Moltmann on the Immortal Soul vs. Bodily Resurrection

The immortality of the soul is an opinion – the resurrection of the dead is a hope. The first is a trust in something immortal in the human being, the second a trust in the God who calls into being the things that are not, and makes the dead live. In trust in the immortal soul we accept death, and in a sense anticipate it. In trust in the life-creating God we await the conquest of death – ‘death is swallowed up in victory’ (I Cor. 15.54) – and an eternal life in which ‘death shall be no more’ (Rev. 21.4). The immortal soul may welcome death as a friend, because death releases it from the earthly body; but for the resurrection hope, death is ‘the last enemy’ (I Cor. 15.26) of the living God and the creations of his love (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, 65-66).

In short, the immortality of the soul is not a Christian doctrine. Resurrection of the body is. 

If We Do Not Repent (#PPSellsBabyParts)

Many of us thought it couldn’t get worse than seeing a medical doctor swill her wine and crunch her croutons while speaking of “less crunchy” ways to dismember and murder a baby while still in utero. Then we saw video of Planned Parenthood employees digging through pie plates full of dead baby parts looking for the bits that would get the best price. Again, we believed it simply could not get worse. But we were wrong. Dead wrong. With the release of the seventh video exposing the barbarism of Planned Parenthood and its business partners, it got worse. Much worse. Now we know of the cruel violence done to a little boy with a beating heart outside the womb. They cut his face in half with a pair of scissors in order to harvest his brain and sell it for cold hard cash. His heart was beating. He had been born. He was alive. He was murdered. This cannot be denied. 
We know about this treachery because one of the guilty ones has come forward. In video #7, Holly O’Donnell, a licensed phlebotomist and former procurement tech for StemExpress, told us all the depraved and debased details. Make no mistake. She is no mere a witness or whistle blower telling us what she saw. As Doug Wilson observed, she is confessing her sins. She was a participant. She has blood on her hands. And yet she is seeking absolution. By confessing her sin to a global audience as part of the Planned Parenthood exposé, she is racing with all her might toward restitution. She wants to make it right. She wants to be clean. She wants it bad enough that she’s willing to tell the world her greatest sin. The good news is that the blood of Jesus Christ is able to wash the blood of the unborn from her hands. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. 
My point here is simple: the confession and repentance of Holly O’Donnell stands as a model of the confession and repentance that we the people of the United States must humbly make. She is showing us what we as a nation have to do. We must confess our sin. We must acknowledge our guilt. We must throw ourselves on the mercy of God. We must repent and turn from our wicked ways. We must do it, as a people, as a nation. And if we do not, we deserve every bit of judgment that God sees fit to pour upon us. To be sure, we already deserve it. But God, in his great mercy and love, is at this time giving us an opportunity to see the evil that our nation has legalized, funded, and executed. He is giving us an opportunity to repent and sin no more. What we do know is that even now the souls of more than 50,000,000 preborn slain surround the throne of the God and of the Lamb crying out, “How long, O Lord, until you avenge our blood?” What we do not know is how long they’ve been told to wait.  

Will God Destroy Our Bodies?

That’s what several standard Bible translations would have you think. The verse in question is 1 Corinthians 6:13a, and it turns out that a decision of punctuation makes all the difference in two contrasting understandings of Paul’s attitude toward the human body. Let me illustrate by showing you four different translations of this one verse. Pay close attention to the quotation marks included (not by me but) by the translation team.

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”– and God will destroy both one and the other (ESV).

You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them) (NLT).

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. (NRS)

You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”  (TNIV).

Did you catch that? Each of these translations agree that Paul is quoting a slogan original to the Corinthians, but they disagree on the extent of the quotation. The first three close the quote before the assertion that God will destroy both stomach and body; the fourth closes the quote after that claim. To their credit, the translators of the NRSV include a footnote saying that “the quotation may extend to the word other.” But the question remains. Whose view are we faced with? Should the claim that God will destroy the body be attributed to Paul or to a group of Corinthians?
The problem arises because the Greek in which Paul wrote did not have quotation marks; so the translators have to decide where to close the quote when rendering it into English. To make this decision they must consider the verse in its immediate context and in light of all Paul’s letters. In this case, the decision about punctuation is really a decision about interpretation and how we understand Paul’s anthropology. What does Paul believe to be the destiny of the human body? Punctuation matters.
In this case, I would argue that the TNIV gets it right. The next verse tells us Paul’s view of the future of the believer’s body, “God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (NRSV). For Paul, the future resurrection of the body is an argument against the libertine attitude of appetite indulgence among some of the Corinthians. The body (and its parts) will be resurrected in a manner analogous to that of Jesus. That means that physical (though certainly transformed) bodies will arise from their graves. The corpse of someone who is in Christ will not be destroyed; it will not even remain a corpse. To the contrary, it will be made alive again by the power of God. It seems to me unclear how we can describe that as destruction.

Paul has more to say about death and resurrection in chapter 15 of the same letter, where the language of destruction comes up again, but not with regard to the body. Paul says that, at the coming of Christ, death is the thing that will be destroyed when the bodies of believers are raised from the dead (15:26). Death is the enemy of Christ, and Christ will destroy his enemies. The final enemy that Christ will destroy is death itself. We might say that, as the nails spring loose from the coffins of those who belong to Christ, the final nail will be hammered into death’s own coffin. 
Paul fills in the picture later in the same chapter by saying that the presently mortal and perishing body will be overcome with immortality and imperishability (see especially vv. 50-55). The body will be transformed, not destroyed.  I see no way that this transformation could plausibly be construed as destruction; it is the opposite of destruction. 
This evidence weighs strongly against an interpretation (or punctuation!) of 6:13a that attributes to Paul the belief that God will destroy our bodies. Destruction is defeat. Resurrection is victory. Destruction is what happens to death. Resurrection is what happened to the body of Christ, and it’s what will happen to the bodies of those who belong to Christ. 

Jerry Walls Responds to my Question on Hell (@rachelheldevans)

Jerry Walls is taking a turn in Rachel Held Evan’s “Ask a…” series, and he is answering question on hell, free will, and possibility of postmortem repentance. I raised a question about a surprising, if not disturbing, passage in Revelation that portrays the torment of hell as taking place eternally in the very presence of Christ. Here’s the passage from Revelation 14:9-11:

Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name” (NRSV, the italics are, of course, mine).

Here’s my question:

Revelation 14:9-11 portrays the eternal torment of the condemned as taking place “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (14:10). What does this mean? And how should we understand this portrayal in relation to other traditional images of hell as banishment from the presence of Christ?

Here’s Walls’ response:

Well, I’d start here with Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill, where he observes that God is “not far from each one of us. For in him we live, and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28). In this passage, Paul is applying this point to people who may be seeking God, but have not yet found him. So the point here is that even people who may be “far” from God in terms of meaningful, loving relationship are still “close” to him in the sense that he continually sustains them in existence.

So the unhappy creatures in this text in Revelation are in the presence of the Lamb by virtue of the fact that he sustains them in existence, and they may even be aware of this fact. However, they are utterly separated from him by their sinful rebellion.

Indeed, the paradoxical nature of this observation may illumine why fire is used as an image of the torments of hell.  Fire in the Bible is a common image for the presence of God, not his absence (cf Deut. 4:24; 5:24-5; Psalm 50:3; Hebrews 12:29). But his presence is experienced very differently by those who are rightly related to him, as opposed to those who are not.

David Hart has noted that there is a long theological tradition, particularly in Eastern Orthodoxy, that “makes no distinction, essentially, between the fire of hell and the light of God’s glory, and that interprets damnation as the soul’s resistance to the beauty of God’s glory, its refusal to open itself before the divine love, which causes divine love to seem an exterior chastisement” (The Beauty of the Infinite, 399).  

As the Psalmist noted, there is no place where we can successfully flee from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7ff). The God of love is everywhere, and we cannot exist a millisecond without his sustaining grace and power. But our freedom does allow us to refuse his love and go our own way, even as it remains true that “in him we live and move and have our being.” If that is our choice, his glorious love will be experienced like a burning fire rather than “the spring of the water of life” that will deeply quench our thirst (Revelation 21:6).

I’ll begin by saying that Walls raises a couple of interesting points I’ve not considered before. First, he’s right that fire is often an symbol of God’s presence, which is fascinating (and troubling!) when applied to the image of “the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). Might the lake of fire be the very consuming fire that is God himself? Should we be thinking of Hebrews 12:29? Second, I’m not read-up on the Eastern tradition that makes no distinction between the light of God’s glory and the fire of hell, though it is initially both compelling and satisfying. It certainly resonates with all the Lewis I’ve been reading this year.

In the end, I think Walls’ suggestion that we need to understand God’s presence in two ways is on target. This surprising passage appears to mean that, while a person can be spatially near to Christ, physical proximity is not joyful intimacy. Two people can be in one another’s presence and still a rift stand between them. In fact, the physical nearness of those against whom we are opposed may even cause our anger and frustration to burn with heightened fury. Lewis holds this tension in balance in many of his works. For those who love Aslan, his presence is unspeakable joy; for those who hate him, it is a terror. Nearness to Christ is not necessarily love for him. Nearness can inflame antagonism. As Orual, who stood unseeing on the threshold of heaven, blind though she had entered the gates of the home of the gods, full of fiery hatred, for him. 

_____
NB: You may be interested in Robert Mulholland’s assessment of this passage in Revelation, which sets it in a Jewish context and resonates with Walls’ reflections. Also, be sure to head over to Rachel’s blog and read the rest of the questions and Walls’ answers.

6 Things You Should Know about the Antichrist

I’m leading an adult Bible study on First John this summer, and last night we came to John’s first use of the word “antichrist”, which is, of course, always interesting. It is  interesting because “antichrist” is a word that carries a lot of baggage, and because someone is always speculating about the identity of “the Antichrist”, whether it’s Hitler or Henry Kissinger or the Pope. And we can expect a fresh round of such tomfoolery when the new Nicolas Cage vs. the Antichrist movie shows up in a theater near you. Given the exceeding sensationalism associated with last days theories, here are six (yes, six!) facts about the word “antichrist” and the way it is used in the New Testament. 
  1. The English word “antichrist” is a transliteration, not a translation, of the Greek word antichristos. The prefixed preposition anti- does not necessarily indicate antagonism in Greek. It often carries the idea of substitution. Christos is a Greek word that means Messiah or anointed one. Etymology is not definitive for accurate translation, but it does shed light on the scope of a word’s potential range of meaning. 
  2. Contrary to popular belief (and to the surprise of many), the word “antichrist” does not occur in the book of Revelation. 
  3. The word “antichrist” does occur five times in the New Testament, though only in the books of 1 John and 2 John. 
  4. In one of those five occurrences, John uses the plural form “antichrists” (Greek antichristoi). So, whoever is meant by this word, there is more than one of them. John even speaks not of a few but of “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18).
  5. John also speaks of the coming of these “many antichrists” as a past event: “now many antichrists have already come” (1 John 2:18).
  6. While John does not explicitly rule out the possibility of any future antichrists, neither does he predict the appearance of a future arch-antichrist. 

Understanding the Little Apocalypse: Three things to remember about Matthew 24

Matthew 24 (along with its parallels), like other Jewish apocalyptic, is remarkably difficult to get a handle on. Much could be said about it. With this post, I want to raise three points that should be near the beginning of any effort to interpret this challenging passage.
  1. Everything Jesus says is his answer to the question raised by the disciples in 24:3. And their question is primarily looking for a bit of explanation with regard to Jesus’ apparently surprising prediction that that the temple will be destroyed (24:1-2). This means that the passage should be read as the context indicates; namely, Jesus is answering a question about the timing of the destruction of the temple. The signs and symbols should be taken first to point to this reality. Whatever else they may or may not point to, the destruction of the temple is the thing that gets this little apocalyptic discourse started.
  2. Sometimes “coming” does not mean “second coming”. The disciples compound their question about the destruction of the temple with a question about Jesus’ “coming” and about “the end of the age.” I tend to think that these are three aspects of a single event. That is, when the temple comes down, Jesus will be vindicated both as true prophet and God’s anointed king, which will likewise bring an end to the present evil age and usher in the age to come, the age of God’s kingdom as manifest in the rule of the Messiah. Let me explain. When we read the word “coming” in the Bible, our default interpretation is to take it to mean the second coming of Christ. But consider the plausibility of the disciples raising a question about what we think of as the second coming of Jesus. Were these men expecting Jesus to be crucified and killed by the Romans? No. Were they expecting him to be buried in a tomb only to be resurrected by God on the first day of the next week? Once again, the answer is no. They certainly were not. Thus, if they were not expecting his death and resurrection, we can likewise infer that they were not expecting him to go off to heaven for an unknown and rather lengthy period of time only to return again sometime later. The idea of crucified messiah was not on their radar. Neither was the idea of a messiah who disappears for more than two millennia in order that he may come again a second time. Their question could not have possibly meant that. They must have meant something else when they asked bout the “sign of your coming”. The question is: What?
  3. The “end of the age” does not mean the end of time or the end of the world. Jewish thinking in Jesus’ period was commonly characterized by the idea that history was divided into two periods of time. There was “the present evil age”, which referred to the period during which the Jewish people were under the rule of foreign oppressors (which was, at that time, the Roman Empire). This evil age would come to an end when God delivered his people from their oppressors. The evil age would give way to the second period of time known as “the age to come”. This coming age would be marked by the rule of God’s anointed (Messiah) king and the flourishing of God’s people. When the disciples ask about the end of the age, they are not asking about the end of history; to the contrary, they are asking about the end of Roman oppression and the beginning of an age in which they enjoyed God’s forgiveness, freedom, and blessing.
There are unhelpful interpretations of Matthew 24 aplenty. I suggest that we can guard against straying down such an abominable path by keeping these three things in mind. As indicated, there is much, much more to be said. But these three items must be the starting point to interpreting the “little apocalypse”.

Hell in the Presence of the Lamb?

Hell is always a hot topic. And in studying Revelation in recent weeks, I’ve come across a passage that challenges the way I’ve commonly thought about the reality of eternal punishment. Like many, I suspect, I’ve tended to think of hell as unending removal from the presence of Christ. Add whatever imagery you care to that; nothing significantly increases the horror of banishment from the presence of the glorious beauty of the resurrected and conquering king of all. But the Apocalypse of John is challenging my thoughts about this to some degree. Consider these words:
“…they will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (14:10).
What? Did you catch that? They will be tormented forever in the presence of the Lamb? John seems to be suggesting that those who oppose Jesus in the present life by worshipping the beast (14:9) exist forever in some proximity to Jesus. Stunning. Simply stunning. There go my preconceived notions about hell. But how could this be? And what could it mean? Here are some helpful thoughts on this passage from Robert Mulholland, one of my own teachers, in his most recent commentary on Revelation:
“This seems an uncharacteristically cruel picture of heaven, where the Lamb is seated on the throne surrounded by the holy angels (7:11, 17). The operative term here is “holy.” An noted above, the holiness of God burns against all that is unholy, not in a vindictive, retributive, vengeful, punitive manner, but simply as the reality of holiness. John seems to have seen that those who are unholy spend eternity in the presence of the holiness of heaven. To spend eternity in the presence of holiness when one is, to the core of one’s being, unholy, would be an endless torment. The same image of fallen Babylon in proximity to New Jerusalem is seen by John in chapters 21-22. There John sees that the gates of New Jerusalem are never closed (21:25), that outside is fallen Babylon (22:15), but nothing unclean is allowed to enter (21:27). It seems that fallen Babylon exists forever in the presence of the holiness of New Jerusalem. Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is another image of heaven and hell being in close proximity to one another, but nothing of hell could enter heaven (cf. 1 Enoch 48:9, which says, ‘as straw in the fire so shall they [the wicked] burn before the face of the holy’)” (543-534).
So, the idea in Revelation that those who experience the unending torment of hell exist in proximity to the presence of Christ in heaven is not an isolated and unique text. Jesus himself seemed to work with a similar idea and apparently assumed that his audience did as well. Perhaps the concept could be summarized by saying that those who despise Christ in the present life will be unable to enjoy his presence in the next. For those who hate him, his presence is a torment. This is certainly one place where the text is pressing me to rethink some things I’ve traditionally thought.
What do you think? Does this passage in Revelation cause you to reconsider the way you think about hell? What do you think about Mulholland’s comments? About the idea that those who despise Christ in the present will be unable to enjoy him in eternity?