Every theological writer knows seminal writing is rare. From the Latin word serere, which means "to sow,' writing that is seminal represents only the seed (semen) for a future and greater harvest of truth. For example, Luther's Ninety-Five Theses (1517) declared it is "faith that justifies," not the sacrament. Luther's writings, though thoroughly biblical, were deemed heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. Five centuries later Luther's heresy has become evangelical orthodoxy, widely accepted by Christians around the world.
Seminal theological writing is rare because as Solomon declared:
"Is there anything of which one might say, "See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages which were before us" (Ecclesiastes 1:10).
Truth exists independent of its discovery. The only thing ever lost is our understanding of it. "God's word is truth" (John 17:17), so rare is the individual who uncovers truth long lost by God's people. God's word never changes; but our comprehension of it does. The Dark Ages brought about a great loss of human understanding of what it means to be made right with God through faith in Jesus alone. Luther's writing was seminal in that it only uncovered pre-existent and eternal truth. The greatest opposition to Luther's writing on justification by faith came from church leaders who adhered to centuries of church dogma on the subject. Though Luther's teaching seemed new to the church, it was in reality quite old because it was found in Scripture. Accepted church dogma can sometimes be the greatest hindrance to uncovering eternal truth via sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).
It is possible that some seminal theological writing has taken place in the late 20th century and early portions of this century. New Testament scholars such as F.F. Bruce, Edward Fudge, John R.W. Stott, Richard Bauckham, John W. Wenham, and others have written on the subject of death, resurrection, the judgment, and after life, rejecting Plato's separation of soul and body and holding to what they call the biblical truth of indivisible unity between body and soul.
To these writers, the Hebrew word nephesh describes the life of man as soul and body united, with the consequence of sin being death to the whole person, both body and soul. The Bible portrays all men as mortal. The belief that there is an independent, immaterial soul that lives apart from the body is from Plato, and not the Bible, say these New Testament scholars. They point out that the unique and profound teaching of both the Old and New Testaments is the resurrection of dead persons to face either judgment and eventual eternal death (i.e. 'the second death'), or to escape the coming judgment and be granted the gift of everlasting life through Jesus Christ.
In summary, the potential seminal theological writing of these modern scholars revolves around the following biblical truths:
(1). God alone possesses immortality (I Timothy 6:16), and the gift of God is eternal life to only those whose names are "written in the book of life" via their union with Jesus Christ (see John 3:16 and Revelation 20:12).
(2). Death destroys every mortal human being and is called "the last enemy" of those who die in Christ (I Cor. 15:26), but "there is coming a day when all those who are in the tombs will hear His voice" (John 5:29) and be resurrected to life (nephesh) by God's power.
(3). Everyone resurrected from the dead will be either judged and punished for their actions on earth (John 5:29), or will be credited with the righteousness of Christ via their faith in Him and will escape the 'day of wrath' (Proverbs 11:4), being given eternal life which Jesus earned by His actions when He came to earth (Revelation 20:12).
(4). Since the punishment of the wicked by God is always just and equitable, the Day of Judgment will reveal various sentences of length and intensity, some punishments being more severe than others (Matt. 10:15).
(5). Hell is a holy prison where God's wrath is measured out in direct portion and relation to the sins and crimes committed by each creature judged, with the final end of the unrighteous being their utter destruction, called "the second death" (Revelation 20:14).Ironically, Martin Luther had a hand in these modern seminal writings. Both Luther and William Tyndale believed that "the dead are asleep, and feel nothing at all." Time is inconsequential during death, taught Luther, so regardless of the passage of time on earth, the next conscious thought after closing one's eyes in death is the awareness of hearing Christ's voice and feeling the power of the Creator in being raised from the dead. So when Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43) to the dying thief who believed in Him, it was indeed that day from the thief's perspective that he was with Christ in heaven. It's a little like going to sleep through anesthesia prior to surgery, only to wake up seemingly an instant later only to discover the long surgery is over. Time as measured on earth is irrelevant in the resurrection.
So, there is technically nothing wrong with a believer in Christ saying at his mother's funeral, "Mom is smiling in heaven today," even though the reality is his mom arrives in heaven the same day as he does. The general resurrection for all mankind occurs on that coming day when the voice of Christ will raise the dead (John 5:28). For those who wonder at the power of God to raise the dead after millenniums of corruption and cellular dissolution, one only has to look at the universe to see the majesty and power of the Creator to call into existence by fiat things that are. On that great day of resurrection, which is the central theme of New Testament Christianity, God's people will experience the perishable being clothed:
"...with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (I Corinthians 15:54 NIV).John Calvin opposed Luther's views on the death of both body and soul, and at the young age of twenty-five he published Psychopannchia, a refutation of Luther's conditional immortality. Calvin took the position that the soul is innately immortal, and most post-reformation evangelicals have followed Calvin's views since. Unlike 'justification by faith,' Luther's teaching on the conditional immortality of the soul never blossomed into evangelical orthodoxy, even though Luther's writings on this subject were comparable to his writings on justification by faith in both breadth and depth.
What if we are living in a new day of fresh discovery of the eternal truth that God alone has immortality and that the gift of God is eternal life to only those who trust Jesus? What changes? Answer: Our understanding of heaven and hell.
The Bible's use of the word "reward" for believers is always singular in the New Testament. Contrary to modern church dogma that various 'rewards' are given to Christians for the way they lived their lives on earth, the New Testament speaks of a singular reward given to all believers in union with Jesus Christ. This reward is eternal life. Jesus earned this reward for us by His perfect obedience as Man. Though He is God, He became Man for us. Eternal life is granted to only those who trust Him:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).Notice, the wicked who die apart from Christ perish. If what these modern biblical scholars are saying is true, those who reject the only Savior given to mankind (Acts 4:12) will be raised from the dead to face the righteous condemnation of God for their sins against mankind and their Creator (Psalm 2:12), will serve penal sentences for their actions, and will then perish. Without question, the Bible teaches that hell is real and not imaginary, penal (punitive) and not corrective, and is eternal not temporal in terms of the end result of all punishments meted out by God.
The Bible's hell is the prison created by God where various sentences of divine punishment are served by those raised to judgment in order to die a second time as a consequence of their sins. However, it is in hell that God recognizes good things done in this life by giving a lighter sentence of punishment (Matthew 10:15). Degrees of punishment in hell is not mercy; it is justice. Righteous judges on earth never give the same sentence for different crimes. The punishment must always match the crime to be considered true justice.
So it is with the most righteous Judge of all. A person who dies without union to Christ, but has lived a moral, ethical, and selfless life as measured by the natural law in the heart of every man (see Romans 1:20), will receive a far less severe punishment from God than the rapists, serial murderers, and child abusers who also die without Christ. Therefore, the eternal part of hell is the end result of punishment (i.e. 'the second death') and not the process of punishing. The teaching of Jesus shows that the eternality of hell is not the torment, but the final punishment of destruction:
"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).My friend, Kyle Williams, told me he was in a bookstore and saw a book cover with a picture of a man holding a beer in his hand with the title being I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Christ isn't sitting behind that kind of bar when He judges man. It will be a solemn experience for those without a Savior, and the severity and intensity of divine punishment will be in direct proportion to the wickedness of the thoughts, actions, character, and life choices of the one judged by Christ (see Romans 2). The good news of the gospel is that all those in Christ escape this day of wrath (see Romans 8:1).
As a branch eventually dies after being separated from the tree, so too, every unredeemed sinner raised to life to face judgment before the Creator will be "cast out" from God's presence to eventually die again (Matthew 13:41-43). The process of dying the second death while in hell will vary in degree, intensity and time -- according to the sins and crimes committed on earth; but the final end will be the second death for all the wicked (Revelation 20:14). Let me make it simple and clear. According to the Bible, the wicked will be destroyed (Psalm 37:38).
Those evangelicals who have believed in the eternal torment of the wicked may find it rather shocking to consider that the 'gift of God," which is called eternal life in Scripture (John 3:16), is only given to believers in Jesus and never to those who die apart from Christ. Jesus says those without Christ will perish (see again John 3:16). There are numerous other biblical passages where the end of wicked is made just as clear.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
(Psalm 37: 10-11)
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
(Psalm 37: 10-11)
The wicked are like chaff that blows away.
The wicked will be punished with everlasting destruction
and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
For those Christians who object by saying, "But Jesus said in the parable of the sheep and the goats that These (the goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal' (Matthew 25:46). Doesn't eternal punishment mean eternal punishment?"
Great question. Yes it does. But the correct answer to your question revolves around what the adjective 'eternal' modifies. Let me explain.
We read in the Bible of "eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:9), "eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12), "eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:2), "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46), and "eternal destruction" (II Thessalonians 1:9). These activities of God represent both His love and grace as well as His righteousness and justice. These five works of God will not be fully known or experienced by us until the age to come.
But there is something very interesting about these eternal activities of God.
(1). Eternal salvation is the result of saving
(2). Eternal redemption is the result of redeeming.
(3). Eternal judgment is the result of judging.
(4). Eternal punishment is the result of punishing.
(5). Eternal destruction is the result of destroying.
Why is it we Christians correctly point out that the Bible teaches the process of God saving us is not eternal, but the results of salvation are eternal; while at the same time we seem to contradict Scripture and logic itself by proclaiming the process of punishing is eternal, and refuse to see the that it is the end result of punishment (death) which is eternal?
In short, that which is eternal is always the result of the action of God not the action itself.
Eternal salvation results from saving that stops. Eternal redemption results from redeeming that stops. So too, eternal punishment results from punishing that stops. Eternal destruction results from destroying that stops.
The reward of every believer in Jesus Christ is eternal life, a reward won by the perfect obedience of Christ on behalf of His people. The notion that there will be different degrees of enjoyment in heaven based upon one's meritorious works on earth is both contrary to the teaching of Scripture and the principles of grace.
But on the other hand...
The degrees of punishment, retribution and vengeance in hell vary according to the actions of a person in this life. The moral, good and selfless person who rejects Christ will find the process of punishing and the progress toward his ultimate destruction (the second death) less painful, more tolerable, and ultimately unequal to that of a rapist, serial murderer, and other vile criminals. All the wicked will end up like ‘chaff blown away’ (Psalm 1:4), but the process of dying the second death will vary according to ‘the deeds done in the body.”
The Bible declares that this process of dying the second death in the prison of hell will include distress (Romans 2:9), fury (Romans 2:8), tribulation (Romans 2:9) and resentment (Luke 13:28). God’s wrath will be judicially measured and meted out according to the individual's crimes committed on earth (Romans 2:8; I Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9), but in the end, the Lord will remove the wicked."
"The face of the LORD is set against those who do what
is evil, to erase all memory of them" (Psalm 34:16).
After proofreading this article for me, my wife said, "Wade, it gives me a great deal of comfort knowing that Adolph Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and others who lived such wicked lives on earth will be destroyed by God and not live for eternity." I told her it also could bring great comfort to those who see the inherent beauty of justice, for God will not punish all the wicked the same. Of course, the ultimate plumb-line for truth is not our comfort. Truth will set people free. The truth of Scripture regarding death, resurrection, judgment and eternal life will free people to see the depth and beauty of both God's love and His justice.
Truth is eternal. It is yet to be seen if the writings of these evangelical, Bible-believing, Christ-exalting New Testament scholars is seminal theological writing. Ultimately, the answer to that question will be found in people who are unafraid to question the traditions of men (or the church) and accept sola Scriptura.
I am teaching a series of lessons next spring entitled Eternal Reward and Punishments: Where the Love and Justice of God Meet. It will be my intent to show that the Bible teaches various degrees of eternal punishments (hell) for sinners apart from Christ, and an eternal inheritance or reward (singular) for those who are in Christ. Heaven is equal ground; hell is unequal ground. Though this is opposite of what most evangelicals teach today, just as it was in Luther's day, church dogma may not accurately reflect biblical truth.
More to come....