2 Thessalonians and Hell: Separation From or Wrath Coming Forth From God?

Is Hell eternal seperation from God or the experience of wrath pouring forth from God for an eternity? Those who argue for the former often appeal to 2 Thessalonians 1:9. In a paper I recently posted on academia.edu, I argue that the best reading of the Greek preposition apo (“away from”) in this verse is “[coming forth] from,” that is, it indicates the point from which something moves away from.  Having argued this, I then expound briefly why the doctrine of Hell as the Thessalonians and the rest of the Bible expounds it matters.

You can download or read it here.

The Epistemological Necessity of Tri-unity

 

I have been thinking a lot about the Trinity recently, one of the fruits of this labour is a new paper I just posted on Academia.edu. In this paper, I argue that self-knowledge requires three points of reference–the self who is knowing (subject), something to see onself in (an external object), and a standard of reference (norm). Applying this to theology/apologetics, I argue that only the Triune God of Scripture could be God, for only the God of Scripture is capable of knowing Himself–of having any knowledge independent of creation.

You can download or read it here

An Outline of David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Originally published posthumouly in 1779, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Theology sounded the death knell for natural theology. Natural theology was the attempt to discern the character and existence of God from creation alone, apart from revelation. Addressing arguments from the appearance of design in the world (a posteriori), what is now called the cosmological arguement (a priori), and the moral argument, Hume describes in an engaging manner the interactions of an ‘orthodox’ Christian, Demea (who is really a Christian mystic); a deist, Cleanthes; and a empircal skeptic, Philo. Though the dialogues seem to favour Cleanthes as Hume’s representative, Philo throughout best represents Hume’s thought and is consistently given the upper hand in the dialogues: it is in Philo, then, that we should seek Hume’s voice. Speaking through Philo, Hume concludes that everyone must concede that the first cause of the universe bears some remote resemblance to man, yet that this not so very different from atheism and such a concession, apart from revelation, cannot be further explained and can have no effect on the way a person lives his life–it is a practically meaningless concession. In light of his rejection elsewhere of the possibility of revelation, we see here in Philo the intent of Hume’s book: thinly disguised by the concluding paragraph, Philo intends the reader to conclude with him that God is not clear in creation and that any first cause we attribute to the universe is nothing like the Christian God–it would be unknowable, probably evil, and unable affect the lives of anyone.

Apart from revelation, then, Hume’s book is a devestating critique of religion–a critique that is strikingly relevant today, parroted often by the New Atheists. Yet we don’t live in world without revelation: God has made Himself abundantly clear in  creation, so much so that all are held accountable, and has revealed Himself from the beginning of His creation verbally to His creatures. Humes argument is a devestating critque of religion that would start with man as the ultimate reference point for meaning, that would make man’s autonomous reason the measure of God’s existence and attributes. In so doing, Hume’s book is a valuable read for the biblically saturated Christian today. He shows that to begin with man’s autonomous reason is to end up without God, but God has never left it up to our autonomous reason: in making us in His image, we have been born with the interpretive tools necessary to accurately discern His invisible attributes in His creation (Rom. 1:18ff): it is only in our unrighteousness that we suppress this knowledge and attempt to work on the foundation of our finite reason alone. More than this, God has also revealed Himself clearly in His Scriptures: the Bible testifies to the fullness of His character as man in this life can know Him and His work. When one begins with Scripture, Hume’s arguments appear hollow.

To aid the interested reader in better understanding Hume’s argument, I have provided below an outline of Hume’s Dialogues summarizing each part of the book and with it a shorter outline .

a) An Outline and Summary of David Hume’s Dialogues

b) An Outline of Hume’s Dialogues

 

The Irrationalism of Rational Thought

Can someone who rejects God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture be consistently rational? Cornelius Van Til, a 20th century Christian apologist and theologian, frequently demonstrated the inherent irrationalism of all non-Biblical worldviews. One of his students, John Frame, has applied this insight to many of the major philosophical thinkers and movements of western civilization, showing how at the heart of their attempts to be rational lies irrationalism (A History of Western Philosophy and Theology). If Christianity is right in claiming that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, this makes sense: if this world is created, administrated, and interpreted by an all-knowing and ever-present Creator, every truth and correct interpretation of the world will have reference to Him. Without Yahweh as a reference point, consistency would be impossible, thus the irrationalism at the heart of all our attempts to be rational. Here I want to outline how this insight applies to the two forms of reasoning we all regularly use, inductive reasoning (concluding truths or hypothesis from observed data) and deductive reasoning (the use of deductive logic, e.g., all men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal).

 

Inductive reasoning can give no certainty within an open or unknown system: only exhaustive knowledge allows the possibility of true knowledge. In its pure form, it is inherently contradictory in this sense. To assert knowledge of anything, an inductivist must assume that he knows everything—that all the data is available to him. For example, any theory works from the known data and theorizes, giving predications, but can be contradicted by any fact. If I theorize the impossibility of a resurrection, the occurrence of a resurrection demands reconsideration of all the facts that led to that conclusion. If the universe is to a great extent unexplored, then there is a wealth of unknown data that could contradict any inductively based belief—it only takes one case of an effect not following a cause to cast doubt on all causality (tradition teaches that John the Revelator survived being placed in boiling oil: the effect should have been death, what other effects should we then doubt?). An inductivist (e.g., empiricist) desiring to live rationally must first, then, irrationally disregard all possibly contradictory data, such as miracles (which is to argue in a circle).  Furthermore, to provide any knowledge, inductive reasoning must be built on a foundation, with deductive reasoning, of certainty. Only certain knowledge, a solid foundation, grounds the possibility of inductive reasoning or deductive logic. Inductive reasoning relies upon the certainty of extra mental existence, causality, individual existence, trustworthy senses, and the correspondence between mental impression and extra-mental being.  All inductive reasoning relies on the certainty of these truths, yet cannot establish them.

Deductive reasoning requires the truth of at least initial premises (via either innate knowledge or inductive verification) and the validity of logic—which presumes a whole worldview necessary to support it (mind, rationality, consistency). The certainty of the initial premises, as with inductive reasoning, presumes upon exhaustive knowledge—that there is nothing that could possibly disprove or provide an exemption to the premise. Is unbiblical reasoning, therefore, really rational? To gain knowledge through reason, the unbiblical worldview first assumes without a reason a rational universe, causality, the existence of others, the existence of self, and the correspondence between thought and reality, and then it postulates a naturalistic open system—no one has exhaustive knowledge, there is no transcendent being—and thus destroys the very possibility of useable knowledge.

 

Consider two examples, David Hume and Descartes. The most consistent of empiricists, David Hume has had a profound influence lasting far beyond his death. Yet, even Hume could not provide a rationally satisfactory system of thought. To make his radical empiricism work, Hume had to postulate so-called ‘natural beliefs.’ Natural beliefs are those beliefs that man cannot deny and therefore he is not obligated to deny even if he is lacking any proof. These then become the foundational beliefs by which his empiricism functions. To qualify as such, a belief must be undeniable: examples are the existence of self and others and the reliability of perceptions. He defends these as ‘natural beliefs’ because they cannot be demonstrated in any way. So, those beliefs most foundational to Hume’s epistemology—to human experience—are rationally unfounded, without any support.[1] The center, then, of Hume’s attempt at rational thought, his empiricism, is pure irrationalism—beliefs that must be assumed without any evidence. Even his criterion for natural beliefs is arbitrary: how does one know, on an empiricist system, that such beliefs are universal, undeniable? what sense impression supports this universal negative? what experience does Hume have of universal belief? Furthermore, what sense impression leads to the postulation of this criterion?

Descartes, on the other hand, attempts to establish all truth through deductive reasoning. Yet, he runs into very similar problems. His primary axiom, that belief from which he deduces all else is “I think therefore I am.” Here he finds certainty in the immediate, undeniable, impression of self-existence. He then attempts to prove from this starting point of self-existence the existence of God and, from there, everything else. Yet to move beyond the self, Descartes had to introduce irrationalism into his system. His reasoning for God rests upon deductive logic, presuming on the existence and validity of reason, and knowledge of all the terms within his syllogism (what does ‘god’ mean? where does he learn this meaning? what do ‘is,’ ‘exists,’ and ‘self’ mean?). These are unprovable assumptions: Descartes had to assume they were valid before he could engage in any reasoning, before he could come to any conclusion beyond his own self-existence. The irrationalism at the heart of his attempt is even clearer when one examines just what his famous cogito—“I think therefore I am”—achieves. “I” and “am” here have no definite value, and can have no definite value on Descartes epistemology. He claims to have established as a certain principle the existence of self, yet he is unable to explain what self is. There is the undeniable impression of thought, of self-awareness, but whether this is the self-awareness of a bee, a computer program, a robot, a human being, or a black hole is unknowable. The self he has proved is, without the knowledge of anything else, a hopeless postulate: what good does it do to know that ‘the self’ exists, with no knowledge of what that means or the ability to prove anything beyond “I am.” Rationalism, with Descartes, yields only hopeless irrationalism—the knowledge of bare self or the irrational assumption of reason and exhaustive knowledge necessary to deductively prove with certainty any other truth.[2]


[1] Knowledge must be able to be traced back to sense impression: none of these ideas can be traced back to such impressions, so they cannot be knowledge.

[2] Thanks to James Hooks for a helpful discussion and clarification on Decartes argument.

A Creamy Garlic White Wine Sauce and 1 Tim. 5:23

Sometimes, as I read the Scriptures, I get inspired in various ways. This post is for those of you like me: one of the ways I get inspired is to cook, I think of food. So here is a meditation on Scripture with a recipe that it may inspire you to create. In 1 Timothy 5 Paul writes this to Timothy,

23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

Reading through this chapter, you may be caught off guard by Paul’s seemingly disconnected instruction to young Timothy. Though I am inspired to drink or cook with wine, I suspect that this may not be what Paul intended this verse to accomplish. This verse at first seems completely out of place, yet a closer look at the context sheds some light on why Paul says this.
 

Paul is in the midst of exhorting Timothy on how to conduct himself as a leader in the church and how to lead his flock. In verse 22, Paul turns to personal instruction: Timothy, be pure, keep yourself from sin. Making this practical, Paul inserts some personal health instruction. He is saying something like this, “Focus on pursuing godly conduct and leadership—and take care of yourself in the process!” Ethically, that Paul instructs a Church leader to drink wine suggests that there is no absolute Scriptural prohibition against drinking alcohol—though there are relevant prohibitions governing particular circumstances (e.g., Romans 14) and drunkenness (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:8, Gal. 5:19-21). Furthermore, though he makes it clear elsewhere that godliness is the priority (1 Tim. 4:8), Paul makes the point here that one can only lead others and serve Jesus when he or she is alive to do so—so health has some measure of importance. The fact that Paul sandwiches this instruction between the greater contrast between good works and sin suggests, probably, that Timothy was only drinking water (abstaining from wine) to avoid connection with the sinful practices of others. Paul is, then, reinforcing Timothy’s purpose but encouraging a different practice.

What can we take from this, other than a recipe? Paul cared about practical issues, he cared about people, their health, and though we should focus on godliness—dying to self and following Jesus—we need to be alive to do so, so we shouldn’t neglect those means of healing made available to us as we seek first Christ’s kingdom.

 

With that in mind, here is a great (at least my wife thought so) wine inspired recipe, a sauce for any pasta—ideally paired with seafood but great with any herby Chicken or pork.

 
  Creamy Garlic White Wine Sauce  (serves two people)

1/4 a cup white wine (I used a Chardonnay)

1/2 chicken broth

1/4 tsp salt (I added a bit more at the end, depending on the salt content of the chicken broth)

1/3 – 1/2 cup diced onion

5 or 6 cloves of garlic (depending on how garlicy you like it)

Fennel seed (I used about half a tsp)

Diced Mushroom

1/2 cup Almond milk

2 Tbsp. butter

Ground pepper to taste

(For thickening, I used about two tbslp brown rice flour)

 

Heat up ½ tbsp. olive oil in a 7-9inch (medium sized) pan. Add 1 tbsp of butter to the hot oil, sauté onions for 1 minute with fennel seed. Add garlic and mushroom, sauté for another minute with 1/4 tsp of salt. Add tbsp. of butter, then chicken broth and wine. Bring to a boil at medium heat, boil for 5 minutes. Add almond milk and pepper and bring to a boil at medium, boil for 1 minute. Thicken by boiling and adding flour to liking, add more salt as necessary. Serve hot.

Unless You Believed in Vain

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul addresses false teaching in the Corinthian church and challenges the church on their doubt concerning the resurrection: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (15:17). Yet, those who proffer this passage to substantiate the necessity of history for faith fail to see that this same passage—and a plethora of others—demand the same conclusion concerning Scripture. That is, I believe Paul would contend that if Scripture is not God’s Word—and thus trustworthy, inerrant, and authoritative—our faith is in vain. That is a bold claim, but it seems to me to be necessary.

Why doesn’t Paul say this? For Paul, and for the New Testament Church (and the Jews in fact), the doctrine of Scripture was never at stake—the binding authority of God’s revelation was not in doubt: what was in doubt, at various times, was the interpretation of the Old Testament (Paul’s debates with the Jews) or the authenticity of Paul’s preaching as God’s revelation (is Paul a genuine apostle?). In this passage, Paul combats the rejection of a future resurrection with three arguments, all appeals to the message he has preached. First, he begins by asking how they can doubt the future resurrection if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead—he points out the contradiction between this belief they are toying with and the preaching they received. He then brings out further the problem here in two ways: the ministry of Paul and the faith of the people are both at stake if this is true. The risen Christ is the essence of Paul’s preaching: if there is no resurrection, Jesus has not been raised and his preaching is futile (14). This of course brings out a bigger problem: if Christ has not been raised, then their faith futile, they are still in their sins—the message offering salvation is bogus.

 

What does this have to do with Scripture? The New Testament Scriptures are the content of the teaching and preaching of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles. It is, for us, the equivalent of the preaching that the Corinthians’ doubt calls into question. We could then deduce that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, the teaching of Scripture is futile: this is attested in our context. All Scripture concerns Jesus and the Gospel, and he was raised “in accordance with the Scriptures” (4): if He was not raised, than the Old Testament was wrong, the message of Scripture is wrong. What is the point of a book that testifies to reconciliation to and enjoyment of God through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God who was never actually raised? So if Christ was not raised from the dead, we can say that Scripture is futile—it fails to testify to the truth and cannot achieve its goals. But I would contend, and believe Paul would as well, that this goes the other way around as well.

What would happen if Scripture could be broken (contra John 10:35)? What would that say about our faith and the resurrection of Jesus Christ? What if Scripture was not authoritative, trustworthy, or inerrant? (If this is in doubt, read the appendix The Co-inherence of Authority, Trustworthiness, and Inerrancy.) Authority, Trustworthiness, and Inerrancy are all interrelated—what is authoritative must be trustworthy and inerrant, what is inerrant is implicitly authoritative on whatever it speaks; if it is trustworthy it has authority and is free from error. What does this have to do with 1 Corinthians 15? I contend that if Scripture is not authoritative, trustworthy, and inerrant, your faith is futile. How do we get here from what Paul is saying? His whole point rests not on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that Jesus was raised from the dead and that this has the utmost significance. Stay with me here; it matters that Christ was raised, not Lazarus. Paul cannot make this same point by arguing “if Lazarus was not raised from the dead….” This is obvious, but this means that the significance of Christ’s death was not merely the historical fact that a man was raised from the dead, not even that a man named Jesus was raised from the dead. The significance of the resurrection was that the Christ was crucified for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead in accordance with Scripture (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The Corinthian’s belief that there is no future resurrection was so dangerous because it threatened to utterly destroy the Gospel (3-11) and the hope that believers have because of that Gospel (20-49). Their rejection of the final resurrection called into question the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, which, if it did not happen, would undermine the entire Christian faith. The falsity of this fact would destroy the Christian faith because of the meaning it carries, meaning given to it only by Scripture.

If we were told that Jesus was raised from the dead, yet were not told that He was the eternal son of God incarnate, what good would this do for us: if the resurrection of Lazarus is not the point on which our faith stands our falls, why would the resurrection of this unexplained Jesus be any different? If we were not told that He was crucified for our sins and that His resurrection was for our justification—that He died and was raised for our sins—His resurrection would not mean much, would it? The resurrection is so important because “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). The resurrection is so important because if Christ was not raised, there would be no final resurrection—of which His resurrection was the first fruit—and all the trials Christians go through in this life would be meaningless (1 Cor. 15:19-23). If we did not know from the Old Testament who God was, and what He demanded from His creation, there would be no reason for the salvation Christ’s resurrection ensured. We could go on and on and on: every point of the Christian faith feeds into our understanding of the resurrection, our interpretation of it. If we did not have this teaching, this pattern of doctrine, as taught in Scripture, then the resurrection would be meaningless!

 

Historical facts need an interpretation to be meaningful, for their significance to be known: Christ’s resurrection was first interpreted by Him to His apostles, and then—by the Holy Spirit—the apostles interpreted it for God’s people. This all important interpretation of the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is only found in Scripture.[1] What, then, is the point of this? If Christ was not raised from the dead, after having died for our sins, and so ensured for us a right verdict before God, ushered in the new creation, and defeated death itself, then our faith would be in vain. But how, in the first place, do we know Christ was raised from the dead? In the end, the truth of the resurrection relies on Scripture: Scripture gives us God’s testimony to it, along with the written testimony of the eyewitnesses and their attestation to other witnesses (e.g., 1 Cor. 15).  All our historical arguments, those seeking to validate these claims on modern criteria, rely on this data. If Scripture were not a trustworthy witness, then we would have no reason to suspect that Jesus was historically raised from the dead (the historical arguments rely on demonstrating, on modern criteria, the trustworthiness of the witnesses recorded by Scripture).

Most importantly, the all-important interpretation of the resurrection relies on Scripture being a trustworthy interpreter. We are given God’s interpretation of a historical fact: if God’s word elsewhere admits error, how can we have the utmost certainty required to found our hope here? One may argue, of course, that though Scripture is true here, it is not necessarily true everywhere—what is true of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole. Yet, if all of Scripture is God’s word, and various parts are in error, this at least admits that the whole is not inerrant—with no guarantee as to which parts are not. On these grounds, our historical arguments cannot just substantiate further what is already attested to with unfailing authority, but have the sole responsibility of proving the resurrection as a fact—the burden of proof falls fully on these arguments. This follows for all of Scripture: if one part can be in error, than it is no longer a self-authenticating authority, all its parts are subject to testing against known authorities. This makes human reason the ultimate subjective measure of truth—what is true is what I can determine with my mind to be true. On these grounds, the more Scripture is “shown” to be in error, the less weight its own testimony would carry. If the word of the Creator requires at every point the authentication of the creature, one would begin to question whether what they had was actually the word of the Creator: “12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things” (John 3:12)? When it comes to something, like the interpretation of the resurrection—where direct external verification is impossible—what foundation do we have for certainty? The only way to trust that this interpretation is correct is to argue that the whole of Scripture is trustworthy, authoritative, and inerrant, therefore each part is so. If the parts may err, then we have no possibility of certainty here, where it matters most. If we doubt Jesus on the earthly, testable facts, how can we not help but doubt Him on the heavenly, unverifiable facts? What becomes of God’s authority if it is subject to the authority of His creation? Where else will we turn to authenticate our interpretation of the resurrection? There is nowhere else to turn. If we cannot trust Him about earthly things, how can we be sure He speaks with truth about heavenly things?

 

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sin. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18). Everything rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of what it means—what He has accomplished through it. If Scripture is not authoritative, trustworthy, and inerrant, then there is no hope to know for sure the meaning of the resurrection, even if we can convince ourselves that it happened. Therefore, I would argue, “If Scripture is not the Inspired Word of God, with the authority and trustworthiness implied therein, our faith is futile.” If I cannot trust Scripture on its own God-derived authority, if it must answer to the authority of autonomous human reason as it wrestles with experience and raw data, if it requires external verification, how sure is my foundation? Every new discovery may, then, call into question my foundational beliefs, the source of my hope, the assurance of resurrection life. Can I really know without a doubt, on such a foundation, that I will stand before God in the Day of Judgment justified by my faith in Jesus Christ?


[1] What about tradition? Tradition is built on the foundation of Scripture—confessedly turns to it for authority and derives its teachings (however imperfectly) therefrom. If the foundation is removed, then this interpretation follows its source.