If God Swears, Then What About…

If God Swears, Then What About…

If God Swears, Then What About…

Sometimes I write a blog and shelve it for a while because it doesn’t feel “done” yet.  That’s what happened with the previous blog, Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears.  I went ahead and posted it, after letting it sit on the shelf, since it had been a week in between blogs, but the next day, the missing pieces became apparent to me.  I take for granted sometimes that many people, if they read the Bible at all, just read it in the English translation.  It is easy for me, these days, to read Chan’s objections and know that they are not sound, because I can see the holes in them.  But it hasn’t always been that way.  For well over a decade, I did not know how to dispute with someone who taught eternal torment.  Although I was annihilationist in my beliefs, there was still a tiny bit of doubt in my mind, a theological splinter, that eternal torment could be true after all.  It is difficult to defend an annihilationist or a universalist view of scripture when scripture seems to clearly indicate otherwise.

I answered many of Chan’s objections to a universalist interpretation of Philippians 2:9-11 in Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears, but I did not address two very important words, “destruction” and “end”.  Chan writes,

If you were on a deserted island and you uncorked an empty bottle containing Philippians 2:9-11, you would probably be a Universalist […] But all we need is for the rest of the Philippian letter to float ashore in order to see that Philippians 2:9-11 doesn’t teach universal salvation.  In Philippians 1:28, Paul says that those who oppose the gospel will face “destruction,” while those who embrace it will be saved.  There’s a contrast here between believers and unbelievers; each have very different destinies.  In Philippians 3:19, Paul refers to the enemies of Christ whose “end is destruction,” while followers of Jesus look forward to resurrection and glory (3:20-21).  Once more, there’s a contrast.  A contrast between believers and unbelievers and their individual destinies (note the word end in 3:19), which follow the decisions they make in this life.

Chan is correct in pointing out the contrast between believers and unbelievers, because not everyone believes at the same time.  Notice all of the chronological references in 1 Corinthians 15: 23-26:

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; thenwhen he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will comewhen he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Just because everything mentioned here has not already come to fruition, this does not mean it will never come to pass.  So it is with believers and unbelievers.  Just because there are those who persist in rebellion past their earthly death, so that we do not here and now witness them believing, this does not mean that it never happens.  There is much more to be said about this, but that is another blog for another day.  Let’s now move on to address those two words, “destruction” and “end”.

Naturally, English speaking people who read an English translation of the Bible will imagine certain things as they read the word “destruction”.  Although the Greek word can be translated “destruction”, it can also be translated in other ways.  Even people who believe in eternal torment should immediately know that our English word “destruction” is not an accurate match for the Greek word, apoleia (the noun form of apollumi).  Why?  Because if apollumi = destroy, then this passage plainly teaches annihilation, not eternal torment!  After all, how can a destroyed or annihilated person be aware of anything at all, let alone, be in torment or sense the passage of time?

So, if apoleia does not mean destruction in this passage (as those who believe in eternal torment ought to acknowledge) then what does it mean?  We have to see other places in scripture where the same word is used for conveying something other than destruction in order to find out.  The very same Greek word and its derivatives are also found in the following scriptures:

Mark 14:3-5 And [Jesus], being in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, at his reclining (at meat), there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment, of spikenard, very precious, and having broken the alabaster box, did pour on his head; and there were certain much displeased within themselves, and saying, “For what hath this waste of the ointment been made? for this could have been sold for more than three hundred denaries, and given to the poor;” and they were murmuring at her.

Matthew 10:5-8 These twelve did Jesus send forth, having given command to them, saying, “To the way of the nations go not away, and into a city of the Samaritans go not in, and be going rather unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And, going on, proclaim saying that, the reign of the heavens hath come nigh; infirm ones be healing, lepers be cleansing, dead be raising, demons be casting out — freely ye did receive, freely give.”

Matthew 18:10-12  [Jesus said,] “Beware! — ye may not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their messengers in the heavens do always behold the face of my Father who is in the heavens, for the Son of Man did come to save the lost. What think ye? if a man may have an hundred sheep, and there may go astray one of them, doth he not — having left the ninety-nine, having gone on the mountains – seek that which is gone astray?”

Luke 9:23-25 And [Jesus] said unto all, “If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me; for whoever may will to save his life, shall lose it, and whoever may lose his life for my sake, he shall save it;for what is a man profited, having gained the whole world, and having lost or having forfeited himself?”

Luke 19:10 […] for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 15:6 […] Rejoice with me, because I found my sheep – the lost one.

Luke 15 […] Rejoice with me, for I found the [coin] that I lost.

Luke 15:24 […] this my son was dead, and did live again, and he was lost, and was found; and they began to be merry.

Clearly, God is able to recover, redeem, and reconcile the destroyed, lost, wasted, perishing, anything or anyone He wants.  It is also noteworthy that Jesus plainly stated His mission in Luke 9:56 “[…] for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save.”  And in Romans 14:15, the word “destroy” is equated with “hurt” – “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.”

About the word “end”, the Greek word is “telos”.  Chan would have us believe that the end here refers to the destiny of the individual, but the root of telos, tello, means “to set out for a definite point or goal”, and that in reference to termination, according to the KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon, is “always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time”.  In fact, it is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 15: 23-26, which I quoted earlier:

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; thenwhen he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will comewhen he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

What happens in this “end”?  The impossibility of hope and commencement of eternal torment in hell?  No, far from it!  What is destroyed in the telos?  People?  No!  What is destroyed is the dominion people wrongfully established for themselves, the authority people have used to oppress and hurt others, and the power by which people have been enabled to ruin not only others, but themselves.  Even death itself is destroyed.  How are these dark concepts destroyed?  They are put under Jesus’ feet, or as Paul says later, they are “swallowed up” in victory.  This is the “end”.


Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of Scrutiny


  • Lanny A. Eichert October 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    The last Revelation God gave still ends with a populated Lake of Fire without remedy: no escape for anyone. Face the fact. Stop spinning your words, repent, and believe it.

    Revelation 21: 8

  • Lanny A. Eichert October 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    When you reconcile your checking account, you don’t get all your money back in the account; all you do is make sure everything went where it was supposed to go.

    Thus God puts all His trash in the Lake of Fire. Are you trying to be His trash? It doesn’t take much effort, does it, sort of comes naturally, doesn’t it?

    • Marie Dean October 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      My daughter is not trash. She is a precious child of God.

      • Lanny A. Eichert October 8, 2011 at 11:48 pm

        She’s not ” a precious child of God” until she’s born again. Until then she’s a child of her father, the Devil.

        The same is true of everybody: you , me, the whole world.

        • Mary Vanderplas October 9, 2011 at 7:17 am

          Aside from the issue of what makes a person a child of God, the fact is that, while sin may deface the image of God in a person, it does not and cannot destroy it. Hence, no one, no matter how corrupt, is trash.

          Regarding the “child of God” issue, what the Bible proclaims is that in Christ God has made a decision for us. By that standard, we all are God’s beloved children.

          • Lanny A. Eichert October 9, 2011 at 10:59 am

            Think what you will and pat everybody on the back and say everything will be alright in the end, but the Lake of Fire will still remain filled with people and demons without escape as God gave warning at the end of His last revelation (Revelation 21: 8) when His wrath will not be abated.

            Besides your are discredited in ten chapters of Isaiah as a false teacher who denies God’s words. Twenty one times Esaias is quoted BY NAME in the first six books of the New Testaments. You have no creditability for speaking God’s gospel, but have shown your ability and willingness to distort it.

    • admin October 8, 2011 at 11:03 pm

      You may see me as the religious leaders saw the expensive perfume, wasted, and useless as trash. But God sees me differently.

      “Jesus forever vindicates the most extravagant gifts which are made in devotion to him, and condemns the spurious philanthropy which is not animated by him. Social service divorced from Christianity may spend the treasure of Mary according to the direction of Judas.” – Charles Erdman

      • Lanny A. Eichert October 8, 2011 at 11:56 pm

        You can’t be expensive perfume while you deny the Word of God as the Devil’s children do.

      • Lanny A. Eichert October 9, 2011 at 1:00 am

        Tell me why (October 8, 2011 at 10:40 am) “overcomer versus non-overcomer has nothing to do with salvation” after I quoted 1 John 5: 4 & 5 with regard to Revelation 2: 11. (on 23September’s blog)

        Or would you rather not go there now?

        • admin October 10, 2011 at 9:12 am

          Regarding 1 John 5:4-5, you are correct in pointing out my error in stating “overcomer and non-overcomer has nothing to do with salvation”, because everyone begotten of God (saved) overcomes. However, when I said this, I had the context of Revelation in mind, which clearly teaches that not all believers are overcomers. Obviously I should have been more specific. Revelation is having to do with more immediate circumstances, perhaps even this present age. It is the timing of God’s Plan of the Ages that not everyone will overcome at once, and for those believers who do not overcome within the time period described in Revelation, they miss out on a lot of good stuff. So you are right, ultimately, everyone who believes overcomes, but I am right in saying that salvation has nothing to do with overcoming – not within the context of Revelation. I think the point of contention here is that you view the book of Revelation as the final word on everything, whereas I view Revelation as one book among many. I believe that there are other places in scripture which address concepts that are chronologically post-Revelation.

          If you want to study this concept, here are some scriptures to get you started. I doubt that I can explain this concept in a way that you will receive it, since you not only doubt but cry heresy against the idea that Jesus accomplished His mission to seek and save the lost. Nevertheless, here you go:

          Parable of Ten Virgins in Matthew 25, specifically verse 10. The letters to believers in Revelation 2:7, 11, 26, 27 and 3:12, 21, 5. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 11:28. Hebrews 6:4-6.

          People can’t “lose” salvation, but people can lose rewards and positions as ministers of reconciliation in the ages to come.

          • Lanny A. Eichert October 10, 2011 at 10:55 am

            cry heresy

            You can bet on that: you return salvation to human responsibility again, taking it away from grace. That ‘s your bottom line, Alice, don’t you see that?

            To go from grace back to works not only is heresy, but it is a lie: that makes you a LIAR which will put you as trash in the Lake of Fire.

            Are you trying to be trash? It doesn’t take much effort, does it, sort of comes naturally, doesn’t it?

            • admin October 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm

              The thing at stake here, for works or lack of, is not salvation, but reward. Salvation is not in jeopardy, because Jesus accomplished it once, for all. Rewards, however, are works based. Christians who believe people can lose their salvation use these scriptures concerning rewards as their proof texts, because they confuse rewards with salvation.

              Your trash comments and name calling are rude and unnecessary. Stop acting juvenile, Lanny. Tell me you disagree and tell me why you disagree, it makes for much more productive conversation than trash-talk.

          • Mary Vanderplas October 10, 2011 at 8:03 pm

            I don’t see what you see in the texts you cite in support of your belief that there will be ages following this present one (or the time period described in Revelation), in which those who are not already numbered among the “overcomers” will become so. In fact, I think your interpretation of these texts begs the question: you start by assuming universal salvation, and then you see in the text “evidence” of ages that follow the book of Revelation in which the rest of humanity will be brought in. In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, nothing is said about the other five bridesmaids, who initially were unprepared, being given a second chance. In fact, the parable ends with the bridegroom telling them that he doesn’t know them, implying that they had lost their opportunity to get in. This is, in my view, clearly a judgment text, not a text that supports a “Plan of the Ages” in which ultimately all are brought into the kingdom.

            I agree that there are universalist texts that shouldn’t be explained away or otherwise dismissed or deemphasized. And I don’t rule out that in the end the truth proclaimed in these texts may prove to be the final truth. But I have trouble with what I see as being a reading into texts what isn’t there in the interest of arguing that the Bible clearly teaches universal salvation and a plan whereby God will accomplish the final salvation of every person.

            • admin October 10, 2011 at 8:25 pm

              The purpose behind the texts I cited is to demonstrate that, for a time, there are believers who are not overcomers. The parable has to do with believers, not believers and unbelievers as most theologians assume, otherwise none of them would ever have had light/oil in the first place. Universalism is not the focal point here. The focal point is that many Christians will be astonished to learn that they have been appointed their portion with unbelievers (Luke 12), that there are Christians who lose their reward. But the reward is not salvation, because the people cannot lose salvation based on what they did or did not do.

          • Mary Vanderplas October 10, 2011 at 10:13 pm

            I agree that the bridesmaids represent believers, not believers and unbelievers. The criterion for inclusion is pictured here as being prepared for the coming of the bridegroom, which Matthew understands not as confessing faith in Jesus Christ but as performing deeds of love and mercy (25:31-46). Having oil isn’t confessing belief; it is obeying the command to love. And yes, I agree, the point of the parable is that there will be believers who are surprised that they are shut out. It isn’t said that they will lose their reward, though. In the parable, the unprepared/unfaithful are shut out, implying that faithfulness in obeying the command to love is the evidence of true faith and that without this “believers” stand to be judged. I think that Matthew is here teaching the ultimate seriousness of how we live, specifically, of how we respond or fail to respond to the needy. I don’t think he is saying that there are believers who simply lose their reward. And even if he was saying this, I don’t think it would necessitate a plan by which “not everyone will overcome at once.” It could just as likely be that the unfaithful will enjoy a lesser degree of bliss in the hereafter.

          • Lanny A. Eichert October 10, 2011 at 11:00 pm

            For whatsoever is born of God overcometh* the world: and this is the victory that overcometh** the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh*** the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5: 4 & 5


            *present tense indicative verb

            **aorist tense participle

            ***present tense participle

            present tense in verb and participle expresses continuous action in the present time

            aorist participle expresses punctiliar action in the past time, in other words, past action as occurring in a point of time

            For whosoever is born of God is continuously overcoming the world: and this is the victory that once in a point of past time overcame the world, even our faith. Who is he who is continuously overcoming the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

            The point of past time is the moment he became a believer (even our faith), so from that time forward he is continuously overcoming the world. There is never a moment he is not an overcomer as each new overcoming moment moves from the future to the present and then into the past.

            The 1 Corinthians 3 ministerial judgment for the Christians’ rewards is not the same as the Second Death which is the Lake of Fire prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25: 41) and, Revelation 21: 8, all LIARS who try to distort the simple truth of God’s words with fanciful arguments like your Amazing Hope and every other excuse you use for your lies.

            There is NO overcoming for the unregenerate, even as you display yourself. (I am not name-calling when I judge you by the facts. You are what you are.) Lying (false teaching) is sin and the punitive place of judgment is the Lake of Fire to which you are headed with your current ideas.

  • louis October 8, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you for doing such a great job and sharing the good news. It’s encouraging to know that the “destroyed” are not beyond the reach of God.

    • Lanny A. Eichert October 8, 2011 at 11:51 pm

      You would do good to remember where Revelation 21: 8 is without remedy.

    • admin October 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to offer some encouragement. I was very touched by your youtube vid, and I don’t think I will ever forget your story. You are in a unique position to be used by God in ways others cannot.

  • Mary Vanderplas October 8, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Regarding Philippians 1:28, Paul is talking here about the Christians standing firm and united and resisting opponents as they live out their faith. He makes the point that this will be a sign to the opponents of what will be in the end: the “destruction” of those who oppose the gospel and the “salvation” of those who by the grace of God embrace it. I don’t agree that the Greek word translated “destruction” means something other than destruction here. I think this is a judgment text. Even if the Greek word has other meanings – which, I agree, it does – and even if it means something other than “destruction” in other contexts, this doesn’t mean that the word doesn’t mean “destruction” here in this context. Nor does translating the word “destruction” necessarily mean embracing the doctrine of annihilation. “Destruction” is the opposite of “salvation” – which, in my view, means simply not spending eternity with God/Christ.

    While I agree with Chan’s take on this text, I don’t agree with his view that because this text is a judgment text, Philippians 2:9-11 can’t possibly be a universalist text. Paul, like the other New Testament writers, affirms both truths: that all will be saved in the end and that only some, namely, believers, will be saved in the end. He does not express one consistent view but instead takes a dialectical approach. We can deal with the tension this creates either by trying to impose an artificial consistency (explaining away or minimizing/deemphasizing either one or the other set of texts) or by living with the tension and letting it keep us from either minimizing the seriousness of rebellion against God on the one hand or of thinking that God loves only some and of glibly speaking of the damnation of some on the other hand – while at the same time hoping and praying that the universalist texts have the final truth.

    Regarding Philippians 3:19, it isn’t clear precisely who the people were to whom Paul was referring here. I am inclined to agree with commentators who point out that it appears from what Paul says that they were people who mistook liberty in Christ for license, indulging their bodily appetites as an expression of their freedom in Christ. If this be the case – i.e., if Paul is talking about people who made food and sex their god – then “their end is destruction” most likely means that because they lived for the body, when the body is gone, for them there is nothing more (or that by living lives of self-indulgence, they destroy themselves). In any case, it isn’t clear, in my view, whether this means that “destruction” is their final destiny.

    I like what you say about God in Christ being able to “recover, redeem, and reconcile…anything or anyone He wants,” even those who are destroyed. Perhaps you are right that the final end will be the deliverance and restoration of all, even those who by their actions and choices in this life are among the “destroyed.”

    I love, love, love! what you say in light of the 1 Corinthians 15 text about the “end” – the “telos” of history – being the destruction, the end, of all the “dark concepts” and forces that presently are so much a part of life in this world. You paint a powerful picture of the final triumph of God over all that would bind and destroy us. This text and your incredible rendering of it call into question all of my preceding comments.

    You have given me a great gift. After a rough week in which Sin (the drive to hate and hurt) and Death (of a cherished co-worker far too young) have had me in their grip. I needed to hear the hope-filled message of your beautiful blog. Thank you!

  • Mary Vanderplas October 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Oops. The period after “grip” in the last paragraph should be a comma.

  • Mary Vanderplas October 8, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    I’m not sure I agree that telos cannot refer to the ultimate fate of a person, though whether this is what it means in Philippians 3:19 is uncertain. Telos, like apoleia, has different meanings, one of which is end-result or outcome. The eternal destiny of those who rebel against God is, I think, the outcome toward which their rebellion moves them. In the 1 Corinthians 15 text, I think that it does mean the conclusion of the eschatological events, as you suggest – perhaps a more accurate definition than the goal of history, the completion of history (and the inauguration the final victory of God), as I said earlier. At any rate, I appreciate your discussion. It’s thought-provoking and helpful.

    • Lanny A. Eichert October 9, 2011 at 12:15 am

      Oh, how uncertain you are in so many things, Mary.

      • Mary Vanderplas October 9, 2011 at 7:23 am

        Chalk it up to the fact that I’m a creature, not the Creator, and that, as Paul puts it, “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”

  • Jonathan MacDonald October 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you Alice for your wise and incisive coverage of Chan’s book in these posts. A couple of things I would like to add. First, Chan’s continual reference/allusion to Isaiah 55, “God’s thoughts/ways are higher than ours”, as an answer to why we cannot fathom a God who would torture most of His creatures for all eternity is completely taken out of context. Isaiah 55 is entirely about free grace!! Isaiah paints an astonishing vision of grace and pardon of the sinner that is IMMEDIATELY followed by “for my ways are not your ways…” (God’s preemptive answer). Here in this passage we are told that it is His GRACE that blows our paradigm not eternal torment! (The same is true regarding the end of Romans 11, also often used to defend eternal torment) Second, I personally believe it was the Holy Spirit that restrained Chan from saying that he believed in eternal torment with absolute certainty. Not that anybody noticed but on page 86 he states that the bottom line is that he is still unsure and encourages us to “continue researching”. Did he really mean this sincerely? I don’t know but it is good advice and we’ll take it! Jonathan godslovewins.com

    • admin October 10, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      Yes, I noticed that, too, about Chan’s back-peddling.

    • admin October 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      These are some insightful points you make on Isa.55. Wish I had thought of that! Every now and then I do a blog featuring comments and this one will definitely be on top of the list.

  • […] the previous blog, If God Swears, Then What About…, I wrote about the Greek word, apoleia, and its derivatives, which are translated into our English […]

  • […] Next blog in this series: If God Swears, Then What About… […]

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