November 2014: What’s Your View? Part Two

What’s Your View?

We concluded last month’s issue by teaching about four views people hold about heaven and hell based on the Bible.  Here are what those four views have in common.

First, all four views teach that authentic believers in Jesus go to heaven when they die.  One view teaches they go there through an intermediate “step,” however:  a place of purging.  Okay, all four views are pretty close on that point, wouldn’t you agree? 

Second, all four views teach that pre-believers go to hell (or the lake of fire) when they die.  Okay, they’re still pretty much on the same sheet of music.  All four are still pretty much in agreement.   

Hey, it’s amazing so many different people over 2,000 years of time can be in agreement on at least that much.  Not a bad track record.  Not bad at all.  The second part of viewpoint number 2 is even reasonably tolerable to those who hold viewpoints 1 and 3.  Recently, some widely respected Bible scholars have mentioned that views 1, 2, and 3 are closer to each other than they are far apart.  Many of those scholars who hold viewpoint number 1 have even been talking the last few years about fully accepting into their fellowship some of those who hold viewpoint number 2.  That’s good.  They’re talking to each other and coming to some agreement. 

 They wouldn’t even have considered doing so a generation ago, but lately there’s been some open and meaningful dialogue between some representatives of the two viewpoints.  Where does that leave us now?  Viewpoints 1, 2, and 3 are reasonably close to one another.  The first part of viewpoint 4 agrees with the first three views.  It’s that second portion of viewpoint 4 which creates disagreements. 

Translation.  Interpretation.  Understanding.

There are some well-known scholars and writers who have written books lately in an attempt to bridge that final gap.  The gap is not completely bridged, but people are at least talking about their differences without shouting and calling one another heretics.  Well, having written all that, let’s go back now and examine the actual words “eternal judgment” in Hebrews 6: 2, a basic biblical text on this subject.  Almost all modern English versions of the Bible use those two words:  “eternal” and “judgment.”  The differences in awareness between the various viewpoints lie in how those words are translated, interpreted, and understood.

In terms of translation, the Greek word for eternal is aionios which comes from the root word, aion, which is where we get the English word “eon,” meaning an extremely long, indefinite period of time.  The word can be understood as an extremely long, indefinite period of time . . . which will end, or, it can be understand as eternal in the usual thinking about that word—unending time.  It can be translated “age-lasting” or “eon-lasting,” or it can be translated “eternal,” meaning forever and ever and ever without an end.  It’s perfectly legitimate to translate it either one of those ways.

It can be interpreted as “lasting for eons of time,” or “lasting for unending time.”  

 It can be understood as enduring for a long period of time—eons of time, which will end at some point in the future.  Or, it can be understood as never-ending time:  forever, which will never end.

Each of those opposite views about the translation of aionios, its interpretation, and how it’s understood—each view is legitimate and “correct” depending upon what its proponents’ backgrounds and teachings are, and what their underlying beliefs are.  Yes, both views are correct, and neither are incorrect.  

If you believe (from what you understand of the Bible) that people who die as pre-believers will be punished for their sins by burning forever, you’ll hold to one translation, interpretation, and understanding of “eternal” as being correct.  On the other hand, if you believe that people who die as pre-believers will be punished for their sins, but only for as long as it takes to cleanse their sins from them—not  necessarily forever—then you’ll believe another translation, interpretation, and understanding of “eternal” as being correct.

Agree?  Disagree?

Are you following me so far?  I didn’t ask if you agree or disagree, only if you’re following my train of thought so far.  I’m not asking you to either agree or disagree with one or the other of the two views.  After all, that’s what the controversy is all about.  Likely, you already hold one of those views anyhow.

Now let’s examine the word judgment  in Hebrews 6: 2.  In the Greek language the word is krima.  In the New Testament, krima is translated variously into English as “condemnation,” “damnation” and “judgment,” depending on the context.  “Judgment” is a good translation in Hebrews 6: 2.  Not much disagreement over that.  But we also need to look at the interpretation and the understanding of the word, “judgment,” just as we looked at the translation, interpretation, and understanding of the word “eternal.”

Judgment can be interpreted as having a number of meanings, depending on the context in which it is used.  It can mean a legal decision or sentence handed down by a judge.  It can mean an obligation resulting from a court order.  It can mean the ability to form opinions about a matter, as in “He used good judgment.”  Finally, it can mean wise understanding or rational good sense.

 What about one’s understanding of the word?  If you believe (from what you understand of the Bible) that judgment means a final sentence given by God, the Judge, for someone to be punished forever you’ll understand it to mean one thing.  f you believe (again, from what you understand of the Bible) that God is decreeing a lengthy rehabilitative or corrective sentence—but not necessarily one lasting forever, you’ll understand this scenario to mean something different.

Okay, where are you in your translation, interpretation, and understanding?  If you believe that pre-believers will die and burn in hell forever, you’re right.  If you believe they’ll die and burn in hell only for punishment and correction leading to rehabilitation, you’re right.  If you believe they’ll go to a hell which burns forever, but they will be burned up or annihilated, you’re right.

It all boils down to those three simple processes:  translation, interpretation, understanding.  None of those three basic positions I’ve just mentioned in the paragraph above can be “proved” conclusively like certain phenomena can be proved scientifically.  It just can’t be done.  Oh, you may feel your view is proved conclusively to you and to those who hold the same view, but it really isn’t provable to others in the true sense of the word “prove.”  Science can “prove” the law of gravity.  It can prove laws of velocity or electrical or thermonuclear matters.  It can prove laws governing flight.  It can prove many things in the physical or material universe. 

But we cannot prove—or disprove—with the same conclusiveness and finality—any of the four major viewpoints about eternal judgment.  You can’t do it.  I can’t do it.  God will have the final word on the matter of eternal judgment.  At some point in the future, God will wrap up this entire disputed and misunderstood matter of eternal judgment to his satisfaction, not ours.  I like the way one version of the Bible seems to address God’s final goals for humanity in 1 Corinthians 15: 24 – 28.  Read that a half dozen or so times in several versions of the Bible.  I especially like the way The Living Bible puts it.

I’ve presented you the four different views held about a very controversial biblical subject.  You decide which one you believe, but remain open and willing to move into new realms of truth, awareness, and understanding as God gives you enlightenment.  Love God.  Accept his great love for you through the reconciling work of Jesus on your behalf.  Trust him.  Allow him to live his life in you, through you, and as you.  Let God have the final word about this thorny subject, and in the meantime, try not to be judgmental of other believers in Jesus who don’t hold the same viewpoint you do.

No Regrets

Since I had a heart attack and was diagnosed with cancer last May, and then when I ministered in Belarus in August, the following words to an old Gospel song have become very meaningful to me:

     I don’t regret a mile I’ve traveled for God.
     I don’t regret the times I’ve trusted in his Word.
     I’ve seen the years fly by, many days without a song,
     But I don’t regret a mile I’ve traveled for the Lord.

     I’ve dreamed many a dream that’s never come true;
     I’ve seen them vanish at dawn,
     But enough of my dreams have come true
     To keep me dreaming on.

     I’ve prayed many a prayer that seemed no answer would come,
     Though I’ve waited so patient and long;
     But enough answers have come to my prayers
     To make me keep praying on.

     I’ve sown many a seed that’s fallen by the wayside
     For the birds to feed upon,
     But I’ve held enough golden sheaves in my hands
     To keep me sowing on.
     I’ve trusted many a friend that’s failed me,
     And left me to weep alone,
     But enough of my friends have been true-blue
     To make me keep trusting on.

     I’ve drained cups of disappointment and pain,
     And gone many a day without a song,
     But I’ve sipped enough nectar from the roses of life
     To make me want to travel on.

     And I don’t regret a mile I’ve traveled for God;
     I don’t regret the times I’ve trusted in his Word.
     I’ve seen the years fly by, many days without a song,
     But I don’t regret a mile I’ve traveled for the Lord!   

To Think About This Month

My attitude of gratitude will determine my “altitude” in life!

Bill Boylan
Life Enrichment Services, Inc.
Revised and Updated December 2020

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