Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Invalid Argument

Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Invalid Argument

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, chapter three, entitled “What Jesus Actually Said about Hell,” Chan writes, “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”

As I mentioned in the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Obama Is Fat, in order to examine Chan’s argument accurately, it is first important to establish whether Chan’s argument is valid and second, whether Chan’s argument is sound.  Notice the words “if” and “then” in Chan’s claim: “[…] if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against it.”  This is a classic example of an argument in formal logic, a conditional statement – if this, then that.

In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Obama Is Fat, I examined the validity of Chan’s conditional (if/then) statement and concluded:

The point is, if Jesus’s regular practice was to withhold, veil, or hide knowledge, why should we agree with Chan’s assumption that Jesus “would have had to deliberately and clearly” impart knowledge?

This is not to say that Jesus never said anything to contradict chapter two of Chan’s book.  I’ll get to that after we are done examining the validity of Chan’s conditional statement and the soundness of it, as we slowly but surely make our way through the dark and not-very-hopeful book, Erasing Hell.

Today, I would like to continue in examining the validity of Chan’s argument.  In order for an argument to be valid, the “if” part of the conditional statement, the premise for the argument, must justify the conclusion of the argument.  The premise doesn’t have to be true in order for the argument to be valid, but the conclusion must agree with the premise.  I have already demonstrated that Chan’s conclusion does not necessarily agree with his premise.  Next, I will demonstrate that the premise is so vague that it is impossible to decide whether the conclusion agrees with it.

Chan’s premise, once again, is: “if Jesus did not agree with the view of hell presented in the last chapter…”

What is the view of hell presented in chapter two of Erasing Hell?  I give a more thorough analysis in the blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Abomination, but I’ll offer an abbreviated version of it here:

Chan’s bullet points about the first-century Jewish view of Hell are:

1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment.

2. Hell is described in images of fire, darkness, and lament.

3. Hell is a place of annihilation.

4. Hell is a place of never-ending punishment.

There was a large sect of Jews, mentioned many times in the New Testament, who did not believe in Hell at all.  In fact, according to the first-century historian, Josephus, Sadducees believed that “souls die with the bodies.”  They did not believe in the immortality of the soul, the afterlife, or rewards or penalties after death.  Francis Chan includes this small note in the notes section following chapter two: “The Sadducees, who didn’t believe in an afterlife, certainly wouldn’t have believed in hell.” Why does Chan not include this in the body of the chapter, since not everyone reads the notes sections of books?  If the chapter is supposed to represent the first century Jewish view of Hell, why is this important information not given it proper place within the chapter?

Furthermore, among first-century Jews were the ordinary people, the crowds that congregated to hear Jesus, but were not included among (and even shunned by) the Sadducees or Pharisees.  The New Testament and other non-biblical records give us glimpses of them from time to time, but their beliefs are not as explicitly explained.  This people-group that outnumbers all the religious sects combined, are not represented at all in Chan’s argument.  I’m not blaming Chan, because he would have to rely on assumption and conjecture to explain their beliefs, but I do think that it is worth mentioning that the majority of the Jewish population in the first century is not included in Chan’s summary of the first-century Jewish view of Hell.

In addition to the information above, it is important to notice that Chan does not offer one unified view of Hell with which Jesus may or may not agree – specifically numbers 3 and 4 of his bullet points.  If people are annihilated in Hell, they can’t possibly punished eternally.  Likewise, if people are punished eternally, they can’t possibly be annihilated.  So, how is Jesus supposed to disagree “with the view of hell presented in the last chapter” if there is no single, clear view presented?  Is Jesus supposed to disagree with all four views?  What about the “garbage dump” view?  Why is it not included as a fifth option?  What about the Sadducees?  What about all the people who did not fit neatly into religious categories?  I suppose that Chan could change the singular word “view” in his premise to the plural word “views”, and then his premise might make a little bit more sense.  And then he would also need to specify which views Jesus “would have” challenged, if, indeed, He “would have” challenged them.

In summary, Chan’s argument is not valid because:

1. The conclusion does not necessarily agree with the premise.

2. The premise is too vague, inconsistent, and incomplete.

The next two blogs in this series will address whether Chan’s argument is sound.

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Everlasting Sneeze

Comments
  • Lanny A. Eichert May 12, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Alice strains out gnats in Francis Chan’s book, but cannot see the camel that makes her Amazing Hope impossible, namely that those in the Lake of Fire are not subject to “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” The Lake of Fire is not “in heaven,” nor is it “in earth,” nor is it “under the earth,” regardless of whether the present heaven and earth or the future heaven and earth is meant. The Lake of Fire populace is as far removed as those things which are shaken are removed {Hebrews 12: 25 – 27} in order that those things that cannot be shaken might REMAIN to be completely reconciled in the absence of what is shaken and removed.

    You don’t get it, do you, Alice? Your arguments are meaningless and you should cut Francis Chan a break. You are spinning a vague dream. Jeremiah said God doesn’t like visionary dreaming prophets or prophetesses {Jeremiah 23: 16, 25, 32}.

    • Mary Vanderplas May 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm

      There is nothing in the Philippians 2 text about anyone or anything being excluded. Your populated Lake of Fire doesn’t exist. The text is a ringing affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the entire created order. Nothing is outside of the scope of God’s saving act in Christ. Everyone and everything finally submits to Christ’s triumphant, loving Lordship. Not only is Amazing Hope possible, it is, according to this text, assured.

    • Lanny A. Eichert May 14, 2012 at 12:04 am

      Mary, you consider the Lake of Fire referenced in the Revelation 20: 15 has no actual existence? You also consider the Lake of Fire referenced in the Revelation 21: 8 has no actual existence? Or it exists but just will never have a population? Or you mean the Lake of Fire as I described it doesn’t exist? Where then is the Lake of Fire? Is it in heaven? Is it in the earth? Is it under the earth? What then is the Lake of Fire? If some sort of Lake of Fire exists how does it empty? Do all your answers assure Amazing Hope?

      Mary, Philippians 2 limits the bowing and confessing to heaven and earth. Do you not think there isn’t something beyond heaven and earth? Do you make heaven and earth an idiom for the entire created order? Is it reasonable to ask where in the entire created order is Hades and where is the Lake of Fire as to location, heaven or earth, neither or both? If you say it cannot be known, is it reasonable to say my populated Lake of Fire doesn’t exist?

      Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels {Matthew 25: 41} PREPARED

      Where? What?

      • Mary Vanderplas May 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm

        I was talking about the Philippians 2 text, which proclaims and celebrates the Lordship of Christ over all creation. There is no hint here of a “populated Lake of Fire”; indeed, nothing is excluded from what God has done in Christ.

        As I’ve said repeatedly in response to your comments on the text of Revelation, I think that to interpret literally John’s pictorial language is to misinterpret it. The “Lake of Fire” is a picture pointing to something real; it is not a place with an address. What John is pointing to is a separation that will take place at the end of history and a state of being alienated from God, the source of life. To ask where these people go or what it is like there – i.e., the physical characteristics of hell – is to ask the wrong questions.

        Regarding whether hell “actually exists,” I can only say that there are texts that suggest a final separation and self-chosen exclusion. However, that there are also more than a few texts that speak of universal salvation and the cosmic scope of God’s redemptive work can’t be denied. In light of the latter, I am hopeful that hell is a purification of limited duration, not an eternal state of separation.

        When the Bible speaks of “heaven and earth,” it is speaking of the whole created order. John’s vision in Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 is a vision of the eschatological renewal of creation, the longed-for transformation of the whole created order. How does hell fit into this? Good question. “See, I am making all things new,” the one seated on the throne says in John’s vision (21:5). There is nothing new in hell. In whatever way hell exists, if it exists, it isn’t part of the Creator’s purpose in the same way that eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth (heaven) is. It is possible, too, I think, that the texts you cite which contain images of destruction are intended to point to the final eradication of evil and not to the final rejection/exclusion of the unbelieving.

        The challenge for any of us when it comes to thinking about the future and the transcendent world of God is that we are space-bound, time-bound creatures and as such are incapable of understanding what is beyond all spatial and temporal categories. And there is much that we aren’t told concerning the future. In light of this, it would seem that an attitude of humility and a willingness to acknowledge the limits of our knowing are called for – advice that I, as much as anyone, need to hear.

        • Lanny A. Eichert May 17, 2012 at 1:31 am

          Mary, in the Philippians 2 text there is no hint here of a populated Lake of Fire is exactly what I am trying to tell you is the reason the populace there is exempt.

          Of course, since your interpretation bounces back and forth between literal and figurative, you cannot even be sure hell exists or whether it is purifies the people thrown in there. All you keep saying is “I think ….” You just don’t know, because you cannot bring yourself to believe the Holy Bible; and you will burn in hell for it.

          Listen to the radio broadcasts on http://www.unshackled.org and maybe you too might be unshackled and enabled to believe to the saving of your soul.

          • Mary Vanderplas May 18, 2012 at 5:51 am

            In the Philippians 2 text, all are included in the scope of God’s saving act. No one is “exempt.”

            The reason I don’t know everything I would like to know is because the biblical writers don’t tell us everything – and because what is beyond the categories of space and time cannot be known completely by finite creatures. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12.)

            I have already been set free by God’s great grace in Christ; and I am in the process of becoming free – free to love God and others.

    • Lanny A. Eichert May 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      Listen, Mary, Michael, Alice: I wrote showing the Lake of Fire is no part of the heavens and the earths with proof as follows.
      May 11, 2012 at 6:17 am Q&A with National Public Radio’s Melissa Block (All Things Considered)
      Remember the Lake of Fire was operational at Armageddon {Revelation 19: 20} during the old heaven and the old earth {our heaven and earth} to receive the beast and the false prophet and after the thousand years to receive the devil {20: 10}, but it was not part of this old heaven and this old earth, because it does not pass away with this heaven and this earth when they disappear at {20: 11} the final judgment and since those not written in the Book of Life are cast into it while there is no heaven and earth. It is also not part of the New Heavens and the New Earth, since it remains populated {21: 8} with the old heaven and old earth populace even after the New Heavens and the New Earth are created. It, the Lake of Fire, is isolated from both creations and is a world unto itself.

      Mary is wrong to include the Lake of Fire in the heaven and earth by means of calling it “the entire created order.” The reason being 2 Peter 3: 10 & 11a is the same scene as the Revelation 20: 11 in which the heaven and the earth are dissolved and yet the Lake of Fire remains as it was in 19: 20 to receive another population in 20: 13 – 15.

      But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. [Seeing] then [that] all these things shall be dissolved

      And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

      And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

      And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

      Further proof is that at the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth the Lake of Fire is still existing with the same kind of population in the Revelation 21: 8.

      But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

      Please heed the Scriptures and stop fantasizing. The dissolving of the heaven and the earth is the same as the shaking of the heaven and the earth in Hebrews 12: 26 – 28a.

      Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved

      • Michael May 16, 2012 at 9:28 am

        Lanny are you aware that there is a view point that the pond of fire aka the lake of fire has either already happened or is in effect now (preterism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preterism). There are many different interpretations of Revelation. How do you what passages are to be taken literally and which aren’t. Why do you insist on using Revelation to show what the destiny of mankind is. When there are much clearer passages like 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 that totally contradict your position on hell. If you could prove hell is anything like what you say, all it would prove is that the bible contradicts itself. In light of such passages as

        2 Peter 3:9

        NASB
        The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

        Romans 5:18

        NASB
        18 So then as through one transgression [a]there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [b]there resulted justification of life to all men.

        1 Corinthians 15:22-23

        For even as in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ: thereupon those who are Christ’s in His presence;

        • Michael May 16, 2012 at 9:42 am

          I have never heard a decent refutation that these verses mean anything other than what they plainly appear to be implying. According to the bible, all that received condemnation (all descendants of Adam and Eve) have also received justification and life. As far as I’m concerned the argument is over. How can it be any clearer? 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 confirms the same thing. If you have the opinion that God is going to bring all back to life, only so he can judge them and send most to hell, then shame on you.

          • Lanny A. Eichert May 18, 2012 at 3:47 am

            Michael doesn’t know the literal from the figurative nor what interpretation to choose nor even what the context limits.

    • Lanny A. Eichert May 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      I repeat:
      Mary is wrong to include the Lake of Fire in the heaven and earth by means of calling it “the entire created order.” The reason being 2 Peter 3: 10 & 11a is the same scene as the Revelation 20: 11 in which the heaven and the earth are dissolved and yet the Lake of Fire remains as it was in 19: 20 to receive another population in 20: 13 – 15.

      “The entire created order” is nowhere, but the Lake of Fire is still there at the Final Judgment. Those judged have no topography upon which to stand. Check out that word, topography, in the Revelation 20: 11 τόπος.

      • Mary Vanderplas May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm

        I repeat: I do not interpret literally John’s pictorial language. The “Lake of Fire” is a picture. The “earth and the heaven fleeing” from the presence of the one who sat on the throne (20:11) is a picture pointing to the sinful creation not being able to endure the awfulness of divine judgment. It is not a literal description of the creation being dissolved. John is here giving a picture of the final judgment and the destruction of evil (verses 11-15); he is not describing the annihilation of the created order.

        • Lanny A. Eichert May 18, 2012 at 3:43 am

          Mary, so even 2 Peter 3: 10 is not literal? Why? Because Mary says so. Oh, how she loves to deny God’s words!!! She’s no believer.

          • Mary Vanderplas May 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm

            In talking about the coming day of the Lord and eschatological judgment, the author of 2 Peter, like the author of Revelation, likely is using imagery that was typical of Jewish apocalyptic (and perhaps draws also on several Old Testament texts – e.g., Deuteronomy 32:22). This imagery was not intended to be interpreted literally. It points to the reality of divine judgment of a sinful world – a necessary precondition for the new heaven and new earth.

            Also significantly, the author here attributes the delay of the second coming and final judgment to the merciful patience of God, whose will it is that no one perish but that all come to repentance (v. 9).

            • Lanny A. Eichert May 19, 2012 at 4:03 am

              Mary, children in whom is no faith {Deuteronomy 32: 20 – 22} cannot please God as per Hebrews 11: 6 and the text doesn’t sound like God is going to reconcile them at all. It sounds more like final condemnation than remedial punishment.

              For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! Verses 28 & 29 don’t at all sound remedial, Mary, but a warning of a final eternal condemnation.

              But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. {2 Peter 3: 7} “Same word” means the same LITERAL word, foolish Mary. It was literal water that destroyed it and it was literal water that was promised not to AGAIN destroy it, so it is literal fire that is reserved for its final destruction, Why would God change from the literal to the figurative and ruin His track record?

              For this Mary willingly is ignorant of, because she is a scoffer of the literal Holy Bible. Also, she cannot read verse nine’s “to us” and limit the promise to only God’s saints: the “any” are God’s Elect and none other.

              Verse ten is very specifically graphic as to the mechanics of how this is to happen. A great noise as of an atomic explosion as the atomic structure of the elements split apart at the nuclear level generating tremendous heat {fire} dissolving everything in a spontaneous chain reaction. Mary doesn’t believe it. So what’s new? She cannot believe Judas Iscariot is eternally perish even though Jesus told her {John 17: 12}.

              • Mary Vanderplas May 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm

                The Deuteronomy text is an announcement of the judgment of God upon his faithless people – judgment that is expressed as the burning of God’s wrath. It is not a warning of final eternal condemnation. Indeed, God is pictured as stopping short of unleashing the full force of his wrath (verses 26 and 27) and as acting to vindicate his people (verse 36). The point of connection with the 2 Peter text is the use of the image of a consuming fire to express the reality of divine judgment.

                “Same word” in 2 Peter 3:7 means the same powerful, active word of God by which the universe was created and by which judgment was released at the flood. The point is simply that the present world will be judged according to this powerful word. The author’s mention of the flood need not mean that the present world will be literally destroyed by a conflagration. The flood narrative in Genesis bears witness to the God who vowed never again to relate to his sinful creation so as to wipe it out. Alas, it seems that God himself “ruined his track record.”

                The only limit on the objects that God wills not to perish but to come to repentance is the one that you impose by making “any” “every” and by making “all” “some.”

                The “loud noise” in this picture likely points to the appearance of God as judge, since this was a typical feature of theophany (e.g., Psalm 18:13-15).

                • admin May 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm

                  Mary, will you please expound on the final sentence in your second paragraph? I want to understand what you are communicating.

                  • Mary Vanderplas May 20, 2012 at 6:29 am

                    My comment was a response to Lanny’s contention that the statement in 2 Peter 3:7 must mean a literal conflagration that will destroy the present world, as according to the flood narrative in Genesis a literal flood destroyed the world in Noah’s day. I was simply pointing out that in the flood narrative in Genesis, God makes a promise “never again” to relate to his sinful creation by wiping it out because of its sinfulness, giving a rainbow as a sign of his promise to preserve the created order (Genesis 9:8-17). My comment about God “ruining his own track record,” echoing Lanny’s words, was intended to say that far from being something that one would expect God to do again, wiping out the created order as with a flood is, according to the narrative in Genesis, a way of responding to human sin and evil that God himself decided “never again” to do.

                    The fact is, though, that while I disagree with Lanny’s insistence that the author of 2 Peter meant the reference to a fire in these verses to be interpreted literally, I don’t know exactly how God will act in the end to bring about the redemption and renewal of creation. There is much that I don’t know and that I think cannot be known when it comes to exactly how God’s purposes will be finally accomplished.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm

                      neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. {Genesis 9: 11}

                      The covenant or promise is that God will never again use a flood. He made no promise or covenant concerning never wiping it out again because of its sinfulness. See His small scale demonstration of literal fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah in total destruction {Genesis 19} as a prelude to the Revelation 20 of which Peter speaks in verses seven and twelve in the third chapter in his second epistle in literal terms. That his epistle is not written in Jewish apocalyptic style any where but here in these two verses is enough to warrant her interpretations as without merit and Satanic.

                      Like as you, Alice, twist the Scriptures into another meaning of a different kind, so does Mary also as demonstrated above in this statement: God makes a promise “never again” to relate to his sinful creation by wiping it out because of its sinfulness. That is very subtle, just like the serpent in the garden, and pushes wonderfully universal reconciliation, another Satanic lie.

                    • admin May 20, 2012 at 11:43 pm

                      Satan asked a question. Is it true that God said… Eve could have answered accurately, and then, at this point in their conversation, there would not yet have been a lie. The first lie was Eve’s – she exaggerated the sternness of God by saying if she “touched” the tree, she would die. God never said this. The first lie is may have been a lie about Who God is and what God does. That’s why I started this blog, to set the record straight, beginning with the first lie, a lie that you, Lanny, have been suckered into believing.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 21, 2012 at 1:15 am

                      You’re suckering people into believing Judas Iscariot is not perished forever just because Jesus omitted to say He’d come back and get him out of the Lake of Fire doesn’t mean that He won’t, meaning you’re implying He is coming back. That’s real sneaky lame, Alice. That omission is because He’s NOT coming back for Judas nor any one else that wouldn’t confess Christ before they died.

                    • admin May 21, 2012 at 1:44 am

                      In successsion:

                      “Simon Peter, therefore, answered him, `Sir, unto whom shall we go? thou hast sayings of life age-during; and we [the twelve] have believed, and we have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered them, `Did not I choose you – the twelve? and of you – one is a devil. And he spake of Judas, Simon’s [son], Iscariot, for he was about to deliver him up, being one of the twelve.

                      “Judas, by transgression, did fall, to go on to his proper place

                      The whole are going unto one place, the whole have been from the dust, and the whole are turning back unto the dust.”

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 21, 2012 at 1:32 am

                      Alice, you also avoid the fact that Mary got it WRONG stating God promised not again destroy the human race for its sins according to the rainbow sign. God didn’t say that. He said He’d not destroy it again BY A WATER FLOOD and that’s all He said. That leaves Him free to destroy it again by literal fire as the Second Peter text tells you.

                      Wrong you all are by twisting Sctripture in a very subtle fashion which you all are very able at doing.

                    • admin May 21, 2012 at 1:57 am

                      My comment was not about what Mary said, it was about what you said (regarding Judas).

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 21, 2012 at 4:44 am

                      The WHOLE are going to ONE place? Wow, What a twist !!! You guys are insanely “in” with Satan.

                    • admin May 21, 2012 at 8:23 am

                      Yes. Everyone who dies goes to the “grave”, a word often mistranslated as “hell”.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 21, 2012 at 5:49 am

                      Alice, your treatement of the end of John 6 is a demonstration of your incorrect inclusive use of “we” to make Judas a saint that accidentally betrayed Jesus and then you add something not even in the text: “the whole are turning back unto the dust.” You’re the weirdest kind of a thinker I’ve ever encountered.

                      Judas wasn’t the same kind of believer as the eleven, and I’m amazed again that you don’t discern that or won’t admit it.

                    • admin May 21, 2012 at 8:07 am

                      The whole… is an Ecclesiastes text. Sorry, I’m bad about quoting book, chapter, and verse.

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 21, 2012 at 5:38 pm

                      In Genesis 8:21-22, God promises that he will never again curse the ground, adding the guarantee that the rhythms of creation will endure. In 9:8-17, God promises that never again will a flood destroy the earth – giving a rainbow as a sign of the promise. In both texts, what is communicated is that God’s mind has been changed. The God who acted in the flood to judge and wreak destruction on his creation now resolves never again to repay the sinful creation by destroying it. To contend that the promise of God found in these texts is focused on the medium of destruction (i.e., water/flood) instead of on the preservation of creation is to completely miss the point. The point is that the God of Israel has turned from judgment, from the will to destroy, to graciously embrace the creation – and this, incredibly, in spite of the fact that humanity continues to be inclined to evil (8:21). It isn’t that God is saying, “Well, I’ll never again use a flood to destroy them. The next time they really piss me off I’ll use fire.” Rather, it is that he is saying, “Never again will I respond to human sin and evil by acting to destroy the creation.”

                    • admin May 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

                      God changing his mind. This concept has always scrambled my eggs. I’m inclined to reject it, but I’ve also lived through many situation when it has appeared to occur. I just don’t know about that – I’m very, very skeptical.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

                      What is communicated is that God’s mind has been changed, Mary wrote, but she fails to reckon with God’s foreknowledge, His omniscience, on your behalf, Alice, and that of your readers. Remember God has always had a plan which includes the eternal destruction of the wicked in the eternal Lake of Fire under eternal torment, because their names were never from day one entered into the Lamb’s Book of Life by His hand as a deliberate testimony to this fact of His plan.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm

                      Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. {Acts 15: 18} So, God doesn’t actually change His mind, but it only appears so to the human mind that limits itself to time rather than eternity.

                      The Plan, Alice, the Plan.

                      they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world {Revelation 17: 8}

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 22, 2012 at 8:40 pm

                      I might be skeptical, too, except that I think the Bible testifies pretty clearly to a God who is living and personal and who is active in history. He isn’t a dead God who is incapable of feeling and incapable of being moved to act in ways that meet our needs. And in my understanding of what the Bible teaches, he doesn’t have a rigid plan for our lives that is mechanically played out apart from our decisions and actions. Rather, he is a living God who is involved in our lives to give us what we need, who is capable of being moved to change his mind (e.g., Genesis 18 – the story of Abraham petitioning God in regard to the fate of Sodom), and who takes seriously our freedom and responsibility as human beings created in his image.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm

                      Mary, Genesis 18 – the story of Abraham petitioning God in regard to the fate of Sodom: in what way did God change His mind?

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 23, 2012 at 9:34 pm

                      The God revealed in scripture is a living, personal God who is active and involved in our lives and in world history and who can and does change in response to our situations and needs. God actually does change his mind. What the Bible portrays is real, not fiction. That God knows all things even before they happen doesn’t mean that he is uninvolved in and unaffected by what is going on in our lives and in the world.

                      To confess that the sovereign God is at work in our lives and in history to accomplish his purposes is not to say that God is the only real actor in the drama. Both the Bible and our experience testify that we were created with genuine freedom and responsibility to participate in what God is doing. To speak of an unchangeable “Plan” that God made before time and that unfolds mechanically apart from what we do is, in my view, to misunderstand both the nature of God and our nature as human beings created in God’s image.

                      John’s picture of the book of life is a metaphor that emphasizes salvation as God’s gracious initiative and act – i.e., it communicates absolute divine sovereignty. It does not lend support to the doctrine of a “horrible decree” by which the majority of humankind is predestined for eternal destruction. The abhorrent notion of a God who creates in order to condemn denies the truth that God is love in himself.

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 23, 2012 at 9:49 pm

                      Abraham challenges God’s sense of righteousness, urging him to act like the righteous God he is and not like a vengeful tyrant. The change that occurs in God is a shift from focusing on punishing the unrighteous to valuing the obedience of the faithful and seeking to save all from death.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm

                      Alice, in her style would ask you, Mary: Am I getting this right that when the Three came to Abraham, God was focusing on punishing the unrighteous and thereby acting like a vengeful tyrant? Because Abraham challenged His tyrant mentality and behavior, God took the challenge to heart, changed, and began to act like the righteous God He is by focusing on valuing the obedience of the faithful and seeking to save all from death?

                      With a renewed vision, thanks to Abraham, did God accomplish what He sought to do? Did He save the Sodomites from death? Or did God fail to do what He sought?

                      What, Mary, is the significance of And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? Especially as it has to do with the words used: destroy, spare, slay; Abraham’s use and God’s use.

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 25, 2012 at 9:10 pm

                      It seems that God had made a preliminary decision about Sodom, but decides to investigate the situation, consulting with Abraham, before making a final decision. God consults with Abraham with the possibility of having his mind changed. Abraham takes the opportunity to raise questions with God about the fairness of destroying a whole city, the righteous along with the unrighteous, and about the nature of God’s righteousness – whether it entails something other than acting according to a scheme of retributive justice (vengeful tyrant). Specifically, Abraham challenges God to save the city for the sake of the righteous, to value the righteous more than seeking to give the wicked their just desserts. In response to Abraham’s petitioning, God shows that his will to save is greater than his will to judge and punish. Abraham challenges God on the matter of what it means to be God; and the result is that God’s mind is changed: he is moved toward showing a compassionate justice that saves all from death.

                      Your question about whether God saves the Sodomites from death misses the point in my view. The point is not that God overlooks evil and doesn’t judge, but that he is not eager to judge.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 26, 2012 at 4:00 am

                      Mary, you are the one who wrote, God shifted from focusing on punishing the unrighteous to valuing the obedience of the faithful and seeking to save all from death. I only asked if God was successful in “seeking to save all from death” at Sodom and Gomorrah. Did God get what He was seeking? You are the one that wrote and described this detail as the change of heart that resulted from God’s little talk with Abraham. You disagree with the validity of my question claiming I missed the point. I am nowhere arguing that God is hasty to judge wickedness in that post as you imply. That post questioned the details of God’s change of mind and you supplied the detail that He began seeking to save all from death. I simply want to know if God was successful. How do you account for God’s success with Abraham’s challenge? God was seeking to save all and I am asking if He did that.

                      After all, God “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” {2 Peter 3: 9} Alice and her crowd, which now includes you, claim God always accomplishes His will and He deliberately used the word “all” and therefore all will eventually somehow repent and be saved. However, you all conveniently overlook the “to us” in the text limiting “all” to the elect only. Nevertheless you wrote from your view that God is love in himself and God’s new mind, since Abraham challenged Him, was seeking to save all from death specifically at Sodom and Gomorrah. So how did God do? Was He successful? How do you answer the question, since it is proper to ask without being involved in the hasty vengeful tyrantical punishment of the unrighteous Abraham successfully removed from God’s focus.

                      Does God get what He wills? Does God get what He seeks to be? Specifically at Sodom and Gomorrah, you wrote He was “seeking to save all from death.” Did He accomplish saving all from death? If so explain, please, because I think you can readily imagine why I don’t understand it is the case and I think you, as always, imagine too much for God.

                      And GOD saw that the wickedness of woman was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of her heart was only evil continually. {Genesis 6: 5}

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 28, 2012 at 6:55 am

                      My comments were on chapter 18 of Genesis. In this text, what is portrayed is God consulting with Abraham concerning the sins of Sodom. In this text, God is portrayed as having not yet made a final decision concerning the future of Sodom (verse 21), of opting to investigate the situation in consultation with Abraham to determine if things were bad enough to warrant the judgment he was planning. In this text, Abraham is portrayed as challenging God not to lump the righteous in with the wicked and, beyond this, to save all because of the presence of the righteous. In this text, Abraham is portrayed as challenging God to act like the holy God that he is by rejecting the way of retribution and instead acting in his gracious freedom to save. In this text, God is portrayed as being moved by Abraham’s pleas to adopt a more compassionate posture toward Sodom, one that entails valuing the obedience of the righteous and saving all from death.

                      I was not commenting on chapter 19 of Genesis. I was taking chapter 18 for the profound theological reflection that it is instead of doing what you do, which is to gloss over it because it doesn’t fit either your God-as-vengeful-tyrant (pounce on the wicked, destroy a whole city without taking into account the presence of the righteous therein, demonstrate holiness by keeping score and punishing) or God-as-impersonal-Plan (knowing everything and deciding everything before time, indifferent to and incapable of being moved by people, demonstrating sovereignty by exercising power – force – from on high oblivious to the needs of the little people below) theology. Chapter 19 of Genesis is a different story – likely from a different source altogether and written earlier and reflecting a different theology, a retributive theology that was prevalent in the ancient world. Yes, it stands in contrast with the foregoing chapter, portraying God as punishing the disobedient. Even if the intent is to say that Abraham’s pleas were in the end too radical, that God went with his initial leaning, it can’t be denied based on the dialogue in chapter 18 that Abraham raised important issues with God and that God listened to Abraham and exhibited a change of heart as a result of Abraham’s petitioning. Chapter 18 of Genesis is in the Bible for a reason. As some scholars point out, astutely I think, the good news of all being saved because of the obedience of some points in the direction of Jesus.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 29, 2012 at 12:09 am

                      Mary has multiple authors with multiple views of Genesis 18 & 19 rather than a wholly homogenous Holy Bible. How ever can you have two opposing views of God from the same Word of God? Mary relishes the unreasonable.

                      For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? {John 5: 46 & 47}

                      [***This portion of Lanny’s comment is omitted by the comment moderator (Alice – admin), because it is a judgment about Mary’s character rather than a response to Mary’s argument.***]

                      Didn’t any one ever tell you born-again Biblical Christians know the first five books were Holy Spirit inspired and were written by Moses according to the evidence given by Christ Himself. Since chapter 19 is consistent with 18 and 2 Peter 2: 6 and Jude 7 plus numerous other texts even in the Old Testament, God NEVER shifted from focusing on punishing the unrighteous to valuing the obedience of the faithful and seeking to save all from death. Such a view as yours is totally inconsistent with the rest of the Holy Bible and proves Alice’s Amazing Hope a lie from the pit of hell.

                      Mary, your liberal and LOW view of Scripture is so very obvious in your separating 18 from 19; as is Alice’s liberal and LOW view of Scripture when she ADDS to Jesus’ prophetic diagnosis of Judas Iscariot’s perished state the certainty of Jesus’ undeclared rescue of him even as she does with the Lake of Fire although it has no escape whatever either. She proposes something that she doesn’t evwen know how it can work, but she’s sure beyond any reasonableness it will. That’s insane.

                      For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. {Revelation 22: 18, 19}

                      But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. {Galatians 1: 8, 9}

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 30, 2012 at 5:45 am

                      You accuse me of, and condemn me for, having a low view of the Bible because I don’t share your theory of how the Bible came to be. Yet you ignore or dismiss parts of scripture that pose a challenge to your doctrine. You dismiss the dialogue between God and Abraham in Genesis 18, mumbling that God is telling Abraham his plans to wipe out Sodom, even as you jump to chapter 19, to the “good stuff” that supposedly proves your doctrine of a god of endless retribution. Genesis 18 isn’t about God telling Abraham; it’s about Abraham telling God, challenging God. Why is this text in the Bible? Is it to tease us into thinking that God cares about what we think and what concerns us, that he listens to our prayers of intercession and is open to being moved by our pleas, when in actuality he’s a detached, unchanging-and-unchangeable tyrant who already has his mind made up about how he is going to act to show his retributive justice? I don’t think so. You don’t wrestle with the text at all. You simply dismiss it. And yet you claim to have a high view of the holy Bible. I don’t think so.

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 30, 2012 at 6:51 am

                      Thank you to the administrator for editting out the verbal violence. I think this is a legitimate and important form of policing the site to ensure that it remains a safe space for sharing ideas and engaging in dialogue. I only hope that I never have to have my posts so editted.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert May 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm

                      Mary: And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do” is the purpose of the text, not the solicitation of Abraham’s opinion or advice. {Genesis 18: 17}

                      Since I have some formal koine Greek training, but no Hebrew, the Septuagint translates emphatically ἐγὼ ποιῶ meaning I am doing, not what I might do.

                      It is typical of [***Note from comment moderator (Alice – admin): comments that ridicule or make judgments of the character of a person are deleted. Please don’t name-call. Respectfully make your point, and let your comments be about the subject, instead of personal opinions about the person.***] to think their prayers have a possibility of changing God’s mind. Just the opposite is true for God’s saints: prayer changes saints to conform to the mind of Christ. People change, God doesn’t. Fundamentalists know this well, because we believe the literal Bible. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. {Hebrews 13: 8} That’s Who was talking with Abraham.

                      So there it is, Mary: [***Note from comment moderator (Alice – admin): comments that ridicule or make judgments of the character of a person are deleted. Please don’t name-call. Respectfully make your point, and let your comments be about the subject, instead of personal opinions about the person.***] Satan has deceived you, Mary. [***Note from comment moderator (Alice – admin): comments that ridicule or make judgments of the character of a person are deleted. Please don’t name-call. Respectfully make your point, and let your comments be about the subject, instead of personal opinions about the person.***] Since 1890 the Mormons have been trying to convince the institutional main line Christian church that they too are Christians, [***Note from comment moderator (Alice – admin): comments that ridicule or make judgments of the character of a person are deleted. Please don’t name-call. Respectfully make your point, and let your comments be about the subject, instead of personal opinions about the person.***]; and just like you two, their claim must be exposed. All three of you have a low view of the Holy Bible in common though in somewhat different ways; and not a one of the three of you believe eternal torment or the Mormons wouldn’t be baptizing for the dead.

                    • Mary Vanderplas May 31, 2012 at 5:11 am

                      Read the whole text, not just one verse at the beginning. According to the text, the case is not closed; God’s mind has not been made up. (See verse 21 and following.) God consults with Abraham and listens to Abraham. He doesn’t say to Abraham, “Be quiet. I already know what I’m going to do.”

                      Only a dead person cannot change. God is a living Person who can and does change. His character as a just and loving God is what is unchangeable.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert June 2, 2012 at 4:29 am

                      Mary, Read the whole text, not just one verse at the beginning is what I’ve been trying to get YOU to do because the text continues into chapter 19 where God does according to that just one verse at the beginning.

                      If you think to support by verse 21, then your god is not omniscient and your god sits in heaven ignorant of the true and complete status of heaven and earth. Basically your god created the world and then absented himself from it leaving it to run on its own, which contradicts all you’ve said about your god’s involvement.

                      Because your god changes you have no anchor for your soul, dear Mary, just as you have no anchor for your doctrines in as uncertain a bible as you think it to be. [***Comment removed. Please let your comments be about the subject at hand, instead of making character judgments. ***]

                    • Mary Vanderplas June 3, 2012 at 7:36 am

                      The text doesn’t go from 18:17 to 19:1. There are verses in between, the meaning of which you still haven’t addressed. Why is this text in the Bible? What is the meaning and significance of the dialogue between Abraham and God here? Do you simply dismiss whatever you come across in the Bible that doesn’t fit into the puzzle you are constructing, that doesn’t give you a logically clear picture of God? Do you put these “pieces” in the discard pile? Isn’t that what you’re doing with this text, instead of asking what it means and why it’s in the Bible?

                      According to this text, God decides to consult with Abraham about the situation in Sodom. According to this text, the case remains open; God is not sure that the situation in Sodom warrants the judgment he is planning against them. According to this text, God is open to having his mind changed by Abraham. The picture of God that we get from this text is a living, personal God who cares about what concerns his own and who is moved by our needs and our pleas – by our bold intercessions – even to the point of changing what he has in mind to do. He is not a distant and unchanging God who simply follows or observes the unfolding of some predetermined, unchangeable Plan, indifferent to what is going on in our lives and in the world. Nor is he a vengeful God who is bent on keeping score and punishing those who violate him; rather, he is gracious, forsaking a retributive scheme and seeking a way for all to escape death. This text is a profound theological reflection that paints a picture of God in his gracious freedom. To skip over it, as you do, moving directly into chapter 19 is to miss something significant about who the God of Israel is and what he does. The picture in chapter 19 is a different picture, revealing a God who punishes sin and evil, a God who operates according to a retributive scheme of justice, which was commonly held in the ancient world. Probably the intent is to show that God cares enough about evil and its effects to do something about it. In any case, its presence doesn’t nullify the significance of the dialogue between Abraham and God in the preceding chapter.

                      To accuse me of denying the omniscience of God because I take Genesis 18 seriously is, in my view, to completely misunderstand the nature of the biblical revelation. The Bible isn’t a textbook on systematic theology containing information about the attributes of God. It is, rather, a witness to the self-revelation of the living God who spoke and acted in the history of Israel (and in the life of Jesus and the early church). To read texts in order to glean information about God’s attributes to fit into a logically coherent doctrinal system (and to dismiss texts that don’t fit the system) is to misread them.

                      The God I believe in is consistently and unchangeably just and loving with all people. That he is both just and loving toward me and all others and that he knows me through and through (omniscience) and cares about my needs and cries is, indeed, all that I need for stability and solace.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert June 3, 2012 at 11:47 am

                      Mary, if your god is not sure that the situation in Sodom warrants the judgment he is planning against them, then your god may be not be sure of anything else, including whether he will even save you.

                      My God knows what is warranted in Sodom and what is warranted in you. He will not save you in your current denial of His truth according to Hebrews 11: 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

                      You’d do well to recognize your total unbelief, repent, and start believing God said Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do. That thing which I DO, Mary.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert June 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm

                      Mary, do sexually abused children cry over that abuse? Does God hear their crying? Hold that thought.

                      Mary, do you believe Acts 15: 18? Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

                      Before God created the world, did He hear the childrens’ cries? Did He hear Sodom’s children crying? Did God know by fire and brimstone He’d destroy the whole population? Did He know that work of destruction before He created the world? Can you answer yes, God knew that before He created the earth?

                      Tell me something, Mary: was “the beginning of the world” before or after God talked to Abraham about what He’d do to Sodom?

                      Now, Mary, what part of the Holy Bible do you believe and what part of the Holy Bible don’t you believe? Do you believe Acts 15: 18? Do you believe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a myth throughout the whole Bible from Genesis 19 through the Revelation? A myth of moral proportions is the point and nothing else?

                      Does your view of the Holy Bible really qualify you to be labelled a believer of the Holy Bible? Does it qualify you to be lablled a Christian? Could you actually in fact be a religious pagan after all?

                      Are you ready to believe God knew without reservations that He’d not save a soul from death in Sodom and Gomorrah when He began His conversation with Abraham? What is your decision? What will you believe? Your own emotional notions or what the whole Bible testifies literally? [***Comment removed – Please don’t make character judgments about other commenters. Let your comments be about the subject at hand.***]

                    • Mary Vanderplas June 4, 2012 at 8:17 pm

                      If I were to say, “I’m not going to hide from my friend what I plan to do,” what I would mean is not “I’m going to announce my plan to my friend just so that she’ll know and won’t be surprised when it happens,” but rather “I’m going to tell my friend what I’m planning and see what she thinks. I’m going to talk it over with her.” That this is what God meant when he said that he would not hide his (preliminary) plan from Abraham seems obvious in light of the ensuing conversation between them. “That thing which I do” means “that thing which I am about to do.” It has not yet been done. God has not yet made a final decision, let alone done it already. The “if not” in verse 21 means that the case has not been closed. The final verdict has not yet been reached.

                      You still have not answered my questions as to the meaning and significance of the dialogue between Abraham and God. Why is this in the Bible? What does it mean? What I am hearing in your continued non-answering (and in your dismissal of verse 21) is that this text is meaningless fiction, that it has nothing at all to say to us about who God is and what he does. If this is true, if it is meaningless fiction, then its presence serves only to tease us, creating the illusion that our prayers make a difference to God, that our intercessions matter to him and have the potential to move him to respond. Needless to say, this is not what I think. Moreover, I have a hard time reconciling your claim to have a high view of the Bible with your dismissal of its inconvenient (for you) passages.

                    • Mary Vanderplas June 4, 2012 at 8:26 pm

                      The biblical writers were not interested in the kind of speculative questions you ask. Did God know before the creation of the world about the innocent suffering that would occur in Sodom? Did he know about the destruction that would come upon Sodom and Gomorrah? Perhaps he did. The writers of the story don’t concern themselves with such abstract wonderings, though. What they concern themselves with is presenting a picture of God exercising justice and love in relation to Abraham and to Sodom. The Acts 15 text is not an answer to the speculative question of whether God knew from the beginning of the world that destruction would befall Sodom and Gomorrah. Read in context, instead of being torn from its context and used as a proof-text to support a doctrine of the omniscience of God, the text is about God’s redemptive plan prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures agreeing with and confirming the church’s experience of including Gentile believers. The text says that God’s plan was known by him from of old or, alternatively, that God made his plan known from long ago (though the meaning wasn’t clear until after the Christ event).

                      I don’t have the time or inclination to play your “you-don’t-believe-the-Bible-do-you?” game. What I don’t do is read the Bible as a theological textbook that answers speculative questions about the essential nature of God. What I do is take it seriously as the witness to God’s self-revelation in human history that it is.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert June 6, 2012 at 3:57 am

                      Mary, you complain I don’t answer why God dialogs with Abraham? I answered it. It is copied and pasted from:

                      Lanny A. Eichert says: May 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm

                      Mary: And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do” is the purpose of the text, not the solicitation of Abraham’s opinion or advice. {Genesis 18: 17}

                      Since I have some formal koine Greek training, but no Hebrew, the Septuagint translates emphatically ἐγὼ ποιῶ meaning I am doing, not what I might do.

                      It is typical of [unbelievers] to think their prayers have a possibility of changing God’s mind. Just the opposite is true for God’s saints: prayer changes saints to conform to the mind of Christ. People change, God doesn’t. Fundamentalists know this well, because we believe the literal Bible. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. {Hebrews 13: 8} That’s Who was talking with Abraham.

                      The bottom line, Mary, is that the text is there for us to learn to simply accept what God says. {Septuagint translates emphatically ἐγὼ ποιῶ meaning I am doing, not what I might do.}

                      Stop trusting Mary’s own understanding and start believing God’s individual words as believers do.

                      Your {June 4, 2012 at 8:26 pm} Perhaps he did to my Did God know shows you, Mary, have a low view of God’s omniscience as if He weren’t. You couldn’t or wouldn’t say yes. You say God can do anything, so why can’t He before He created the world know about the destruction that He would bring upon Sodom and Gomorrah?

                      Acts 15: 18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Mary, it says ALL HIS WORKS, not just the inclusion of the Gentiles. Or do you mean we ought to limit the ALL to just the inclusion of the Gentiles? I’d love to hear you say ALL means only Gentiles IN CONTEXT. Please say it. Please say that ALL must always be understood by the context rather than some outside idea. Please say it.

                    • Mary Vanderplas June 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm

                      Your “interpretation” fails to take into account most of the text. What about verse 21 and the “if not,” meaning that there is a possibility that the situation in Sodom isn’t bad enough to warrant the judgment that God was planning? And what about the dialogue, in which Abraham challenges God to be true to his character as a just God as well as compassionate, sparing the wicked for the sake of the righteous – and God responds by giving verbal assent to his request?
                      None of this supports a “God-already-had-his-mind-made-up-and-was-just-letting-Abraham-in-on-his-intentions” interpretation. Not only does your interpretation fail to take into account most of the text, it distorts the meaning of verse 17. At this point, Sodom had not yet been destroyed. God was talking over with Abraham what he was about to do, not what he was already doing or had done.

                      Regarding your comment that “the text is there for us to learn to simply accept what God says,” you might want to tell Abraham (and God) that. Abraham did anything but “simply accept what God says.” Indeed, he got in God’s face and boldly challenged the Almighty to act like the God he is. And God listened and gave his assent!

                      Which “individual words” should I “start believing”? What about “if not” in verse 21? Should I take these words seriously – or simply dismiss them, as you do?

                      My point was not that I don’t believe that God is omniscient. It was that the biblical authors are not interested in answering speculative questions about the attributes of God. While I wouldn’t dispute that God has known from the beginning everything that would happen in history, this is not something the biblical writers focus on. In the case of the texts which speak of God’s dealings with Sodom, the focus is on God consulting with Abraham concerning the divine judgment and justice, not on whether God knew all along what he was going to do about the Sodomites. To dismiss the biblical text because it doesn’t seem to fit the idea of God “knowing everything from the beginning” is to violate the biblical witness: it is to seek to define God abstractly apart from his self-revelation in history.

                      The reading of the Acts 15 text that you cite isn’t the only or necessarily even the best reading. A variant reading is: “Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago,” meaning that God has been making his redemptive plan known from long ago, particularly from the beginning of Israel’s history. Other manuscripts read: “things…Known to the Lord for ages is his work.” In any case, this text is not an answer to the speculative question about whether God has known from the beginning everything that will happen, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In context, it is an answer to the question of whether what was taking place in the church in its welcoming of Gentile believers was something new or something that God had always known he would do. Even if the reading that says “all his works” is favored, that the text is not intended to teach the doctrine that “God knew everything before it happened” is clear.

                    • Mary Vanderplas June 6, 2012 at 9:31 pm

                      “None of this supports…” should be part of the first paragraph above. It got messed up somehow.

                    • Lanny A. Eichert June 8, 2012 at 4:03 am

                      Mary asks, What about verse 21 and the “if not,” meaning that there is a possibility that the situation in Sodom isn’t bad enough to warrant the judgment that God was planning?

                      For truly my words shall not be false: he that is perfect in knowledge is with thee. {Job 36: 4}

                      Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge? {Job 37: 16}

                      Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. {Psalm 147: 5}

                      Can God, Who is perfect in knowledge and Whose understanding is infinite, devise an unwarranted judgment? Can such a God not know the extent of the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah?

                      Even to allow your unknown supposed author to present a god that doesn’t fully understand the situation of Sodom and Gomorrah is to humanize both God and His Scriptures. Even if the supposed author was deliberately deemphasizing omniscience and foreknowledge, he’d still not present an ignorant god. He’d present a knowlegable God doing the right thing. No matter how you slice it, Mary, your view of these two chapters degrades both God and His Scriptures: you make a low view of God and a low view of the Holy Scriptures.

                      Mary, Abraham stopped at ten and God knew that would be the case because He understood Abraham before they began their conversation. God lost nothing by the conversation but the time it took. God gained nothing by the conversation. Who gained anything? Abraham did.

                    • Mary Vanderplas June 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm

                      Evidently the biblical author wasn’t interested in the questions you ask about God’s all-knowing and foreknowing. Judging from what the text says, he was interested in portraying a God who enlisted Abraham’s help in making a final decision about Sodom and who allowed Abraham to challenge him to do the right thing.

                      To take the biblical text seriously for what it says is not to “humanize” God. The fact is that the only way we can know God at all is indirectly, as God reveals himself to us in human, earthly forms. To discover God’s self-revelation in the biblical writings is not to reduce God to or confuse him with the writings. Indeed, God is God, wholly different from us and far beyond what we can think or imagine.

  • Mary Vanderplas May 13, 2012 at 8:09 am

    I think you’re right to point out, in critique of Chan’s statement, that there wasn’t just one “Jewish view of the afterlife” in Jesus’ day and that in fact that there were some people, namely the Sadducees, who rejected altogether any notion of an afterlife and hence any notion of hell. While I think that it is doubtful that this view was widely held, given the emphasis on the afterlife in Jewish apocalyptic thought, that it was present cannot be denied. Nor can it be denied that among those who subscribed to belief in an afterlife, ideas of what this would entail (immortality or physical resurrection; resurrection of Israel only or of “the saints” or resurrection of the righteous and the wicked) were diverse. In any event, I agree that for Chan not to mention, except in a footnote, the Sadducees’ view and not to assert generally that there was more than one view of the afterlife in first-century Judaism (in Palestine and in the Diaspora) is to present a false picture.

    I agree, too, with what you say about the contradiction of asserting both that hell entails annihilation and that it entails eternal torment. And I think you’re right to challenge the validity of Chan’s statement on the grounds that the premise is faulty – specifically, that it doesn’t state precisely a view of hell that Jesus would have had to argue against (as Chan’s argument goes) if he didn’t agree with it. I question, though, whether there were in fact widely different views of hell – and whether, specifically, there was a “garbage dump” view. Even though there were different views of the afterlife, with some people rejecting the idea altogether, it seems to be well attested that by the first century “Gehenna,” the garbage dump located south of Jerusalem, was commonly understood metaphorically as a picture of the eschatological judgment of God, a picture of eternal damnation.

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