JPH (with reference to another short article of his at Tekton) thinks John 12:32, where Jesus “drags” all men to Himself, refers only to the resurrection of the just and the just to be judged, with “lifted up” being an allusion to His role as judge. It is true (although JPH doesn’t mention it) that verse 31 leads into this as a reference to judgment: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out.” But the Evangelist (wrongly???) says, in verse 33, that being lifted up indicates the kind of death by which He was to die. And JPH himself is aware (because he quotes it himself) that a similar saying from Jesus earlier at 6:44 involves people given to Him by the Father being saved by being “dragged” to Him: a topic directly related to them being resurrected on the final Day.

Relatedly, all that the Father gives Him shall come to Him and shall not be cast out (v.36), nor shall the Son lose any of the all who have been given to Him by the Father. (v.39) The disputed question, between purgatorial universalist Christians and non-universalist Christians is whether anyone who beholds the Son (which would logically be everyone He raises and judges) and yet doesn’t believe in Him shall be lost. (Ultra-universalistic Christians would argue that everyone who beholds the Son, which everyone will do, will accept Him, with no post-mortem punishment at all.)

But then they wouldn’t be coming to Him: because if they were coming to Him they wouldn’t be cast out! So either they aren’t given to Him by the Father (which could hardly be an Arminian position, although a Calvinist might go for it), or else all that the Father gives Him shall NOT come to Him and some shall be lost who have been given to Him by the Father! Which runs totally against the stated promise of this verse.

It is also hard to see how, even on JPH’s notion of hell as hopeless shame, those who are never saved from their sins are not lost to Jesus despite definitely (per Arminianism) being given to Him to save.

The obvious and explicit apparent exception would be Jesus’ reference later in GosJohn, during His prayer at the end of the Final Discourse, to losing Judas. But the context to John 17:12 indicates that Jesus was speaking in a very limited fashion of having lost Judas out of the apostles the Father gave Him (and even then only the death and apostasy of Judas is specifically in view), not out of the all things which include the apostles–the “all things that are Mine [which are] Thine, and Thine Mine”. (v.10)

(This is aside from the question of millennium timing, since in OT prophecy the descent of YHWH where every eye shall see Him (and shall recognize Him as the one they have pierced, sorrowing over Him as over an only-begotten son) precedes destruction of two waves of pagan armies and the salvation one last time of rebel Israel from her punishment, after which she will repent and be forever loyal afterward. While a massive wave of successful worldwide evangelism will follow, not every single person will repent of their sins and follow Christ, leading inevitably to their deaths. This is all before the general resurrection of the evil and the good, and it opens up further the question of what Jesus means when He says that none of the ones who are given to Him–which is everyone even the rebels via other prophecies–shall be lost. However, since JPH is an eschatological preterist, none of that may be of any relevance to him.)

WIHIGO doesn’t seem to reference this topic.

JPH’s attempt (identical in WIHIGO) at getting away from the challenge of Eph 4:10 (where Jesus ultimately fills all things) doesn’t work very well. No Christian thinks the phrase “all things” is being misused when talking about God (including as Christ) creating and sustaining all things; and no one (including JPH and myself) who believes in original sin, at least in the sense of all people needing God’s salvation, thinks “we must not define ‘all’ in terms of overliteralistic particulars, as opposed to broad categories.” JPH does not even bother trying to explain how “all things” is being misused here if it refers to (eventual) total salvation of sinners from sin, but compares it instead to such questions as, “Does this mean that when I go to the bathroom, Jesus fills the toilet?” The answer to which, by the way, is “Yes, if the Son is one of the Persons of the omnipresent God!” But St. Paul in Ephesians is talking about an eventual success in filling all things, so cannot be talking about a doctrine such as God’s omnipresence which is constantly true.

We’ll return to this verse (or vv.8-10 rather) in a later Part, when JPH argues against its application to the descent of Christ into hades as part of his article denying post-mortem evangelism.

JPH thinks that God would have to withdraw human freedom and coerce the truth in order to be competent and persistent enough to lead all sinners to repentance and salvation and so to succeed in accomplishing His will that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (per 1 Tim 2:3, which JPH does not discuss in WIHIGO, nor the topic of free will / human freedom, nor even the topic of God’s will per se).

This is not really a mutual exclusion to God granting people free will in the first place, of course: a God Who grants freedom can withdraw that grant, just like a God Who gives life to someone can kill them–and vice versa! (Which not incidentally is how it’s always (?) depicted in the Bible: God, as a sign of His greatness, kills His enemies and then brings them to life again, usually in a context of bringing them thereby back to loyalty to Him!)

But although there are Christian universalists who go that route, I’m not one of them: as a Lewiscistic (Lewisian?) theologian I argue a lot from God’s gift of free will to creatures, too, in relation to His love for them. So I sympathize strongly with my fellow student of Lewis about the importance of God treating us as children instead of as puppets (even when we’re bad children who have to be punished–although JPH doesn’t go quite that far!)

But JPH doesn’t notice that his own position involves God withdrawing further pursuit of the redemption of the sinner (thus ensuring they can never repent and be saved) while coercing the truth on them anyway. Otherwise the sinners would live blissfully unaware of their shame and guilt, or at any rate would live without inconvenience from it! I’m as much a believer in human free will as anyone who follows the Lewisian school of theology can be (keeping in mind that Lewis was also aware of obvious limitations to human free will–even when discussing damnation.) But I believe in God’s free will more.

JPH would have been better off trying to argue that God willingly chooses to allow some things to happen against His will (in secondary fashions thereof) in order to accomplish other things that He decides are more important to accomplish (which anyone holding to more than a deterministic pantheism will have to agree is true); and one of the things He sacrifices eventually is the salvation of some sinners from sin. But maybe that would seem too Calvinistic.

JPH relatedly thinks, in regard to interpreting 1 Tim 2:3-4, that it is just as well to say that God also desires us to be perfect yet we are not. No we aren’t perfect, but if God did not act on His desire for us to be perfect, none of us would ever become perfect!–His future success fulfills His will that we should be perfect!

Similarly, so long as sin continues in any set of Natures (compared contiguously), God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven, yet the Son wills that the Father’s will should eventually be done on earth as it is in heaven, and wills (not incidentally) that we should agree with His will!–therefore He teaches and leads us to cooperate with it. The future fulfillment of the will, temporally speaking, does not conflict with a (temporally) current state of the will being unfulfilled.

It is also worth pointing out that since JPH’s agonistic ‘hellshame’ paradigm involves God inflicting the truth of their shame on people (except when He doesn’t inflict it, since that might be construed as punishment and torment!), which they can never escape from (no matter how hard they continually try), then JPH would have to agree that God’s will as expressed in 1 Tim 2:3-4 is in fact eventually accomplished, since coming to knowledge of the truth is part of God’s will. But of course St. Paul combines that with being saved; so if God’s will shall certainly be accomplished in one way in regard to all men (as JPH strongly affirms, although notably he doesn’t mention this affirmation here!–nor its connection to 1 Tim 2:3-4), then why try to interpret those verses as only meaning that God desires something that will not happen?

Christ, the one Mediator between God and Man, doing the will of the Father, gives Himself as a ransom over (plural) all, as St. Paul goes on immediately afterward to affirm; and God (in all three Persons) wills that all persons be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth; and almost every non-universalistic soteriology, whether Calv or Arm variant (including JPH’s version of Arminianism), agrees that God’s will shall very certainly be fulfilled (especially by and in the Son) regarding all persons (not only all humans) coming to a knowledge of the truth.

An impenitent sinner might very well continue denying the truth (despite coming to a knowledge of it and being unable to flee from it successfully), and so long as that continues not be saved from his sins; but certainly we who are faithful believers, trusting in God, should not agree with the impenitent sinner that God’s will for salvation, which the Son comes to accomplish, shall be ultimately frustrated?!

JPH thinks, rather strangely, that Jesus is the one Who will judge men whereas we will judge angels, as a way of getting around the question of whether we would judge our mother, son, or other non-believer to Hell. (Aren’t some angels non-believers…???) Probably the better answer would have been that whatever St. Paul meant by judgment of angels (which is compared in a ‘greater therefore lesser’ application of principle to judging men), he meant fairly settling disputes between allies under God (as his context of 1 Cor 6:2-3 certainly involves), not punishing sinners per se.

Yet while I fully grant that a judge can sentence a relative to a just sentence, practically speaking, the salient question is whether JPH is conceptually comfortable with judging his own relative with a result of their hopeless shame. I suppose he means yes, he’s fine with that, by answering Gary’s challenge with a question that way; but he would seem more clearly consistent with his stance if he just said so straightly. (Putting it as a question in the negative retort, “Does this mean a judge can’t sentence a relative to a just sentence, practically speaking?” feels like he’s avoiding the sting by at least two disassociations.)

WIHIGO rarely talks about judging and judgment (and certainly not on this topic), but JPH isn’t always consistent about his soteriological logic. When arguing against annihilationists, JPH thinks “eternal punishment” (such as at Matt 25:46) “does not indicate something with a single and solitary point of action with only results (rather than actions) that persist”, yet he contrasts this with his agreement that “eternal judgment” is itself “a one-time event, whereas the results of it are what is eternal”. But punishment per se, just like judgment, involves a doer of the punishment, and God is obviously the doer of each in the scriptures (as I would also affirm on conclusion from metaphysical logic). In fact the various terms translated “judgment” in the New Testament often are phrased as ongoing participles such as “crisising”. But even aside from grammatic considerations, JPH cannot logically affirm that punishment is an ongoing event while denying that judgment is an ongoing event (especially since he accepts the term ‘eonian’ as “eternal” for both with a meaning of never ending); and more importantly he has been going far out of his way to deny that God punishes anyone continuously post-mortem even though they continue to always be greatly inconvenienced by God (somehow).

(But this disassociation of God’s action from the condition of inconvenience for sinners, may be fixed by JPH in his upcoming atonement update. Whether JPH will also now agree that he at least ought to feel comfortable eventually with judging his own loved ones with a result of their hopeless shame, even if for whatever reason–perhaps moral imperfections–he cannot bring himself to be comfortable with that yet, remains to be seen.)

JPH thinks “love and shame are not mutually exclusive expressions”, which certainly fits his contention elsewhere that God inflicts shame out of love for the sinner with the goal of achieving repentance and salvation of the sinner from sin! But then JPH has to disassociate the active infliction of shame on the sinner by God eventually, in order to avoid a logical conclusion that God is still trying to save the sinner from sin (which would technically be universalism even if a never-ending stalemate somehow ensued despite God’s competency). After that has happened, what’s the point of saying love and shame are not mutually exclusive expressions? That may be true but it isn’t relevant anymore (except insofar that God may be hopelessly ashamed of some that He loves. Not exactly a great victory for the God Who offered them salvation!–the concept that God is still somehow victoriously triumphant in the honor of “merely” offering them salvation before shutting down or failing to achieve the salvation, sounds to me like sour grapes. That’s okay, God, at least You tried. There, there.)

JPH is also more than a bit fuzzy about how finally hopeless shame for individuals is supposed to be understood in terms of “the greater good for the whole”. It certainly doesn’t fit conceptually with the greater good of God’s self-existence upon which all reality (including all created reality) is based, which involves eternally acting to fulfill fair-togetherness between Persons (instead of ceasing or being forced to cease to do so)!

(WIHIGO notes: When quoting his article verbatim on this point in WIHIGO, JPH suggests the reader refer to another article of his for more detail at But that address when I tried to research it only took me to the Tektonics broken link page.)

While I agree with JPH that mercy is not about just letting any person at all out of warranted punishment or penalty, even Arminians usually agree that God acts first in mercy toward sinners before we’ve done anything that might obligate God to do so. Some Arminians even manage to agree that we could never earn God’s mercy in any case and so neither can we obligate God to be merciful to anyone!

Yet JPH (the Arminian) instead thinks (including still in WIHIGO) that mercy means an “obligation fulfilled within a relationship of personal obligation”. Calvinists (and even some Arminians) would rightly say that this amounts to earning God’s mercy by obligating Him to do so (whether He wanted to or not, the obligation being superior to His mercy or His unmercy: first the personal obligation is established, then God fulfills the obligation. If that happens to result in mercy and salvation from sin, that’s topically incidental to the fulfillment.)

But if God’s mercy involves a fulfillment of personal obligation before and without any meriting of this obligation by those He has mercy on–and I (along with Calvinists and even some Arminians, such as Lewis) would strongly argue it does (and I would argue it specifically on trinitarian grounds)–then inflicting hopeless punishment would seem to abrogate fulfilling that obligation.

Granted, JPH would (at the time of writing this article) deny that God was inflicting punishment per se at all; but ceasing to act toward saving sinners from sin is still a withdrawal of mercy. It certainly involves a refusal to lead sinners to be merciful to their victims! JPH is in any case welcome to explain how forcing the truth of their situation and of God’s presence on sinners without hope of their salvation from sin is mercy to those sinners.

Lewis would say it’s the final mercy they allow God to give, although it’s a mercy they don’t really want: to live in some definite knowledge of the truth of their hopeless condition. But then Lewis would say the problem is that (in effect) the sinners defeat God, so this is the best God can still do for them.

JPH seems to go with the idea instead that God chooses to give up on the sinners, only inflicting truth on them instead of also inflicting His attempts to save them from sin, even if this infliction of inconvenient (and very greatly inconvenient) truth somehow means He doesn’t actively punish them. “In this agonistic paradigm,” JPH insists, “God inflicts nothing whatsoever.” But God does inflict truth and shame on them in this agonistic paradigm, or they wouldn’t be suffering from exposure to God’s omnipresence and shame!

And this clearly active doing of the will of God, in mercy and in judgment, leads to my final observation and argument in regard to JPH’s replies–an argument that I don’t expect his forthcoming atonement update, even if he ties in better to God’s active relation to sinners post-mortem, will even in principle be able to parry.

JPH’s argument that a “mere offer” (his term “mere”!) of grace brings honor to the patron and so the patron is a success, does not square very well with the thrust of scripture regarding God acting beyond the mere offer of grace. (I would argue it doesn’t square very well with implications of trinitarian theism either, but that is a much larger and more technical topic.)

Jesus (whether trinitarianism is true or not) came to actively do the will of the Father. And the will of God (as Arminians acknowledge, at least in regard to humans) is to save all sinners from sin. “Merely offering” salvation from sin is very different from saving people from sin!

But such a concept, as we shall see next, breaks down much worse when we consider that this “mere offer” by the Patron must be made to the Son, too, with a final result that cannot do anything other than shame the Patron!

JPH’s answer to the challenge about “all the nations of the earth” being blessed by Abraham, is rather weak, especially since by his own beliefs he does regard all nations, corporately, universally and individually, even those who died pre-Christ, to be evangelized by Christ (the descendent of Abraham) somehow, pre-mortem if not post-mortem. But on the other hand, being blessed in someone, including in Abraham, often involves specifically salvific language being accomplished for those people (not merely offered).

St. Paul argues in Galatians 3 for example that those who are of faith are sons of Abraham, but says this in direct citational context of Gen 18:18 prophesying that God shall justify the nations by faith: all the nations cannot be blessed in Abraham, the believer, unless all the nations come to have faith in God. By the same token of proportion, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them”–and in fact no one is justified by the Law before God.

All the nations have sinned: corporately, individually and universally. JPH affirms and does not deny this. All nations means everyone in relation to the same context when talking about sin and the need of all people, consequentially, for salvation from sin. The prophesy of all nations being blessed in Abraham the believer (a blessing in Jesus Christ which involves receiving the promise of the Spirit through faith, 3:14) would at least seem, unless there are good arguments otherwise, to involve the same scope of all nations: the same scope Arminians like JPH himself affirm God intends and acts to save from sin.

Even more importantly, though, Paul argues that the promise of blessing of all nations is actually given to Christ, the seed of Abraham (3:16). Nor can the Law, which came 430 years later, nullify that promise nor invalidate a covenant (actually made with the Son by the Father through Abraham) previously ratified by God. For God grants it to Abraham (and thus to Christ) by means of a promise. Consequently, the failure of both Jews and Gentiles to keep the Law (and Paul recognizes that even Gentiles who do not have the Torah still have a conscience inspired by God to act as Torah within them so that no one has excuse but all are shut up under the Law), does not supercede the promise made to the Son by the Father to bless all nations: a blessing that Paul explicitly identifies as salvation from sin and the reception of the Holy Spirit through faith.

If the promise given to Christ (the seed of Abraham) through Abraham is offered to Christ, and fulfilled for Christ, by the Father…

…then how would the Father not be shamed by promising (much less “merely offering”) to the Son less than what is achieved through sin: the corruption of all humanity?!

Or, since such an promise of less than what sin accomplishes would be a Calvinistic position (and JPH is Arminian): how would the Father not be shamed by giving up or (worse) being incompetent to fulfill that promise to the Son?!

How can either of those results be the fulfillment of the honor of the Patron!?

How, for that matter, could the Patron honor the Son, or the Son honor the Patron, if any sinners (human or otherwise, up to and including the worst rebel angel) dishonoring any Person of God remain in existence at all!?

Or if all sinners either are saved or else annihilated out of existence, we are back to the questions of scope and persistence in regard to honor: how do the Son and the Father honor each other by promising (or even merely offering) to each other less than what sin can accomplish? (Calvinism) --or by failing (by choice or otherwise) to accomplish their offering to one another? (Arminianism)

The final loss of annihilation doesn’t honor the Father or the Son (or the Spirit for that matter), unless the Persons of God somehow honor each other by offering (promising?!?) finally impenitent unrighteousness to each other. Much less could the Persons honor each other by offering endlessly existent unrighteousness to each other, unless neverending dishonoring of the Persons somehow honor the Persons.

A Calvinist might try to get around the notion of shame in such an offering by asserting that God always intended such unrighteousness to be offered among the Persons to each other (so that God’s power might be demonstrated in final unrighteousness among persons).

But an Arminian like JPH ought to have a better understanding of the shame of unrighteousness than that.

This currently ends my comments on JPH’s replies to Gary Amirault’s challenge-questions to non-universalists. While I’ve shuffled the topics around for convenience of discussion (especially to go very far out of my way to agree with JPH (sometimes over-against fellow Christian universalists, Gary being the obvious example) everywhere I can find to relevantly do so), I don’t think I’ve skipped any. Nor do I think I have “inevitably resort[ed] to emotional appeals”, “about eternal torture in hell” or otherwise. By and large JPH’s replies are exegetical ones, and I’ve responded in kind to his replies; where JPH appeals to metaphysical principle instead, I have responded in kind thereby, too.

(By which I do not mean to imply that JPH illegitimately switches from one to the other, such as in order to avoid problems. I am aware that metaphysics and exegetics are both proper tools for doing theology. I have a preference for metaphysics myself, as exegetics tends to rely, in various ways, on metaphysical principles already established; and in principle metaphysics are more accessible to non-Christians who naturally do not start with accepting that the Judeo-Christian canon features accurate data on the topics. But I wouldn’t teach Christian universalism per se unless I thought a fair exegetical case could be made for it on the same methodologies used by non-universalist Christian scholars on this and other topics.)

Some parts of WIHIGO still should be commented on, but much of that can be picked up when I shift over to JPH’s article against post-mortem salvation. And that will begin in the next Part of my series.

Part 6: Some Preliminary Agreements (again); and Dueling on Isaiah 42:6-7

As noted back in Part 3, JP Holding answered Gary Amirault’s challenge/question regarding scriptural evidence of post-mortem evangelization and salvation by replying, “This position [that Jesus went to Hell (Hades), preached to those in it and led captivity captive, per Gary’s challenge question] is not taught in the Bible anywhere, in fact (the texts are not saying any such thing).” JPH then directed readers to a previous article on the topic and moved along.

Having now chewed my way (in several consecutive waves) entirely through JPH’s article of replies to Gary’s challenges (agreeing with many of his replies along the way), it’s time for me to move along next to this other lengthy and very interesting article.

JPH’s counter-post-mortem-evangelism article at Tekton is titled “The Doctrine of Postmortem Evangelization”. JPH’s specific concern in this article is actually aimed at refuting a Latter-Day Saint (i.e. Mormon) doctrine of post-mortem evangel; but I’ll skip over portions of his argument involving Mormon claims and arguments per se, focusing only on portions relevant to a trinitarian Christian purgatorial universalist such as myself.

(Christian ultra-universalists who deny any post-mortem punishment per se would have somewhat different replies than I would; but since I affirm post-mortem punishment in various ways and to various degrees, it would be spurious of me to take time to present and defend their replies. I will note however, since JPH is both an eschatological preterist and, in his own way, a penal substitution proponent, that almost all Christian ultra-u’s I know of are both eschatological preterists and penal sub proponents! I have occasionally quipped that if I ever went to preterism and/or penal sub, I’d be even more gung-ho theologically for Christian universalism than I already am. Be that as it may.)

Before I go on to disagreements, let me state first that I have no disagreement with JPH’s rejection of an attempt to use 2 Cor 5:8 as evidence of post-mortem evangelization (much moreso salvation): obviously Paul is talking about the expected result of dying as a loyal follower of Christ here.

Nor do I have any concern about trying to distinguish paradises from heaven etc., which is more the business of JPH’s Mormon opponent (who by the way JPH regards as only mistaken, not actively misrepresenting sources in his arguments).

I also have no disagreement about 2 Cor 6:2 being, in itself, not evidence for post-mortem salvation; and I appreciate JPH’s willingness to acknowledge that attempts to use the verse to argue only for pre-mortem salvation are weak. But his arguments along that line involve (as is certainly proper) contextual reference to Isaiah 49, and he doesn’t do a good job referring to the context there. So I’ll have to talk about that later.

Finally, I have no particular disagreement about Hebrews 11:39-40 referring to people (Jewish saints in effect) whom we would normally expect to be saved by God anyway. I wouldn’t bother citing it as evidence of the salvation of non-Christians post-mortem, much less as evidence of the evangelization (successful or otherwise) of infidels post-mortem.

JPH introduces his first article in this series with a brief quotation of Hebrews 9:27a without context, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” JPH sort of discusses the contexts of this in a minor way around the two-thirds mark of his article; I’ll follow suit and discuss the contexts much more extensively myself toward the end of my replies. But I will hint at my forthcoming reply by saying that, in context, this is referring to a covenant made by the Father and the Son, discussed by the Hebraist earlier in chapter 9: a covenant with more than a little relevance to my final argument in Part 5!

JPH notes that at least some Evangelical Christians believe along with Gabriel Fackre that “the Word will also be declared to those we can’t reach, even if it takes an eternity”. This is quoted from the three-way debate in What About Those Who Have Never Heard (between GF; John Sanders, arguing for pre-mortem full evangelization including by supernatural means at the moment of death; and Ronald Nash, arguing from within a Calvinist soteriology for evangelization only in this life and, against JS’s similar Arminian stance, not for everyone.)

I happen to own this book, being one of the first books I bought back in early 2000 when my studies in trinitarian theism began to strongly suggest Christian universalism to be a logical corollary to ortho-trin. JPH says he will be referring to their discussion along the way, but since he never explicitly does so I’ll only mention his reference to it and move along.

JPH begins by arguing in reference to Isaiah 42:6-7, that “given the regular association in Judaism and in the Bible of sin, trouble and ignorance with darkness and captivity, slavery or bondage [with relevant scriptural citations], the Christian can just as effectively argue that the reference is to the ‘prison’ of spiritual exile.”

But (speaking as a Christian universalist) I do argue that the reference is to the prison of spiritual exile: and what else is hell under any Christian understanding if not a prison of spiritual exile?! The non-universalist is certainly not being “just as effective” as the universalist in arguing this, for the scope is effectively restricted if non-universalism is true.

What JPH means of course, is that he thinks Christian non-universalists can argue just as effectively that this verse from Isaiah (cited specifically by Christ as reported in Luke 4:18-21 to state His mission) applies only to the prison of spiritual exile in this life. But the context of Isaiah 42 indicates that the people being freed are those whom God is punishing for their willful blindness by putting them into imprisonment in caves (i.e. buried underground) and in prisons. It is not a far step from this notion to other portions of scripture where God imprisons sinners in darkness and chains such as those holding the rebel angels. Isaiah 24 itself has a whole set of verses about heavenly and earthly rebels being utterly destroyed in the coming Day of the Lord and afterward being put into prison (v.22) where sometime later they shall be visited by YHWH, using a verb {pawkad} that means release, salvation and freedom when someone has already been punished and imprisoned. (The Greek LXX of that verse uses the verb “to be shepherded”!)

Isaiah 42:6-7 doesn’t necessarily have to mean post-mortem salvation, admittedly; but the thematic context fits quite well. JPH suggests that Jesus’ application of the verses “should be read in light of the Jubilee legislation of Leviticus 15, in which freedom from debts and slavery were proclaimed”–but of course Christian universalists also often appeal to the Jubilee laws (which were never kept and which might have been socially impossible to keep) as foreshadows of universal salvation! Be that as it may, I would argue that in any case Jesus’ language should also be read in light of the punitive contexts of Isaiah: Jesus is coming to free people who, though they had eyes, refused to see (and refused to hear although they had ears, 42:20 for one example of several in that prophecy) and so who were blinded–but they, in their religious idolatry, shall be turned back and be utterly put to shame. After which, and due to which, they shall finally repent and be reconciled again with God. The day of vengeance against sinners (Isaiah 61:2, to mention the other portion of Isaiah cited by Jesus in His mission statement) is also the year of salvation for sinners already punished–if they are sorrowing and mourning. Which is what their punishment was intended to lead them to.

In other words, the context of Isaiah in that prophecy, although it may perhaps fit just as well with the Jubilee, too, is not (or not primarily) about rescuing victims from social inequity. It’s about the repentance and salvation of sinners who have been punished for their sins by God.

JPH thinks that this and several other verses such as Isaiah 49:9, 61:1, and Zech 9:11 “[aren’t] much use for… advocates or divine perseverance”, by which he must mean not even Fackre’s limited divine perseverance. But anyone who takes a minute to check the context of the verses will see that in each case those prophecies are about nothing else if they are not about divine perseverance to leading punished rebels to repentance, salvation from their sins, and freedom from their current punishment! In fact, the salvation of Judah and Ephraim from their enemies in Zech 9 occurs despite them being overrun once more for their idolatries! As a result of this salvation they repent and return to YHWH nevermore to be disloyal again.

Admittedly, the context of Zech 9 indicates a worldly salvation from military oppression in this life (although one with spiritual consequences for the successful subsequent evangelization of surviving Jews and Gentiles). But the other scriptures mentioned by JPH (in replying to his chosen Mormon opponent) tend to be cited with much wider-ranged application in the New Testament, beyond a reference to only one point of human history and location (still to come).

I am not trying to claim that post-mortem salvation can be read exclusively out of those particular verses. But I do think the context of those verses (the ones with the spiritually wide application in the NT anyway) make a more difficult fit against post-mortem salvation than with it. I certainly thought so back when I myself wasn’t a universalist; and I notice that JPH doesn’t appeal to the contexts to demonstrate that it’s just as easy to interpret them purely for salvation in this life as for post-mortem salvation.

(Next up: Matthew 5.)

Part 7: Disagreements on Matthew 5 (and Matt 18)

JPH next aims against a post-mortem salvation interpretation of Matt 5:25-26, which is one of the “until the final cent” sayings. (In Greek the term is “quadran”, but any interpretation of the smallest monetary unit in any culture or language would be proper.)

JPH thinks it is “questionable whether we can read this as applying to Hades rather than just earthly matters”. The context of the saying here in the Sermon on the Mount, however, precedes and thematically parallels the warning about adultery which leads into a Gehenna warning!

Moreover, the parallel parable later in Matthew (which is also given in close topical context to a warning about being thrown into Gehenna) is explicitly about what (in addressing Peter no less) “My Father in the heavens shall also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your hearts.” (Matt 18:21-35. Compare contextually with 18:1-14 if not also 15-20.)

The general topics are also the same in each report in GosMatt, although the lead-in is expressed by Jesus different ways: make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are on the way to the court, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge (to be thrown into prison)! (Chapter 5) You wicked slave!–I forgave you all that debt because you begged me!–was it not required of you to have mercy on your fellow slave, as I have had mercy on you?! (Chapter 18)

(The report from Luke at yet another time and place, during a recapitulation of teaching during the final approach to Jerusalem (GosLuke 12:54-59), precedes the warning with more obscure poetic language, but is generally regarded by modern interpreters as being a warning to make friends with their enemy Rome while they still have a chance: an interpretation I agree with, in the context of that particular scene.)

The context in both GosMatt occurrences points toward Gehenna/hades, i.e. post mortem punishment: it may be questionable, but the application is also easily answerable by context! (Anyway I doubt JPH, despite being an eschatological preterist, regards the Gehenna warnings as being only a warning of earthly destruction coming upon Jerusalem from Rome someday, no more than I do!–he routinely acknowledges, including in WIHIGO, that Gehenna language applies to post-mortem shame-suffering.) But he also strangely misses the other contextually important point: what the imprisoned person owes in each case is reconciliation with the other person, whether the one he has sinned against (5:25) or the one who has sinned against him (18:28-30).

JPH thinks arguments about these verses testifying to the possibility of leaving hades/Gehenna “fail to account for the reality of debtor’s prison. In such cases, barring intervention, the person never pays the last penny, because they can’t get out of prison to make money to pay the debt.” But it isn’t about the money (and clearly JPH is referencing Matt 18 there, since Matt 5 doesn’t mention the technical grievance at all.) It’s about forgiveness and mercy, and loving enemies, and repentance from sin. That’s what is owed; that’s what the one thrown into prison refused to pay. In Matt 5, the person thrown into prison refused to repent of sin done against his opponent; in Matt 18, the person thrown into prison refused to have mercy on one who had sinned against him; in Luke 12, the ones thrown into prison will have refused to make peace with pagan enemies (presumably for the purpose of helping lead the pagan enemies to God).

By the same logic, that is what the imprisoned person is expected to pay in order to leave the prison. Admittedly, the impenitent prisoner may focus with hopeless resentment on the money that he can never pay back–but surely we shouldn’t be following the interpretation of the impenitent sinner there!

No doubt, “barring intervention” (as JPH puts it), even repentance and mercy cannot be paid by the person: if God doesn’t empower us to be merciful to those who have sinned against us, and to repent of our sins against other persons, then by tautology we have no possibility of doing so. But the clear interest of God, by analogy in the parables, is in reconciliation of wrongdoers with the people they have wronged: that’s exactly why the person is thrown into prison in each case. The judgment statements (even in GosLuke) don’t indicate that the judge is unwilling or unable to empower the person to come out. On the contrary, the detail (in each occurrence) of the final cent presupposes some kind of technical possibility authoritatively allowed by the judge. A tyrannical mocking judge might (grudgingly??) allow such a technical possibility. But are we supposed to be interpreting God Most High that way?!

If anything, these parables are warnings to us that we should not insist on hopeless irreconciliation between sinners and victims–otherwise one way or another we are the ones who are signing up for the prison God will put us in! (But not for hopeless un-reconciliation ourselves, otherwise God Himself would be doing what He is punishing us for.)

Next up: Matt 16

Part 8: Disagreements on Matt 16

Moving on to Matt 16:17-19 (the promise that the gates of hades will not stand strong against the Church), JPH acknowledges that two early Christian writers interpreted this and similar verses to mean that hell would be raided and its prisoners evangelized and set free.

(As a reminder, many more than two early writers believed so!–as noted in an earlier Part, this was the majority stock interpretation of Christian authorities for several hundred years, although they differed on the scope of evangelization out of hades and what would happen to anyone left over if there was anyone. They also differed on whether anyone else would go in after Christ raided it. Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev collects and reports primary source data on this topic in his recent Christ the Conqueror of Hell.)

JPH thinks that since the verb {katischusousin}, “shall be down-stronging” remains (in Jewish Greek) an active verb when paired with the genitive preposition “of her”, which must refer to the ecclesia (i.e. the out-called), then this is not a reference to the church busting (with the keys of the kingdom of heaven) into hades to raid it. “The gates, therefore, would seem to be attacking the church.” (This topic does not seem to be in WIHIGO, by the way.)

Back when I was a non-universalist, I regarded this verse as referring to the gates oppressively keeping the ecclesia in hades, yet I had problems with this theory because the righteous (especially the church) do not always elsewhere seem oppressed by being in hades–and the Christian church in the NT never seem to go to hades at all! At the time I figured that since the “church” included the pre-Christian people in the paradise side of sheol (and/or possibly in soul sleep), then they could still be said to have been oppressed by the gates of hades, since they couldn’t get out.

Anyway, the point is that city or prison gates oppress not only by looming over above the ones trying to get through (whether trying to invade or trying to escape), but defenders of the gates also actively resist breaching!–there are archers and stones and burning oil etc., as might be forgotten in our modern day but which would have been immediately obvious to most hearers or readers up until relatively modern times. (And which could never be forgotten by anyone living in prison as punishment for their deeds.)

The active-ness of the verb in relation to the church, consequently, does not therefore eliminate an interpretation of the church raiding hades through its (no doubt metaphorical) “gate”: the gate-guards would (by the same poetic analogy) be trying to stop the church by counterattacking, and there’s the active verb. Matthew, a Jew writing in Greek, does not have to be making an exception to the rule.

That doesn’t mean I would read out an exclusive meaning of post-mortem salvation here: the principle obviously extends to evangelization in this life, too.

JPH thinks however that the active meaning of the verb requires the gates of hell must be exclusively understood some other way (since an understanding of both-now-and-later would include post-mortem salvation). Does understanding the term “gates of hades” as metonymy for the whole ‘city’ of hades help with that? I don’t see how: I don’t know anyone at any time who ever thought that only the (metaphorical) area near the gate was important to the concept! (City resistance certainly doesn’t start and stop at the gate!) Does the term “gates of hades” being a metaphor for the experience of death help? Hardly, since by the same token we’re talking about resurrection from hades, which no orthodox Christian on any side of the question denies will involve both the good and the evil–but then the special relationship of the church per se to the gates of hades is missing from the interpretation.

Yet from these two interpretations of the poetic figure (that the gates represent the whole city, and that the city represents death), JPH thinks that an interpretation such as he quotes from Hagner is appropriate: “…(T)he church as God’s eschatological community will never die or come to end – this despite the eventual martyrdom of the apostles and even, more immediately, the death of its founder…” But how does this interpretation square with JPH’s own insistence (which I agree is correct) on the gate actively resisting the church? Gates are defensive structures; also, still in NT times to some extent, a place where judges live and hold court (as noted for example in Deut 16:18 and 17:2, cited by JPH. Currently his article features a slight typo referencing 16:16 instead.) To possess the gate of the enemy (as in Gen 22:17 and 24:60, also cited by JPH) is to overcome an active military resistance in order to occupy and rule a city, including as its judge.

But overcoming an active resistance in order to occupy and rule an area, including as its judge, looks an awfully lot like the harrowing of hades which JPH denies is the intention of this verse! The peculiarly passive interpretation he prefers instead (despite having brought up the active verbiage himself) does not seem to do sufficient justice to the strength of the imagery. JPH’s observation that in Matthew’s narrative Jesus begins from this time forth to teach about His own forthcoming death and resurrection (16:21, paralleled in other Synoptic Gospels) is very welcome and to the point: but again the point seems to me stronger than merely that “the church perseveres [JPH’s emphasis] not only, on earth but in the eternal life granted to the believer.” I certainly do not deny that the church perseveres in the eternal life granted to the member of the church (i.e. the believer), but if our Captain of the Resurrection overcomes an active resistance in order to occupy and rule and area, including as its judge–which is what JPH’s own citational references to gates in the OT indicate by poetic analogy–and if that area is hades, then isn’t JPH missing something important from the interpretation here?

(JPH has some more successful criticisms to make against his Mormon opponent in regard to this verse, but not being a Mormon I will pass over those. Although, based on how he goes about his criticisms, now I am curious as to whether JPH regards himself as a Catholic instead of a Protestant, since if Protestants are protesting anything it is that the church did to some significant degree apostatize!–otherwise all trinitarians would be unified in one organizational group. Be that as it may.)

Next up: John 5

Part 9: Disagreements on John 5

Next, JPH argues that John 5:24-29 does not mean that all those in their graves who hear His voice and come out at His call (v.28-29a), some to a resurrection of life and some to a resurrection of judgment (v.29), will have a chance to believe Him in hearing His word and so have eternal life without condemnation passing out of death into life instead (v.24).

JPH thinks that since verses 24 and 25 begin with the Johannine double Amen, and since verse 26 begins with a new train of thought (“For…”), then it is clear that if there is any link of verse 25 to another verse in the passage it cannot be to anything after the word “For”. But this is very strange, since Biblical Greek just like English uses “for” (in a couple of ways but especially by the postpositive {gar} as in this verse) as a conjunction to signal logical connections between ideas.

But of course, if there was a logical connection signified by {gar} there (as is true in the vast if not unanimous majority of times that term is used in the scriptures) then the idea of verse 25 would be explicitly linked to verse 26 and thus (as JPH tacitly allows by attempting such an exclusion) to verse 28 and 29.

Even more strangely, JPH insists that verses 24 and 25 must refer to those who are “only spiritually dead”–as though anyone anywhere (including JPH) denies that the impenitent wicked are still spiritually dead post mortem!

The topical disjunction attempt becomes stranger again when JPH claims that “life” in verses 24 and 26 obviously is meant in an “eternal” sense (which I agree is true) but that this sense is only “figurative” compared to the physical life of the resurrection in later verses. Personally I am glad that I have never once regarded eonian life, which must on any interpretation refer to God’s own life uniquely and directly from God, as being only figurative compared to physical life!–but then JPH by the same token must regard the resurrection into life at verse 29 as being only physical not (merely?) “figuratively” eternal. But then what is a resurrection to judgment for those who have done evil supposed to mean in contrast to those who have been raised to a physical (instead of “figuratively” eternal) life??

These are not arguments I would have ever imagined trying to make to defend against the possibility of post-mortem salvation. But the exegetical case here is even stronger than for merely post-mortem salvation; for just as JPH correctly charges his Mormon opponent for omitting the context of verse 24, I also see from verses 22-23 what the contextual purpose of the Father is, in giving all judgment to the Son: {hina pantes timôsi ton huion kathôs timôsi ton patera} “in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (with the logical clarification that “the one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father Who sent Him”).

That term for judgment is the same one being repeatedly referenced afterward at least as far as verse 30 (where Jesus does shift over into the topic of witnesses, the point being that by their own standards the Jews–most likely meaning the Jewish leaders–ought to have recognized and trusted in Him).

How would this not explain, and nicely in advance, what the purpose of the judgment ({tên krisin} and cognates) by the Son is for?

verses 24-25: the one who hears the word of the Son and believes in the Father Who sends the Son, already honors the Son and the Father (of course), so has eonian life and passes out of the death {ek tou thanatou} into the life, instead of coming into the judgment (or crisis) by the Son–the goal of judgment being that all may honor the Son and the Father, the result of which would be that those who come to honor the Son and the Father pass out of the death into eonian life. It is in this context that the double-amen occurs, promising that an hour is coming when the dead ones shall hear the voice of the Son, and those who hear shall live.

verses 26-27: Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He also gives (a more accurate translation than “gave”) to the Son to also have life in Himself, and gives to the Son (as the Son of Man as well as the Son of God per verse 25) authority to do judging–the goal of which was already just recently explained to be that all may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

verses 28-29: An hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and those who do good shall go out into a resurrection of life, yet those who do the bad( thing)s shall go out into a resurrection of judgment–the goal of the judgment being (as was just previously explained by Jesus) that all may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

verse 30: As the Son hears, He judges, absolutely not for Himself (with a double-negative emphasis in Greek), because He does not seek His own will but the will of the One Who sends Him. And His judging is fair (or just) {kai hê krisis hê emê dikaia estin}–because the goal of the Son’s judgment, as the Son just recently explained, is that all may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

Verse 23 not only expressly explains the goal of the Son’s judgment, but provides the context for understanding what the Son means by just or fair judgment–even when that judgment is, understandably, a crisis for the currently impenitent sinner, the one who is still doing the bad things.

These are not small matters. The whole point of the judgment is that all may honor the Father. Why the Son would come to accept some impure or hypocritically false honoring of the Father (or even Himself) is something that, fortunately, I no longer have need to defend (having become a Christian universalist), but even annihilation would involve a failure in the goal of Christ’s just judgment. Indeed by the express terms of Christ’s declarations here, a judgment without the goal that all may honor/value the Father (the Greek term for honoring there routinely carries a positive valuation of the object being honored) would be an unjust judgment!

JPH doesn’t mention any of that, but he does somehow think that because the passage from death to life happens now it does not also happen in the future. Which of course, if accepted as a principle, would mean that none of us living in the future of this scene would have any hope of salvation from sin! That people are also “hearing the voice even [JPH’s emphasis]at the present time” does not mean that that people will not hear the voice in the future. (As JPH himself tacitly acknowledges by including the “even” there: “even now” implies “also at some other time”.)

JPH does fairly acknowledge that the word for the dead in verse 25, {hoi nekroi} the dead ones (plural), “commonly refers to actually dead bodies” and that some commentators argue the term should be thought of as such here, too. JPH also acknowledges that if this is accepted then of course this “would then clearly have to be ‘coming to life’ in the context of being alive in [JPH’s emphasis] the resurrection of final judgment.” But that was the whole point he was trying to argue against by supposing the topically and logically conjunctive “for” did not continue the line of topical thought! JPH is also aware that such a topical link would strongly challenge (even without a topical reference to the goal of the judgment back at verse 23) what the judgment is supposed to involve, and so would strongly challenge his notion of what the finality of it is. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been trying so hard to break the topical connection at verse 26!

If JPH insists, I can acknowledge that these verses do not refer to a pre-judgment visit to a spirit prison–although the greater topic being discussed in these verses (a post-mortem judgment with the goal of universal salvation from sin) certainly does not exclude the concept of the lesser topic of post-mortem-but-pre-judgment salvation.

I can also grant that Daniel 12:1-3 (nor nearby context so far as I can tell) does not explicitly reference post-mortem salvation, although neither does the language strictly exclude it (the term commonly translated “everlasting” there being not only flexible as to duration but also demonstrably capable of being used twice in close context to compare and contrast that which lasts a long time but isn’t really everlasting to that which or Who really is everlasting. Compare with Hab 3:6.) The reference to those “who lead the many to righteousness” would certainly fit any indications elsewhere of post-mortem evangelism, although the phrase (so far as I know) doesn’t necessarily have to involve that. (On the other hand, since “many” nearby at verse 2 is definitely a euphamism for “all”, “many” might mean “all” at verse 3 as well, even though I do not insist that the context necessarily points that direction.)

Next up: Rom 10

Part 10: Disagreements on Romans 10

Moving on to the next scripture: JPH replies to an argument that Romans 10:14-18 refers to total evangelism by Christ, with the “problem” that the passage has to be read in light of Psalm 19:1-3, where it is the heavens and the skies declaring the glory of God all over the world. (This topic doesn’t seem to be in WIHIGO, by the way.)

While I am always for checking NT statements in context of their OT citations and allusions, I don’t see how this helps JPH’s argument against total evangelization by Christ, since St. Paul is very specific that this counts as evangelization by Christ.

Paul is so specific about this that JPH (very weirdly, considering that he himself acknowledges pre-mortem total evangelization by Christ one way or another) has to try suggesting that Paul’s application of the word “gospel” to this doesn’t necessarily refer to “the New Testament message of salvation”. (Of course “gospel” here doesn’t refer to a specific book or books of the Bible, which probably weren’t even written yet at the time of EpistRom’s composition.)

Yet the whole preceding context of Rom 10 is explicitly about the gospel as the message of salvation!–it isn’t (despite JPH’s attempt at suggesting otherwise) about just any kind of random good news! The 14th verse itself at the beginning of his Mormon opponent’s citation is Paul’s expanding rhetorical question (“How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?”–and how can they believe if they have not heard, etc.?) following his own citation of Joel 2:32 that “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord (i.e. YHWH) shall be saved.” Which follows directly much discussion from Paul about confessing Jesus as Lord and believing that God raised Him from the dead and how this results in salvation. Verse 9: “you shall be saved” (for confessing and believing). Verse 10: “resulting in salvation” (for confessing and believing). Verse 13: “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul begins what we call chapter 10 (v.1) declaring that his heart’s desire and his prayer to God for non-Christian Israel (those stumbling over the stone of offense, i.e. over Christ) is for their salvation. He cites Isaiah 28:16 at verse 11, where the context is explicitly about God punishing the people in Jerusalem who have made a covenant with death and a pact with Sheol so that they shall repent and be saved. (Their covenant with death shall be canceled on God’s authority and their pact with Sheol shall not stand–but it would be better to put their trust in the cornerstone now than to be made ashamed by God when YHWH rises up at Mount Perazim to do His unusual task and His alien work of the decisive destruction of all the Earth.)

The faith that comes from hearing in verse 17 is absolutely saving faith per Paul’s prior discussion of it in immediately preceding and local contexts. This is also, by the way, the context of Paul’s notice (at verses 19-20, with OT quotations) that Israel had been alerted ahead of time that in one way Gentiles who were not even seeking God would be saved before Israel! Chapter 11 continues the theme of Israel’s coming salvation, too: God has not rejected His people, even though they have rejected Him and stumbled over the stumbling stone (which God foreknew would happen). But they have not stumbled so as to fall–may it never be!

Admittedly, Paul’s point here is that Jews (even in the dispersion) have had the same witness from general revelation that everyone else has had, even when they weren’t paying sufficient attention to their specially granted revelations. But the message from which faith comes is heard through the word of Christ, and Paul’s question of whether the Jews have heard the good news of Christ is answered by his reference to general revelation that is available to both Jew and Gentile. It may be strange for Christians to consider this general revelation as being also the saving word of Christ (which of course can be rejected as well as accepted), but it fits Paul’s argument earlier in the chapter that the Word (which he explicitly identifies as Christ, although in the OT scripture he is citing the Law is immediately in view) doesn’t have to be brought down from heaven by anyone or brought up from the swirling depths by anyone (a Jewish euphamism for the prison of rebel spirits!), but that the Word (==Christ, Who is the Word of faith being preached by the apostles) is already near, “in your mouth and in your heart”. For what purpose?–to lead people to confess Jesus is YHWH/Lord and that God has raised Him out from the dead, and so be saved.

I also observe that the rabbis, when regarding Isaiah 52:7, considered the beautiful feet bringing good news, as cited by Paul at 10:15, to be first and foremost the feet of the Messiah! In the OT the feet do belong to someone singular–by context they seem to belong to YHWH Who says “in that day, I am the one Who is speaking, ‘Here I am!’” and Who bares His holy arm to save Jerusalem from their folly of allying with pagan oppressors. Paul renders them the feet of plural persons, no doubt to include evangelists less than Christ in Christ’s purpose of evangelism. But Christ’s purpose and capability of evangelism happens to be primarily in view elsewhere in Romans 10, so it is reasonable to infer that Paul was reminded of the typical rabbinic interpretation of Isaiah 52:7. (The themes of Israel’s salvation from idolatry and from their punishment and oppression as a result of their idolatry, are not exactly foreign to either Paul’s nearby argument nor to the other OT verses he cites nearby, of course.)

Does this count as post-mortem evangelism though? I wouldn’t argue that this is primarily in view in chapter 10, but the allusion to Christ coming up out of the swirling depths (the Abyss, the prison of rebel spirits) does seem pertinent: no one has to bring Him down from heaven, He does that on His own volition in order to save His enemies from their rebellions. By the same token no one has to bring Him up from the Abyss either, He does that on His own volition, too, and for the same purpose. I would however argue that the eventual thrust of Romans 11 includes post-mortem salvation for Jews and so also by parity for Gentiles: even if they have stumbled over the stumbling stone, they have not stumbled so as to fall. Yet Jews must have died while still stumbling over Christ. (I would also argue that Paul’s OT citations back in Romans 9 point toward post-mortem salvation: God the potter can destroy and remake the pottery while it is still on the wheel, but He can also restore the fired pottery after He breaks it, etc.)

It is extremely strange that JPH can even try to argue instead that “when Paul here speaks of ‘gospel’ he means not the message of Christ per se but the ‘gospel’ of general revelation alluded to in Psalm 19:1-3”. Which Paul explicitly calls “the word of Christ”! JPH thinks that this general revelation was not the message of Christ per se, but only barely cites any contextual reason for thinking otherwise, namely that Paul quotes Isaiah 53:1 “indicating that not all have believed”. But Isaiah was complaining that not all Israel had believed his special revelation to them from God!–and no one anywhere is arguing that it is impossible to refuse (at least temporarily) to accept the good news from general revelation. Paul himself goes on, precisely in his reference to Psalm 19, to indicate that the Jews who were rejecting their specially granted revelation (as in Isaiah 53 along with tons of other places in the prophets) still had general revelation available to everyone that they were also rejecting. “But (verse 18) surely they [who at verse 16 rejected the gospel as exemplified by their rejection of Isaiah] have never heard [the word of Christ from which comes faith, per verse 17], have they? Indeed they have! (Psalm 19)”

So some Jews rejected both special revelation, per Isaiah, and general revelation, of the sort mentioned in Psalm 19. But that only means some Jews are still stumbling; it doesn’t mean they always will. Much less does it mean they are stumbling over something that isn’t the gospel of salvation!

JPH’s whole rationale is otherwise an indisputable argument that the word could be used for any kind of good tidings including secular. But the relevant contextual question is: what is Paul using it for?! The context does not leave much obscure mystery to the answer of that question.

Next up: 2 Corinthians 6

Just a brief reminder that, although this thread is locked in order to keep the Parts together, back at the beginning I created a thread for discussing the Parts of my reply, which can be found here:

Anyone is welcome and invited to talk about this thread there, ask questions, etc.

Part 11: Disagreements on 2 Corinthians 6

(This topic doesn’t appear to be addressed in WIHIGO, by the way.)

As noted earlier, I actually agree with JPH that 2 Cor 6:2 is in itself no evidence for post-mortem salvation: certainly St. Paul’s context of it involves a present warning for his fellow Christians not to receive the grace of God as being worthless (6:1).

What that means is more disputable: the traditional chapter division tends to regard 6:1-2 (including the citation from Isaiah 49:8, and Paul’s application of it to the present day) as being topically connected more with verses 3ff on the witness of a good Christian social life, so the point would be not to receive the grace of God and yet have an empty life.

However, this does not really square with Paul’s citation of Isaiah 49 and its contexts, which are extremely different. But those contexts do square up in interesting ways with Paul’s famous declarations ending out chapter 5; leading to an exegetical argument that chapter 6 really ought to have started with verse 3 “We are giving no cause for offense in anything so that the ministry is discredited” and so on.

Whatever else Isaiah 49 is about, it is not about living a good life as a witness to the nations for their salvation (good advice though that is for evangelism). Nor is it about what JPH thought, a day of salvation when the Lord supported His people in the past (although JPH does recognize that the day is “not merely a single day, for of course God did not help his people for only one day”.) Frankly, I find it hard to believe that he read the chapter even a little when replying to his Mormon opponents here.

Isaiah 49, including verse 8, is totally about God’s promise to support His people in the future, even though they have betrayed Him once again, when He arrives visibly to rescue them from being overrun by pagan armies in the great and terrible Day of the Lord to come.

This is also thematically woven with God speaking to righteous Israel as His servant–often regarded by Jews as referring to the King Messiah to come, and of course applied by us Christians to Jesus Christ as the ultimate Messiah (with the prophet taking turns under inspiration speaking for the Father and the Son), perfectly fulfilling the role of righteous Israel. So when YHWH says at verse 8 “In a favorable time I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you” He is by narrative design speaking to Israel exemplified in the Messiah.

Paul in referring to this verse and insisting that now is the day of salvation and the favorable time, therefore probably refers to the Father having helped and saved the Messiah/Son–that time to come was in the future of Isaiah (when the Servant seemed to have toiled in vain and spent His strength for nothing and vanity) but has now been accomplished in Paul’s recent past. (Although other details of the prophecy certainly have never yet been fulfilled, and remain to be fulfilled in our own future.)

God’s grace (per 2 Cor 6:1) was not in vain after all, despite He Who knew no sin volunteering to be a sin (offering) on our behalf (5:21 immediately prior). What was the goal?–why was the Servant spending out His strength to the final extreme? “So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” answers Paul (5:21b); and not only us, but in Christ God was reconciling all creation to Himself (5:19) for which reason we are now the ambassadors of God exhorting people and begging them on behalf of Christ “Be reconciled to God!”

Just as God’s grace in saving the Son was not in vain, so the Son’s sacrifice on the cross will not be in vain: the world will be reconciled to God. Similarly the love of Christ compels us who have concluded that One died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

Consequently, to preach less than Christ’s goal of reconciling all (Calvinism), or to preach that Christ’s reconciliation of any to God shall be in vain (Arminianism), is to receive the grace of Christ in vain! (And, not incidentally, this routinely gives cause for offense, discrediting our ministry!)

Nor is this topic foreign to Isaiah 49: the purpose of the Servant of God is to bring Jacob (here standing for rebel Israel) back to God so that all Israel may be gathered to Him. (v.5) To which God adds that being His Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel is not enough (which must in context refer to the resurrection of rebel and faithful Jews, thus also to the post-mortem salvation of rebel Jacob!)–God will also make His Servant a light to the nations so that God’s salvation will reach to the ends of the Earth! As the Servant and Holy One, Who was despised and abhorred by the nation of Israel, is rescued by YHWH, so shall Israel Who despised the Holy Servant be rescued; and as rescuing all of Israel is too small a thing to honor and glorify God (verses 3 and 5) so shall “God’s salvation” (the phrase from which Jesus literally derives His name) go out even to the pagan kings and princes who shall come to loyally serve the Servant of Kings (vv.6-7) The Father has given the Son to us explicitly as a covenant of the people, that as the Son was answered and saved (after dying no less!) so shall the land be restored and the desolated areas (desolated by God in punishment for sin) be rebuilt, and those in prison and in darkness shall be called forth to show themselves and come to God from the north and from the west even from as far away as “the land of ‘the thorns’” (i.e. Sinim, which may be a prophetic reference to China which came to be known by a similar term in several languages. But which surely stands in a pun for the furthest destitution imaginable.)

This is all despite the avowed fact (such as at 49:25-26 but in many other places also) that God intends to utterly kill the pagan armies invading and besieging Israel at the time of His visitation and rescue of Israel from them. (This is the part that has certainly not happened yet.) But this is so that (as in v.26) all flesh will know that YHWH is the Savior and Redeemer and the Mighty One of Jacob: with the results that prophetically follow from people coming to know this, namely (as earlier in the prophecy, with strong though poetic indications of resurrection of the evil as well as the good) final loyalty to God and reconciliation between men.

So while I can and do agree that 2 Cor 6:2 of itself is no argument for post-mortem salvation, in connected context with the preceding verses conjoined with the situation being referenced by Paul in Isaiah I would argue (as more than the mere “hypothesis” JPH seems to expect from his Mormon opponents) that Paul is actually admonishing his readers not to be ministers of a lesser reconciliation but to remember the example of Christ and His resurrection as the covenant given by God Whom we can expect to keep His side of the covenant (even if we fail or intentionally fall on our side of it) in bringing about God’s goals for Christ’s sacrifice: the reconciliation of all sinners, living and dead, Jew and Gentile, to God (and in God to each other as well).

Next up: the epic three-subpart set of disagreements on Ephesians 4 begins!

1 Like

Part 12: Disagreements on Ephesians 4 (Part 1 of 3!)

Skipping over JPH’s discussion of his Mormon opponent’s attempts at trying to argue that the Father dwells within a third distinct system of paradise (I agree that his opponent has misunderstood the issues involved there, and certainly I base no arguments of my own on such a position), we go to Ephesians 4:8-10, which has indeed often been used in the ancient church (more often than JPH earlier seemed to realize) as an indication of Christ’s harrowing of hell.

I am not interested in disputing about the specifically Mormonistic application of these verses, so I’ll skip over that part of JPH’s comments on them here, too. The salient question is whether this indicates Christ descended into hades to save sinners who weren’t (in some way relevant to Christian universalism) already saved from their sins.

JPH argues that the term “lower” in “lower parts of the earth” is in the comparative tense not the superlative: in English we would say this is the difference between lower and lowest, where lower can-or-does imply a further extent beyond the secondary range (low, lower, lowest). Since (among JPH’s other reasons, to be discussed also below) the comparative and not the superlative is used, and since “the word ‘of’ is not in the original Greek” JPH thinks St. Paul must have been referring only to the Incarnation, with the ascent being the Ascension.

This portion of the discussion is going to take a while, so get ready for multiple parts of Part 12!

First: it’s true that the word “of” doesn’t appear in the Greek, but Greek has no word corresponding to “of” (in this sense) and instead signals that meaning by genitive grammar–and {tês gês} is genitive. “…of the earth” is an entirely standard and uncontentious translation. So this doesn’t read that Christ descended to the “lower earth”, i.e. compared to heaven, but to the “lower parts of” the earth. Which implies a descriptive comparison (if not a contrast) between lower and higher parts of the earth. For which there would be no need, and which wouldn’t make sense, if Paul was only talking about the Incarnation. But it makes good sense if Paul is at least talking about Christ being buried. But then, which captives is Christ leading out from among the dead ones where He was buried?

JPH actually grants that the phrase doesn’t read “the lower parts, the earth” as though it read (in effect) “the lower parts [namely] the earth”–although then his critique that the word “of” is not present loses whatever weight he thought its omission allowed. He accepts that there is a descriptive comparison implied by the genitive case of “of the earth” (although, somewhat consistently, he continues to call the phrase “the earth” as if an “of” did not exist in translation to English there). But he asserts, without clear explanation for why, that “[t]he interpretation requires that the phrase ‘the earth’ be taken as being ‘a genitive of opposition which further defines the preceding noun’”.

JPH thinks that such a “genitive of opposition which further defines the preceding noun” can be found in examples elsewhere in Ephesians, of which he quickly lists six examples; but even if that was true in a way which helped his interpretation here, it would only be stylistic evidence that Paul (or his scribe perhaps, since Ephesians is notorious for being composed in a quite different style from several other Pauline epistles) occasionally had that style in mind when writing the epistle. It wouldn’t be demonstrable evidence that he did so here at 4:9.

But JPH’s quick list of examples leaves unclear that there is even a relevant comparison in style.

For example, he lists Ephesians 2:14 as an example of what he means: the relevant genitive definition of a noun (although JPH doesn’t point explicitly to the phraseology he or rather his source has in mind) would be “the dividing wall of the barrier” {to mesotoichon tou phragmou}. Literally this verse would read that Christ breaks down (‘loosing’ in the sense of disintegrating) the midwall (or central wall) of the barrier between us. In English we would more likely say (as the NASB translates) that Christ broke down the barrier of the central wall between us, referring to the division between Jews and Gentiles, the metaphorical “central wall” functioning as a “barrier”, because we think of a barrier in modern terms more conceptually than actually.

But in the original Greek, Paul would be focusing on the heart of the barrier, the central wall, a particular important part of the barrier. The parallel (if there was a grammatic operation parallel here) would be Paul is focusing on a particular important part of “the earth”, “the lower parts of the earth”.

However, much more importantly, 2:14 doesn’t feature a prepositional phrase followed modified by a genitive phrase. That makes a difference because the debated phrase at 4:9 reads pretty straightforwardly {eis ta katôtera [merê] tês gês} “in(to) the lower-part]s of the earth”, not simply “the lower-part]s of the earth”. If it was the latter, Paul might (but not certainly would) mean “the earth, [of] the lower [parts]”, although that would be an odd way for Paul to talk about earth under heaven (though to be fair Ephesians is stylistically unique in any case!)–but grammatically it’s harder to switch the noun of the genitive phrase with the noun of a full accusative prepositional phrase: “in(to) the earth of the lower parts”. (Nor, notably, does JPH explicitly try to illustrate in detail what this would involve.) It’s true that 2:14 involves an accusative noun switching place (in English meaning) with a genitive noun, but not from within its own prepositional phrase: “the midwall” is simply the object of the verb, not an object of a preposition as at 4:9.

The same is true at 2:15, which reads literally “nullifying the law of the commandments”: it could read instead “nullifying the commandments of the law” (and probably was intended to mean that, where “the Law” means “the Torah”), but {ton nomon} ‘the law’ is simply a direct object to the verb, not the object-noun of a prepositional phrase.

I can’t figure out which genitive JPH (or his source rather) had in mind at 2:20, but I cannot find a translation that would flip any genitive for the dative noun of the only prepositional phrase in that verse (“on the foundation”: no one seems to read “on the apostles and the prophets of the foundation”, much less “on the capstone” or “on the same Jesus Christ of the” whatevers.)

The same is true for 6:14, which reads quite straightforwardly and in an uncontentious translation “then be standing, being girded about the loin of you in truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness”. Is something there supposed to be translated in English instead as “having put on the righteousness of the breastplate” or “about you of the loin”??

6:16 puts the verbs, the direct objects, and the genitive description of one of the direct objects, in very clunky places by English grammatic standards, requiring that the phrases and terms be moved around from their printed order to make sense in English: literally “you-shall-be-able all the darts of the evil-one the ones being-firery [or those having-been-set-on-fire] to-extinguish”, but in English grammar “you shall be able to extinguish all the set-afire darts of the evil one”. But untangling the goofy Greek word order doesn’t require a genitive noun to switch grammatic functions even with a direct object, much less with the object of an accusative or dative preposition.

6:17 again involves untangling weird Greek order in the words and phrases, although not nearly as crazed (by English standards) as in verse 16: literally “and the helmet of the salvation receive, and the sword of the spirit which is a declaration of God”, which doesn’t need much shuffling to fit English grammar construction “and receive the helmet of salvation and [receive] the sword of the spirit which is a declaration of God”. Where does a genitive noun switch places in grammatic function with any noun there in the translation??

Those are JPH’s six examples: and in not even one of them is the situation parallel to his interpretation of 4:9’s grammar. The two closest parallels (which I mentioned first for that purpose), which in English can or would certainly involve an “of-noun” switching grammatic functions with another noun, involve switching places with a standalone direct object to the verb, not with the object of a definite prepositional phrase. The other ostensible parallels only seem to involve, at most, moving genitive noun phrases out of their printed Greek order into a more comprehensible English order–not moving genitive nouns into some other grammatic function (much less switching them with other nouns now imported over into the genitive function in English).

But: even if legitimate parallels could be found in Ephesians for what is needed to make JPH’s grammatic interpretation work (switching a genitive noun with an object of an explicit but different kind of prepositional phrase), that wouldn’t mean this verse features that sort of intended meaning. Various levels of context indicate the genitive noun should (maybe) be switched (in English) with the direct object in two verses; otherwise we would read those verses the way the grammar indicates! The contextual argument would have to be solidly established first here, too.

(Notably, JPH in his article does not ever indicate that “the lower parts” is the object of an explicitly printed prepositional phrase. It’s one thing to ignore that in English the genitive form of “the earth” would be a prepositional phrase “of the earth”, but it’s another to ignore the explicit preposition {eis} of which “the lower parts” is the object. If the prepositions are not reckoned into the translation, it’s naturally much easier to propose that the nouns can be switched around in grammatic position. That the nouns should be switched around, even in that case, is a whole other argument though.)

Granted, a descent in Incarnation “fits with the theme of a descent/ascent or humiliation/exaltation Christology which first describes Jesus coming to earth, then ascending to heaven”, but so does a descent in Incarnation and then suffering in the Passion to the grave–a theme which no Christian of any stripe denies. By the same token, so would descent into spiritual hades (not merely a physical pit/sheol/grave) fit that theme (much moreso to save His own condemned enemies there!), as an ultimate humiliation in which Christ paradoxically exalts. Why we should stop with such a theme only at the Incarnation (and not include at least the Passion and Burial?!), JPH does not explain, on grammatic grounds or otherwise.

If you’re wondering whether I forgot to keep counting after “First”–I didn’t. It just took that long to cover the first part of my reply to JPH on this topic. There are much more problematic disagreements about Eph 4 on the way than this obscure grammatic topic!

In my original version of continuing Parts above, I tried to keep in mind possible revisions JPH has in mind for his agonistic suffering paradigm when discussing problems with his applications of hellshame below, specifically in terms of guesses about how he might synch up his theory better with repeated strong scriptural indications of God’s action in relation to people post-mortem (including in punishment).

Per some private correspondence with him, though, posted by me here in the commentary thread with his permission (with remarks from me afterward in subsequent posts in that thread), JPH will be disassociating God even further from relation to people post-mortem, so also further from any notion of punishment per se.

I don’t know specific details on that yet (as of 9/8/12), so I won’t be able to adjust my Parts above (and below) yet in that regard, but I’ll be removing references to my original guesses as to how he would revise. I’ve added similar updates to my first few Parts above as well.

Part 12: Disagreements on Ephesians 4 (Part 2 of 3!)

It took me a while to cover my first disagreement with JPH on Ephesians 4, but I’ll be able to move along more quickly for a while. (Although not quickly enough to avoid needing a third subpart to Part 12! Just wait until we get to 1 Peter…)

Second, then: while it is true that the adjective there is the comparative version of “low” (with grammatic modifications to make it fit the accusative noun “the parts” for the prepositional phrase “in the parts” {eis ta merê}), the only other time this adjective is used in the NT is at GosMatt’s account of Herod’s slaying of the children two years and lower. Which is obviously an example of the term referring inclusively to all portions below a level: the point to Herod’s slaughter was to pre-emptively kill every boy two years old and under.

Third, there are some early respectable Greek and other language transmissions of the text (including its only known papyrus} which do not include the {merê}, leaving the direct article “the” (in plural and accusative form) to be the object of the preposition “in”; thus “in the [things]”. With the comparative adjective this would be translated “in the lowers” or “in the lower-things”. Or putting the whole phrase set together: “in the lowers / the lower-things of the earth”.

Whether copyists added “parts” to clarify, or omitted it as being redundant to the meaning, is unclear; but either way it distinguishes some “lower” location or extent relative to “the earth” more generally. In fact, using the comparative adjective as a noun in such a way was one way to talk colloquially about hades!–a colloquialism still retained in the Greek speaking Eastern church over the centuries. (Attested for example by Archbishop Alfeyev in his book on the doctrinal history of Christ’s descent, previously mentioned.) At any rate, this uncertainty about whether {merê} was even original to the text is why I switched back and forth in the previous entry between translating it “in the lowers” and “in the lower parts”.

Fourth, the prepositional phase for “the lowers” or “the lower parts” (depending on whether the noun {merê} there was original to the text) is “{eis} the lower [parts]”. {eis} usually means “in” or “into”, or by extrapolation from “into” it could mean “to”. But any translation departing from the basic meaning of “in” ought to be justified by context. JPH hasn’t done this. (In fact he simply ignores that there is a prepositional phrase there at all!) Unless there is a good contextual reason for thinking otherwise, the phrase would indicate a meaning of Christ descending in or into the lower parts of the earth. That sounds like burial at least; and of course that would open up the possibility of applying the phrase as a standard Jewish euphamism for where spirits of those who died (especially rebel spirits) reside. Which also happens to be how the early church routinely read the phrase, even by people who denied post-mortem evangelism for anyone other than righteous OT heroes.

Fifth, JPH cites Ephesians 1:21-2 as a conceptual parallel; but those verses are part of a sentence that (probably) begins back at verse 20, and continues at least as far as verse 23. (I say “probably” because one of the annoying stylistic differences of this epistle compared to any other epistle attributed to St. Paul, is the huge run-on sentences that never seem to end. This makes it difficult for translators and interpreters to figure out where to properly punctuate.) And Christian universalists should be familiar with the contexts there, even if JPH isn’t.

Paul is praying (back in verse 18) that his Christian readers will be enlightened in the eyes of their heart so that they will know what is the hope of God’s calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These things (19b) are in accord with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He (the Father) raised Him from the dead–which would be more accurately translated from Greek “raised out of the dead ones” plural (verse 20)–to be seated in the right-hand of Him among the heavenly ones.

Even if the reference to the dead ones (plural) is discounted as mere style, or only as referring to dead bodies instead of actual dead persons (although then the parallel contrast reference to “heavenly ones” wouldn’t seem to refer to actual persons either!), this is still by any reckoning a reference to Christ descending not merely to Earth in the Incarnation but descending to lower parts of the earth where the dead are. Which fits a translation of Christ descending “in(to) the lowers” or “into the lower parts” “of the earth” in the verse under dispute, 4:9.

Paul goes on to say in verses 1:22-23, that the Father under-sets all {panta hypetaxen} under the feet of Christ and gives Christ to the out-called (probably meaning the church here) as head over all {kephalên huper panta}. Headship always implies (later if not sooner!) a proper coherent relationship to those under the head, and the relationship in this case is not merely to the ecclesia but to {panta}, all. It is as the head of all that Christ, Who (very emphatically) fills complete the completion of the all in all (verse 23), is given to the Church (over which Christ is also head of course) by the Father.

And who is also included under this headship that shall complete the completion of the all in all? Every {archês} and {exousias} and {dunameôs} and {kuriotêtos} (every original leader and authority and power and lordship) and every name that is named not only in this age but in the age to come.

JPH thinks that “*n all likelihood, this [taking of prisoners captive] involves the ‘principalities and powers’ defeated on the cross”, yet that this doesn’t somehow involve a descent into the place where the principalities and powers are currently imprisoned (instead of roaming around freely to cause havoc however they wish). How those rebel principalities and powers, already captured and imprisoned by God before the cross, are brought back captive (in some way they weren’t already captive) by Christ after the cross, is left up to the imagination I guess. But Paul does talk about God triumphing over the powers by the cross, leading them in a victory procession, so that interpretation certainly has some merit.

No doubt since the rebel powers are still rebelling and so are not yet under the headship of Christ in proper subjection to Him, much less completed to the emphatic extent of completion by Christ, such promises would be an example of assurance by prophetic promise: the fulfillment is as certain as if it was already fulfilled. And not incidentally, Paul’s point back at the end of chapter 1 was to reassure Christians and teach them to understand (what they had apparently not understood yet but which would be revealed to them eventually) the total extent of the hope of God’s calling, the total extent of the glory of His inheritance to the saints, and the total extent of the surpassing greatness of His power into us {eis hêmas} the ones who believe in accord with the energy of the might of the strength of Him! Just as the Father had the strength to raise Christ out of the dead ones, so He shall have the strength to do all those other things, too. But those other things explicitly include bringing the rebel powers under the headship of the Son so that God may fully complete them, too.

Of course, JPH only refers to a limited context here–although even verse 1:22 could have provided him some hint of the meaning involved, since it talks about putting those rebel powers (included in all things) under His feet and under His headship, in comparative distinction from their current rebel state. But raiding the Plunder-Possessor to tie him up so that the plunder of the plunder-possessor can be plundered (as Christ wittily puns in Matthew 12, during a scene where the men who should have been His staunchest religious supporters are being rebuked with a warning of the sin against the Holy Spirit for denouncing as a work of Satan the salvation of one whose last state was worse than his first), is not exactly discontinuous with the idea of going to the place where the rebel spirit keeps captives captive and taking him and his captives captive instead, freeing his captives from him.

But that’s a breakout from some kind of spiritual prison!–and if Ephesians 1:21-22 is supposed to be conceptually related to 4:8-10 (which I strongly agree it is), then we are told in more detail what the goal of the campaign was, that it shall certainly be accomplished, and that (not incidentally) the descent of Christ wasn’t merely to the earth but to the grave, even to the place of the dead ones, just as His subsequent ascent was to the place of the heavenly ones.

I could go on to comment with equal topical irony on JPH’s similar appeal to Col 2:15, which is in direct context to verses from Col 1 famously appealed to by Christian universalists as a chief text.

Yet JPH has two more arguments against an interpretation against post-mortem salvation at Ephesians 4:8-10, which I think are worth examining, although that will take one more sub-part.*

1 Like

Part 12: Disagreements on Ephesians 4 (Part 3 of 3!)

We’re reaching my final disagreements with JPH over Ephesians 4–unless I happen to think of any others later, I guess! (I did skip over his connection to Colossians 2:15 after all.)

Sixth, JPH writes that “there is a problem in reading the passage as indicating a ‘breakout’ from a Spirit Prison, since the indication both in the Psalms source that forms the background (Psalm 68:18), and in the language [of Ephesians 4:8-10] is that Christ has taken prisoners (JPH’s emphasis) after some sort of campaign, not freed those who once were prisoners.”

But Psalm 68 does very explicitly feature God freeing prisoners in the Day of the Lord to come (which Paul is comparing in principle to the original descent of Christ): the Psalm starts out with hope of the day to come when YHWH shall destroy the wicked and lead out the prisoners into prosperity leaving the rebellious to dwell in a parched land! (verses 1-6) That is exactly the context of verse 18, where God ascends on high leading captive His captives!–which shall result (as verse 18 also says) not only in God receiving gifts among men from those who are His followers at His coming, but even also from the rebellious so that “YaH God” may dwell with them!

It would also be worth observing that in extended context (indicated elsewhere in the OT), those people who are being saved by God from imprisonment by the rebellious were put into that situation by God in the first place as punishment for their own rebellion.

I certainly allow that the specific events in view by David are most likely the institution of the millennial reign before the general resurrection (of which the OT has a lot to talk about), and so the rebels who repent (despite being left in the parched places deprived of their prisoners) could be survivors of God’s militant wrath against them (with Egypt sending envoys, although other prophecies indicate she will hold out a while due to faith in her river against punitive drought for continuing to rebel, and with Ethiopia–pagan at the time of the Psalm’s composition of course–quickly stretching out her hands to God, 68:31).

Even so, “God is to us a God of deliverances, and to YH God belong escapes for death” (verse 20, difficult to interpret or even to translate). And while God shall bring back someone from Bashan (historically a land not only of super-pagans and enemies of Israel but also ruled by Og last of the Rephaim, one of the descendents of the Nephilim, at the time of its conquest and total slaughter by the armies of Israel) and from the depths of the sea–the latter of which is certainly one of the poetic ways of describing places where rebel spirits are imprisoned, and given the ancient context of Bashan in connection with rebel spirits slain and imprisoned by God, namely the Nephilim, so would “Bashan” in this case–in order to shatter them in blood and feed them to dogs (which must refer to a continuation of their punishment)…

…nevertheless, there are indications even in Psalm 68 (vv.15-16) that the mountain of Basham shall become the dwelling place of God, despite Basham being also the mountain of many peaks which is envious of the mountain of God.

(The physical territory of Bashan is somewhere in what became Gilead and eventually Samaria; which matches with Ezekiel’s prophecy that in the coming millennial reign of YHWH on earth a new city and sanctuary complex will be built, along with the restoration of Jerusalem, 30 miles north of Jerusalem for YHWH to reside and for many of the sacrifices to be reinstated. In any case, even though the territory of Bashan shall be desolated by God’s wrath, especially in the Day of the Lord to come, it shall eventually be made fruitful again by God, as its name itself implies.)

And if the rulers of Bashan/the depths of the sea are the same rebels who were imprisoning the people God rescues from imprisonment–where God Himself had sent them as punishment for their own sins–then even Psalm 68 indicates that those rebels shall give gifts to God eventually in order for Him to live with them. Which may be why Psalm 68, after mentioning God bringing them back from the depths of the sea to harshly punish further, states that “they”, same pronoun referent, have seen the procession of God into the sanctuary: which is at least related to (if not exactly the same as) the temple at Jerusalem for which kings will bring gifts to God (v.29).

Seventh, and finally: JPH argues that there is a strong parallel between Ephesians 4:8-10 and an Aramaic Targum commentary (probably contemporary with and even prior to the epistle’s composition) on Psalm 18. The Aramaic commentator interprets the Psalm as applying to Moses the prophet (instead of to the Messiah, much less to YHWH) suggesting that the Psalm describes when Moses ascended into the skies at Sinai to learn the words of the Torah and give it as gifts to men, “tak[ing] captivity captive” while doing so. (This phrase and ascending to heaven do not appear in Psalm 18, but there are other things in it which could amount to those concepts, and other parallels to Eph 4:8-10 as well as to the end of Eph 1 for that matter are not lacking.)

JPH doesn’t accept that the Psalm applies to Moses, of course, but he still appeals to the wording of the Targum on the Psalm to argue that “[o]bviously there is nothing here to suggest that Moses went to Hades and freed a load of prisoners”, therefore “Paul now takes over this language to express Christ’s own fulfillment of Psalm 18, and there is no parallel idea of a descent into Hades for him to draw from. His readers would never have understood such a thing from this passage.”

That, I answer, might depend on whether any of his readers ever heard Paul teach that the righteousness out from faith regards Deuteronomy 30:12-14 as referring, not to Moses bringing the Torah from Sinai (much less bringing the Torah from across the sea), but to Christ descending from heaven and coming up out of the swirling depths (i.e. the Abyss) from among the dead! (Rom 10:6-8) But admittedly, even if they had heard Paul teach that before, they might not recall it, and so might not connect Paul’s teaching on this to Christ’s descent in the lowers of the earth here in this epistle.

In conclusion, regarding Ephesians 4:8-10: there is rather more to be said in favor of why the early Church often interpreted those verses to refer to Christ’s descent into hades to defeat Satan in what he regards as his most secure fortress, and even to raiding hades to bring out penitent prisoners (with some conceptual variations for what that should mean), than JPH has recognized.

However, despite my counter-criticism above, I am actually willing to grant that a raid into hades was not what Paul was primarily focusing on here, but rather was trying to talk about the propriety of gifts to be used by Christians for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ; so that, holding to or walking in or speaking the truth in love, we may grow up into Him Who is the head (namely Christ) from Whom the whole body, being fitted and held together through every supplying joint, according to the working-measure of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

But if (as I think) Paul was alluding (though not directly referring here) to the salvation of sinners by Christ from even hades at 4:8-10, then while I would have to agree this wasn’t what he was mainly talking about, I would also think it still makes a strong topical contribution to what the building up of the body in love involves: total scope and persistence in saving sinners from sin; the gift of hope even for those in hades; the promise and assurance that Christ shall save sinners, wherever they are, as surely as He Himself rose from the grave out of the ones who are dead.

This ought to have been an important part of what we were proclaiming and heralding all along, some as apostles, some as prophets, some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints of the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ–until we shall be attaining “the all”, in the unity of the faith and of a mature man’s true knowledge {epignôseôs} of the Son of God, in measure of the importance (or stature or primacy) of Christ’s complete fulfillment!

Anything less than such a total victory, can only be a lesser hope, a lesser assurance, a lesser proclamation: a lesser gift from God.

Next up: Disagreements on Philippians 2

Part 13: Disagreements on Philippians 2

Next, JPH considers Philippians 2:10-11, where St. Paul (quoting from Isaiah, with Jesus in the place of YHWH as trinitarian apologists are well aware) declares that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (the utter scope of this phrase being Paul’s clarifying addition to his OT reference) “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

JPH allows that an interpretation of total scope is “probably right”–which seems a peculiarly cautious qualification, considering that Paul goes explicitly goes beyond even Isaiah in emphasizing the scope. But he continues, “**ut that means nothing in terms of whether they hear that name and the result is love…or fear!” (JPH’s ellipse.)

JPH is replying to his Mormon opponent here, who is talking about servants of God assigned to preach the gospel in the spirit world, proclaiming then name of Jesus to them. But Paul isn’t talking about the name of Jesus merely being proclaimed to all those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, but about all those in heaven and on earth and under the earth bowing their knee and confessing with their tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Is God supposed to accept a false bowing of the knee?!–a worship in less than love and truth?! But to clarify what he is talking about, the apostle translates the Hebrew verb {shâba}–the primitive root for completion (from which the Hebrew word for seven is also derived), and which implies at least nominal allegiance and intended honesty (by metaphor it came to mean ‘to swear an oath’, as in swearing seven times, or swearing with an intention to complete, or swearing in emphatic honesty)–as {exomologeô}, out-like-lay(say).

This is not, in Biblical Greek, a term of ambiguity–no more than {shâba} is Hebrew! This is a term to describe strongly positive agreement and alliance with whoever the confession is made to. Confession can have a wrong object, of course: the term is used to describe the strength of Judas’ agreement (and probably an oath of promised fulfillment) with the Sanhedrin to deliver Jesus to them (Luke 22:6). But God Most High (including as Christ) is never the wrong object for confession and alliance! The same term is used to describe Christ’s allegience to the Father at Matt 11:25 (paralleled at Luke 10:21); it is used to describe confession of sin to God (and to each other) in true repentance at Matt 3:6 (paralleled Mark 1:5), Acts 19:18, and James 5:16. It is the term used by Christ when He says that He will confess the name of those who overcome their sin before His Father in heaven. Paul uses the term at Rom 14:11 (referencing the same verse from Isaiah as here) to warn Christians that we should not judge our brother or hold our brother in contempt, for we all shall stand and give an account of ourselves to God. (Relatedly, verse 9, “For to this end Christ died and lives, that He might be Lord both of dead-ones ({nekrôn}, plural) and of living-ones”.) And one chapter later he uses the term again (quoting from Psalm 18:49) in the context of Gentiles coming to praise the Lord and rejoice with His people when God arises to rule over the Gentiles, as a consequence of which the Gentiles shall hope in Him.

The whole context of the term, everywhere else in the NT, involves glorifying God for His mercies, praising God loyally, repenting of sin, allying one’s self with God (or with the Sanhedrin by contrast in the case of Judas’ betrayal), giving thanks to God or in other ways acting in honorable cooperation with God in an honest and trustworthy oath.

So why is it that here, at Phil 2, when the total scope includes all those on earth and even under the earth, suddenly the term can now include grudging hypocritical unloving submission to mere power?! (Compare to Phil 3:21 afterward, where the exertion of Christ’s power enables Him to conform all things to His glory in submission. The glory of Christ’s submission does not involve His hypocritical grudging unloving submission to the mere power of the Father!–but He shall conform all things to His glory.)

JPH appeals to the context of Isaiah 45 to show that “[t]here is not much room for a chance to hear the gospel in this passage”: “Moreover, note that Phil 2:10-11 is a partial quote of a longer passage in Is 45:23, which also says [vv.24-25], ‘They will say of me, “In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the LORD all the descendents of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.’”

What JPH doesn’t mention is that those who say this of YHWH include those who used to rage against Him but don’t anymore, now being ashamed of having done so after coming to Him. That includes formerly rebel Israel, who will not be found to have been righteous–they certainly weren’t, and were punished to the death by God for their injustice and treachery and idolatries–but who shall be made righteous by God. All the descendents of Israel, means all the descendents, those who were good and those who were bad. (There is no contrasting “but” in the Hebrew at verse 25: it goes straight from stating that all those who raged at Him–which must include rebel Israel first and foremost–shall be put to shame, to affirming that all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory in the Lord. The “but” is an interpretative addition by the NIV translators whom JPH is apparently quoting, because the translators decided that the two statements ought to contrast one another.)

This is not a mere hopeful guess on my part. It is the context of the prophecy, the very context that JPH appealed to. The first part of the prophecy involves rebel Israel being saved by God, repenting of their sins, and being restored by God; the second part of the prophecy involves God offering the same salvation to the pagans, calling them to gather and reason among themselves as to whether there is another God other than He, a righteous God and a Savior. “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God and there is no other!” That is the preceding context for God’s oath, using the same term for ‘swear’ that is used shortly afterward to describe every tongue swearing allegiance to Him, that every knee will bow to Him, ever tongue swear to Him, and those who do (which is all persons inclusively) shall say of God ‘Only in YHWH are righteousness and strength’. Which is why those who used to rage against Him shall be ashamed for having done so.

Nor does the shaming of someone by God indicate necessary hopelessness: JPH himself, as noted far earlier, actually acknowledges that the whole purpose of God shaming anyone is for them to repent of their sins and be reconciled to God!

(Incidentally, an earlier part of this same prophecy promises that Cyrus the pagan tyrant shall come to know God although he has not known God. Cyrus died still a pagan. Less incidentally, this same prophecy includes one of the places where God pronounces woe on those who question God’s competency or purposes in fashioning His children as a potter creates pottery from clay. The surrounding context indicates on one hand astonishment that God is calling the pagan Cyrus as one of His messiahs to help save Israel, and on the other hand that God has not abandoned His sinning children but shall reconcile the pagans with the Jews and shall bring all people to loyally worship Him–even the ones who used to rage against Him! Be that as it may.)

It is true that this prophecy in Isaiah as it stands (strong hints about Cyrus aside) might only refer to those who survive the coming of YHWH, not to those who died in the process. But then Paul expands and clarifies the principle to include even those persons currently “under the earth”, which by Jewish poetic typology can only refer to those who have died.

Next up: Hebrews 9**