In chapter four of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, Chan writes,
Paul described the fate of the wicked with words such as “perish, destroy, wrath, punish,” and others more than eighty times in his thirteen letters. To put this in perspective, Paul made reference to the fate of the wicked more times in his letters than he mentioned God’s forgiveness, mercy, or heaven combined. So even though Paul never used the actual word hell, nor did he describe the place with detail, he assuredly believed that the wicked will face a horrific fate if they remain in their sin.
One would have to be creative and work hard to erase all notions of wrath and punishment from the letters of Paul.
It’s funny that Chan would throw that last sentence in there, “One would have to be creative and work hard to erase all notions of wrath and punishment from the letters of Paul,” because two thousand years ago, Peter wrote something very similar:
Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand. Irresponsible people who don’t know what they are talking about twist them every which way. They do it to the rest of the Scriptures, too, destroying themselves as they do it.” (2 Peter 3:16)
Even as the writings were still being written, Paul’s words were being misrepresented by people who didn’t understand them. Imagine the results of two thousand more years worth of bad theology! That’s why, if we are interested in figuring out what Paul really had to say, we need to look up questionable passages in Greek, remembering that even our own concordances could be biased. We need to study the etymology of the words, find out how they were used at the time they were written as opposed to how the same words were used differently in future centuries. But, MOST IMPORTANT, listen to the Spirit of God Who raises a red flag when something doesn’t jive with Who God is and what God does, as was demonstrated to us in the image of God, Jesus Christ. (And if all of this is too confusing, just believe and act and promote the same ideas as Jesus – love God, love others, and trust God to sort out any confusion in His own time and His own way.) God knows exactly what He’s doing.
Now, back to what Chan writes, “Paul made reference to the fate of the wicked more times in his letters than he mentioned God’s forgiveness, mercy, or heaven combined.”
First I would like to note Chan’s misguided approach to deciding what Paul really believes. He begins by admitting that Paul never uses the word hell. But then he redirects the reader’s attention… Oh, just never mind that silly little detail (that is sure to raise doubt about eternal torment theology), because Paul says all this other stuff. Pay attention to that instead.
Chan relies on author and translator Douglas Moo to search Paul’s writing and count what he considers to be all of the fate-of-the-wicked words. Then, Chan randomly chooses just three pleasant-sounding words. He uses a computer program to count them. He sees that the scary-sounding words outnumber the pleasant-sounding words and concludes:
So even though Paul never used the actual word hell, nor did he describe the place with any detail, he assuredly believed that the wicked will face a horrific fate if they remain in their sin.
Am I the only one who sees a significant bias in Chan’s approach? I hope not. Perhaps Chan actually read each reference and struggled in urgent prayer over them before he decided to include them in his book. If so, there’s a huge problem that demands a lot of grace and a miracle of imagination to think of as anything other than outright deception or a very careless act of ignorance. Let me explain.
Once again, how beneficial it is to turn to the notes section at the back of the chapter, where the important information is segregated from the main text. Specifically, here is an explanation of Chan’s approach, and I am typing it just as it appears in the notes:
1. Here’s the references for the individual words: “death” or “die” (Greek: apothnesko, thanatos; Rom. 1:32; 5:12, 14, 15, 17, 21; 6:16, 21, 23; 7:5, 9, 10, 11, 13; 8:2, 6, 13, 1 Cor. 15:21, 22; 2 Cor. 2:16; 3:6, 7; 7:10; Eph. 2:1); “perish,” “destroy,” “destruction” (Greek: apollymi, apoleia, olethros, phthora; Rom. 2:12; 9:22; 14:15, 20; 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; Gal. 6:8; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 1 Thes. 5:3; 2 Thes. 1:9; 2:10; 1 Tim. 6:9); “wrath” (Greek: orge, thymos; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 5:9; 9:22; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thes. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9; 9:22; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thes. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9); “condemn,” “condemnation,” or “judge” (Greek: several words with the root krin-; Rom. 2:1, 2, 3, 5, 12; 3:7, 8; 5:16, 18; 8:1; 1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 3:9; 2 Thes. 2:12; 1 Tim. 5:24); “curse,” or “cursed” (Greek: anathema, katara; Rom. 9:3; Gal. 1:8, 9; 3:10, 13; 1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22); “punish” (Greek: ekdikos, ekdikesis, dike; 1 Thes. 4:6; 2 Thes. 1:8, 9). For all these references, see Douglas Moo, “Paul on Hell,” in Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 92-93.
2. Paul uses Greek words (verbs and nouns) for “mercy” twenty-seven times, “forgiveness” seven times, and the noun “heaven” twenty-one times. This word search was performed through the recent (and quite excellent) Bible search program Scroll Tag (ScrollTag.com).
It seems like a suspiciously lopsided representation of Paul’s writings to me. Shouldn’t Chan have at least picked an equal number of words instead of the twelve/three ratio he decided to use?
Notice how Chan makes sure readers see twelve, count them, twelve English words, thirteen Greek words (not counting the “several words with the root krin-“), and more than eighty scripture references for what he considers to be the fate-of-the-wicked. He even throws a few like-minded experts in there to pack a punch. But if you want to know more about the three measly English words (no Greek words or scripture references provided), Chan mentions a “quite excellent” $125.00 Bible software package designed by Joshua Grauman, one of the faculty members at Eternity Bible College, a college founded by Chan, where Preston Sprinkle, co-writer of Erasing Hell is also employed.
Remember earlier, how I quoted Peter writing that “irresponsible people who don’t know what they are talking about twist” Paul’s words? Well, Paul wrote about those people as well. Here’s what Paul said:
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. There’s nothing wrong with believers recommending each other in business or partnering in other activities that involve investments of time, money, and talent. And only God knows the heart of a person.
When your source of income or your respected position comes from sheep who are looking for some fresh green grass, and you are feeding them something that “sickens” you and makes you feel “conflicted” (Chan’s description of how the doctrine of eternal torment makes him feel), then my advice is to look in the mirror, read what Paul wrote, and remember that God can easily tell the difference between someone who honestly believes eternal torment is real and someone who must believe it in order to avoid being spiritually deconstructed by God.
As much as I would like to give the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but wonder about everything Chan and so many others stand to lose should this hell-isn’t-eternal thing actually begin to make more and more sense to the churchians. One thing is certain, most people I know who have discarded the eternal hell doctrine have very little respect for the so-called “authority” in church that kept them in the dark for so long. There’s such a complex network of money-jobs-business mixed with church-ministry-training among believers that is in danger of collapse should too many sheep realize they have only One Shepherd Who loves all His sheep, even the ones that are from another flock. And then they leave for greener pastures outside the old farm. For anyone who has been closely associated with a ministry or ministries that have bi-laws or statements of faith that include the doctrine of eternal torment, he or she would have to risk losing everything (or more than likely, actually lose everything – status in the hierarchy, approval of peers, paycheck, etc.) to gain the abundant life Jesus promised.
“He who found his life shall lose it, and he who lost his life for my sake shall find it.” – Jesus (lose/lost = apollymi, one of Chan’s fate-of-the-wicked words)
I suppose I need to wrap things up, but before I do, I would like to share how the notes section gets even worse. If this doesn’t cause you to scrutinize Chan’s book more closely, I don’t know what will. These are excerpts from Chan’s reference source, Douglas Moo’s article where Chan found his eighty-something scripture references, which SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED in chapter four, but weren’t, and if they weren’t included in the chapter itself, they should have been included in the notes section, but weren’t:
Well, I don’t know about you, but it really bothers me that “many” of the scripture references on Chan’s (and Moo’s) list do not clearly refer to the fate of human beings after death… do not clearly refer to wrath… or do not clearly refer to a curse. I would like to have been informed that the language of perishing Paul uses on this list of eighty something “sometimes describes… a present condition.” Why are they on a list in Chan’s fourth chapter entitled “What Jesus’ Followers Said About Hell”?
Chan cited twenty-four “death” references. I wonder how many of them refer to physical death.
It seems like this one isn’t as big a deal as the others, but if you think about it, it is. Why? Because to have a “negative judgment” about someone is outrageously different than the “hell” concept of judgment Chan paints in this book.
I picked the first words on Chan’s list and looked up the references. Among them are these:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For since death came through a man,the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant —not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
If you know someone who has, is, or will be reading Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, please make sure they know what he’s done and failed to do with the beginning of chapter four. Chan begins to explain a few of the passages as the chapter continues, but that’s another blog for anther day. He concludes this first part as follows:
I have always been convicted by Paul’s efforts to reach unbelievers. I even felt guilty when reading of the suffering he endured in sharing the gospel. When I read what he writes about the punishment of the wicked, it helps me understand how he stayed so motivated.
I think Chan needs to reread Romans 5 to see what REALLY motived Paul.
Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Bad Analogies