Monday, May 19, 2014

Christian Universalism Refuted

Some of the universal salvation arguments put forward by scholars like Talbott and “MacDonald” (Robin Parry) are quite clever at dodging opposing proof texts.  It's not hard to see how people find their arguments so winsome.

You’re probably thinking, “But what about all those passages that speak of hell as eternal?”  Talbott and Parry would simply retort that they believe hell is eternal in a sense.  They believe that given an eternity everyone in hell would eventually come to regret their rebellion and wish for reconciliation with God.

Since God is love, isn’t it safe to assume He will grant repentant believers in hell their reconciliation? My answer is no and my reason is based in part on a weird text which almost always gets ignored.

Maybe the weirdest argument against Universalism in exegetical history:

An Egyptian deity with iconographic affinities with some the divinities
in Biblical apocalyptic texts
We need not speculate about how God might react in a situation in which a sinner in hell entreats God for forgiveness because the Bible itself records a case in which the ashamed enemies of God in hell entreat God’s forgiveness.

II Peter 2.1-10 and (Peter’s source) Jude 5-7 endorse the story from 1 Enoch about God’s imprisonment of angelic beings who slept with the daughters of men.  Jude quotes and mentions the book of Enoch by name in v.14.  I will not elaborate all the reasons these texts can only be faithfully interpreted as references to the Enoch event but will name two. [1]

Realizing that Peter has this worldview in mind explains one text that evangelicals are usually creeped out by and obfuscate: 1 Peter 3:14-22.  This passage pictures Jesus descending to the spirits in prison and preaching their defeat.  Peter is using a direct allusion to 1 Enoch in which the Watchers were imprisoned in the underword (ταρταρώσας.)

The author of Enoch gives a first person account of a visit he paid to these beings and how they were crying out for forgiveness.[2] Enoch records their petition to be released from their anguish and brings it before God. God emphatically denies it. Starting in chapter 14, Enoch goes and preaches to the Watchers their eternal defeat and imprisonment.[3]

It doesn't matter that I am quoting a non-inspired text.  It's obvious from Peter’s other mentions of the Enoch event in conjunction with the flood, the destruction of Sodom, and the rescue of Lot that he considers this idea in Enoch to be historical (II Peter 2:4-9).

The assumed historicity of these events is demanded because Peter lists them in defense of his argument in 2:3 that God’s “condemnation of wickedness is not idle.” Peter relates the story of Enoch’s preaching to the spirits imprisoned with Jesus’ resurrection and how, by being raised, Jesus was declaring also the defeat and eternal imprisonment of God’s enemies. 

So there exists divine beings condemned to eternal torment for their sins. They have entreated God for forgiveness and God has denied their request.  When Jesus defeated death, He (figuratively or literally) was declaring to them their eternal imprisonment in a like manner.

It is unwarranted to assume that God will simply free people from hell if they come to desire forgiveness.  In the only Biblical case in which we can observe God’s attitude in this exact situation, Peter implies He will not.  Notice Enoch’s absolute statements that their torment will be eternal and unending; that is the way ancient Jews parsed things.

Jude reflects his source Enoch when he speaks of their “eternal chains” (v.4).  Second-Temple Jews apparently didn’t have some mental allegiance blocking them from these types of affirmations about God.  The author is emphatic in his connection of this to the unsaved:  “Just as was true of those angels who did not keep their position…They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)


1) a) The Greek word translated “hell” in II Peter is not the expected Hades but the anomalous ταρταρώσας.  In almost every case this word appears it is in reference to the Greek myths about the fall of the Titians.  Jews used this special term which discussing the Watchers because they noticed its parallels with the Titan giants (for example, Josephus Ant. 1.73).  Peter has certainly borrowed his use of the word ταρταρώσας from Enoch.

b) In Jude 6-7 we know for grammatical reasons that Jude is ascribing sexual sin to the angels (note also, his mentioning of this in the context of Noah). The antecedent of τούτοις (masculine) should not be taken as “cites” πόλεις (feminine) in that passage because it would imply gender confusion.

2) 1 Enoch 13:3-6:
Then I went and spoke to them all together, and they were all afraid, and fear and trembling seized them. And they besought me to draw up a petition for them that they might find forgiveness, and to read their petition in the presence of the Lord of heaven. For from thenceforward they could not speak (with Him) nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned.

3)   (v. 4-5)

I wrote out your petition, and in my vision it appeared thus, that your petition will not be granted unto you throughout all the days of eternity, and that judgment has been finally passed upon you: yea (your petition) will not be granted unto you. And from henceforth you shall not ascend into heaven unto all eternity.

Ishtar ≠ Easter: Stop Getting your History from Internet Memes Richard Dawkins

The source of my annoyance today: The Richard Dawkins Foundation Facebook page.  Here’s a meme I wouldn’t mind if I never saw again.  (Thank’s Richard for exposing it to over 75,000 people and contributing to its being shared by 195,000.)

First, let’s review why this piece of puerility has zero correspondence with historical reality. Second, I have a brief sermon to those in the Hebrew Roots movement who most often spread this nonsense:

1)   Is the name Ishtar pronounced Easter?  No.  Here are the vocalizations of the goddess collected from the primary texts within the Brill Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible:

If Easter isn’t a Semitic word what is its etymology?  The answer is Proto-Germanic (if you buy Bede’s highly problematic explanation) or more likely Latin. (Sorry if that bores you.)

2) Are bunnies and eggs symbols of Ishtar?  Nope.  Her primary symbol in the iconography is Venus.  When I recently visited the Oriental Institute, I photographed this image of a lion representing the goddess from the Ishtar Gate.

The lion is one of her most commonly associated symbols from the third-millennium onwards.  The two objects in her hands in the meme are probably a symbol of a ruler and a rope—ANE icons of sovereignty.  There is also a famous Gilgamesh passage that associates her lovers with lions, steeds, a certain variegated bird, and shepherds.  I have never seen an image or text which associates her with bunnies or eggs.  Those symbols have different historical origins.  As a side note, I suppose one could argue the “grass of life” utilized to revive Ishtar’s corpse in the underworld by the fly-like kurgarru and kalaturru might be an etiological candidate for that plastic Easter grass that stops up your vacuum cleaner belt…Perhaps this could be a good thesis for Acharya S.’ next book. (Just make sure I get credit for first thinking of it.)

3) Was Easter a pagan holiday that was Christianized?  The reality is much more boring.  Easter was a development out of the Jewish Passover festival.  To be sure, pagan and secular elements were added, but these were prior additions to the existing holiday and not the origin of the holiday as Gene Vieth of Patrick Henry College mentions here.

The meme claims that Constantine (*groan* Why does Constantine always have to be the deus ex machina of every Christian conspiracy theory?) invented Easter as a Christian holiday.  This is idiotic considering the Roman bishop Victor was already riling up arguments over the two diverging dates of Easter in the late 2nd century (cf. Eusebius, Church History 5.23.3).  How exactly did Constantine invent Easter if Christians were already arguing about its proper celebration date over a century before he was born?

A word to the Hebrew roots movement:

Does it really make sense to argue that Christians should not make use of symbols with pagan origins or associations when Christians are either: a) totally unaware of a symbol’s history, or b) using the symbol with no pagan (or completely different) intentions?  My problem with the Hebrew roots movement is that the standard of purity it uses to beat up Christian holidays and symbols cannot even be applied to the Bible.  I’ll give you some examples:

John uses a snake as a symbol for Jesus (John 3:14); it is well known that many of the Biblical proverbs have Egyptian origins and influences (If you don’t believe this you simply haven’t ever picked up an academic commentary on Proverbs.); psalm 104 is very reminiscent of an earlier hymn to Aten; psalm 29 seems to be modeled after Baal texts (for example); both Jesus and YHWH are given the Baal’s deity title “cloud-rider” in both testaments. (Here’s an M.A. Thesis on this); or consider that the book of Revelation is crawling with Greco-Roman astrology. (Ever read Revelation 12?)

What examples like these show is that symbols are not magically evil.  John uses a snake to represent Jesus and it’s totally kosher in his mind.  We talk about Jesus “riding on the clouds” and it’s not an issue that this was a title that originally belonged to Baal.  The history of a symbol or its uses in pagan contexts doesn’t make it evil or unusable by Christians, it’s the intention behind the symbol that makes it good or bad.