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