RE: [Allison-Seminar] Spiritual and Physical
- Dear Bob
Thanks for your questions; I'll do my best to introduce some answers.
First, you say you like the Griesbach hypothesis and assert that Mark could have used Matthew and Luke. In the abstract, I agree. Much of Mark could be so explained. But here is my experience. First, I read B. H. Streeter's The Four Gospels as an undergraduate and found it convincing. While the book has, esp. since Farmer, received its share of criticism, the arguments for Markan priority are not all fallacious; some of them yet have force. I suggest that anyone who is interested in the synoptic problem and hasn't read Streeter should get the book and read it. Secondly, despite being persuaded by Streeter and working my way through graduate school with teachers who accepted Markan priority, I've always been open-minded about the synoptic problem. So I decided, when I began work on Matthew many years ago, to look at each passage carefully and how it might relate to that problem. Well, my work on Matthew brought a number of surprises; e.g., I found Thomas at points to be independent of Matthew and the other synoptics, which surprised me; and I found two or three places that made me wonder whether C. H. Dodd, who had seemed to me persuasive, had been right about John's lack of knowledge of the synoptics. But I was disappointed re the synoptic problem. I didn't come away from my work saying--Ah, now I see what Farmer is getting at. Time and time again, I rather found that positing Mark and Q worked better than any alternative explanation. And that's where I've been ever since. It wouldn't suprise me to learn in the world to come that some other solution to the synoptic problem is the right one, but I don't know what that solution might be. With all its flaws, the classical solution is still I think the best solution; and Christopher Tuckett and Franz Neirynck remain capable defenders of it. If you don't know their work, Bob, I also direct you to them.
Btw, although this may surprise you, I don't think God showing me that Matthew was the first written gospel, or God proving to me that there was no Q, would have a monumental effect on my image Jesus. The method I developed in Jesus of Nazareth would not be altered, and most of my main conclusion would be, if Matthew were prior, even more convincing given Matthew's expansion of eschatological materials. I'd only get into real problems if I found out that John was a hundred years earlier than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Seems unlikely.
Your comment that I appear to be demythologizing, just as Mark did, I fail to understand.
You ask, What distinguishes the physical from the spiritual, literal history from spiritual history? I'm no philosoher, not even a theologian, so I have no pat answer to this. The discussion of this questions is an old one, to which Philo and Origen contributed much. What I can say is that (i) I'm an heir to modern biblical scholarship, which wants to find out what really happened, and for reasons I don't fully fathom I share that desire and (ii) I don't think the meaning of anything, including literal history, is simple. Spiritual history, or part of it, is perhaps the history of the many meanings people have found in events and the texts grow out of, reflect upon, interpret, and misinterpret those events. And I personally don't believe that the proper interpretation of texts is confined to what they originally meant or what their authors meant when composing, which is another way of saying that I'm all for the spiritual interpretation of texts. I don't see any other way to appropriate words from an altogether different time and place. So I'm always going being the letter. The more I think about this question, however, the bigger it becomes, so I must cryptically stop here.
Your next question concerns the apocalyptic Jesus and how he could impact the world in such a positive manner if he were wrong. Two things. First, people who were wrong about some things have sometimes had great positive impact. It's been many years since I've looked into Joseph Smith, but when I did, I came to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon probably in part borrows from an unpublished novel. Whether that is so or not, I don't think Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, nor do I think the Book of Mormon inspired. But there is much good about the Mormon people if you happen to know any. Certainly the Mormon religion has, to all appearances, been a positive and meaningful thing for millions. In like fashion--although please understand that I'm not putting Jesus on the same level as Joseph Smith, who was perhaps dishonest about some things--that I don't see why Jesus couldn't have given birth to wonderful things even if he was wrong about the end. Second, this is because Jesus wasn't just one thing. Even if I've argued that he was a millenarian prophet, I wouldn't reduce him to that, which would be ridiculous; and much of what he taught does not necessarily depend upon his eschatological world view. In other words, I'd say that Christianity succeeded not because Jesus was wrong about something but because he was nonetheless right about many other things.
Bob, I agree with your comment that we shouldn't underestimate the sophistication of Jesus and his contemporaries, but I don't find this reason to think--I hope I understand you here--that they in effect could think of hell as part of present experience. No theoretical reason that they could not have. But I see no evidence in the texts that they did. Mark 9:43ff. is clearly about the future. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus puts hell in the afterlife. And in Matthew 25 Gehenna comes at the last judgment. Further, I'm unaware, off the top of my head, of any old Jewish texts that think of hell as present. But to return to an ealier paragraph: my failure to find this in the NT doesn't mean I can't use the idea or even use it to interpret texts.
Your next comment is this:
This also strongly relates to the concept of 'time' as perceived in
the New Testament. On an immediately present word, Armageddon,
bandied about with little thought in our time, it seems to me that
the Jewish apocalyptic writer of Revelation understood the presence
of the past very well when he wrote about 'gathering the nations to
battle' and in the next verse switched to the perfect tense and
said 'It is done' virtually quoting the last words of Jesus.
I'm not clear on your meaning here. But I interpret revelation in the light of old Jewish apocalypses, which I do think are focused in part on the future. Further, I think that Revelation and the sort of eschatology it embodies are concerned with the problem of evil and a practical solution to it--and as long as there is a problem of evil, Revelation has to direct hearer to the future when things are fixed. "It is done" can't be said of eschatology if eschatology is the defeat of evil, for evil is alive and well.
You next inquire about perfection in Matthew and how it relates to perception. Two things. First, your implicit epistemology harmonizes with "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The best commentary on this is at the beginning of Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. Secondly, re perfection in Matthew and 5:48, my understanding, for what it's worth, takes its cue from the context. Throughout 5:21ff. Matthew's Jesus has asked for a sort of perfection--not the perfection of being without sin but the perfection of what we might call completeness. He demands that all anger and adulterous thoughts be eliminated. He enjoins a comprehensive dedication to the truth that makes oaths otiose. And he commands a love that is universal in scope. In each case Jesus orders something that cannot be surpassed. What more can be done about lust if it has been driven from one's heart? And what more can one do about integrity of speech if one always speaks the truth? And who else is left to love after one has loved the enemy? Matthew's call to perfection is a call to completeness, to do certain things utterly, it seems to me.
Finally, I don't have any disagreement with you about spirit and flesh belonging together, and I can't imagine I said anything thinking anything else.
- Dear Professor Allison
Thanks for your introduction to other writers on the synoptic
problem. I have to admit, sometimes I find myself convinced by
whomever I am currently reading. But my being convinced by an
argument is not the expression of the reality of my experience, or I
think of the experience of the writers of the NT, in whatever order
>>Your comment that I appear to be demythologizing, just as Mark did,I fail to understand.
I thought of Mark as `demythologizing' in the sense that he begins
without birth story or elaborate genealogy and ends with fear and
amazement. My comment about your writing was that you also are
writing about Jesus as he was and removing the layers of religious
accretion by showing them in various interpretations. I like that
aspect of the book drafts you have shared with us. It is easy to
follow your arguments without too much referencing of texts.
You wrote of seeking
>>to find out what really happened,Even we non-historians seek 'the real' - that is maybe our
fundamental as humans. Our words are first given to us by others and
then we learn to express - but the culture and propositions we learn
prevent our expression and we often remember what is not real and as
a result allow our words to have a reality they do not deserve.
You wrote of my question
>>Your next question concerns the apocalyptic Jesus and how he couldimpact the world in such a positive manner if he were wrong.
I did not mean so much whether he was `wrong' or not - but that the
impact of his spirit was so severe and varied in the lives of both
followers and non-followers. My question is why we would pick the
distinction 'right' from 'wrong' when judging the aspect of 'soon'
or 'this generation'? Did the apocalypse happen or not? Of course it
did, and it does, and it will. It did in Jesus death. It does in our
lives. And there is more to come. I find the switch to the perfect
tense in Rev 16:17 to be strongly suggestive of the completeness of
the apocalypse in Jesus death - that is what sums up the time for the
writer there. If this is pre 70s Jewish apocalyptic, then would it
not cohere with Paul's thought as you suggest in 'The Composition
History', and with Q scribes (assuming there were any), and with the
desposynoi as Pixner and Bauckham suggest.
In glancing at a recent book of Hans Kung tonight, I noticed his
reference to early Catholic doctrine of Christ Jesus as the end of
time - I had not known this as doctrine before, but he seemed to
imply it was early (It was not my book and I had to leave it where I
found it so can't give chapter and verse). If an ancient writer could
see the crucifixion as the center of history - which I am convinced
the writer of Revelation did, then why would not the gospels with
their elaboration on the passion not be saying something similar -
that Jesus was central to their thought and changed by his death the
way they thought about time, purpose, eschaton, and end. Yes they
looked for the world to come - but all these warnings about Hell
lasting forever - are they eternal torment or eternal thanksgiving
for life? And I mean in their eyes - not just in mine.
That this generation would pay for the blood from Abel to Zechariah
well we do pay with the blood of Jesus - again and again. One wonders
with Job about the justice of it all. "The smoke of the damned before
the Lord and his saints" is a phrase that recurs in Revelation.
Supposing these words came out of the same generation - what an
appalling piece of vengeful writing unless one considers it the
substance of our story having been redeemed in Christ.
Here you challenge me to refine my words - thanks for being the
>>that they in effect could think of hell as part of presentexperience. No theoretical reason that they could not have. But I see
no evidence in the texts that they did. Mark 9:43ff. is clearly about
the future. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus puts hell in the
afterlife. And in Matthew 25 Gehenna comes at the last judgment.
Mark 9:43 and ||'s - cut off your hand if it offends. Absolutely - it
is better to enter into life. How does one cut off hand or foot or
pluck out the eye - by the salt of the fire and sacrifice of verse
49. Jesus is plenty salty - the teaching I think is about the demands
of life and their fulfillment in the sacrifice that was to come to
end all sacrifices. I admit this is not a historical perspective. I
would not be able to prove that it is psychologically possible for
Jesus prior to his death - but I find it highly suggestive that the
sacrificial system of Judaism, in releasing the giver into life by
the death of the gift, pointed to this fire and salt that was to be
completed in Jesus death. A man who knew his place in the love of God
could, I think, know this in advance of his own death.
And re the parable: yes it is a parable and as such is not to be seen
literally though it may be phrased that way to identify with the
thought of many. Anyway, I have always maintained there was a bridge
over the chasm in the shape of a cross - romantic to be sure - but
how poignant the conclusion of Jesus' story- How do we hear Moses and
the prophets? The implication is that resurrection is no more
convincing. Why do we not hear this love, mercy, redemption, and
entering into life - even without what `really happened' then?
>> "It is done" can't be said of eschatology if eschatology is thedefeat of evil, for evil is alive and well.
It seems to me that all writers of the NT imply that the death of
Jesus expresses that theological truth. Death is over and done with
not continuing. The judgment is past (e.g. John 5:24 he has passed
from death to life). I think you get to this in your final comment.
>>Throughout 5:21ff. Matthew's Jesus has asked for a sort ofperfection - not the perfection of being without sin but the
perfection of what we might call completeness.
I find this a nice understanding - exactly what I am trying to get at
with the time/hell issue. And the phrase 'It is done' - Es ist
volbracht as Bach puts it.
Now as to Matthew 25: last judgment: "When the Son of man shall come
in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit
upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all
nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd
divideth [his] sheep from the goats:"
When did/does/will this happen for the writer? It is in some sense
timeless. The separation into life and death has already been done
through the acts of the nations and their varied spirit of sheepish
ignorance and goaty self-justification. "And these shall go away
into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
And both will be remembered in that smoke.
TJW asks: Who then heard the prayer [agony in the garden] to record
it for posterity?
Bob: well that young man Mark who was eavesdropping.
+ + + Victoria, B.C., Canada + + +
- Dear Bob
Let's start with the PS: is Ted right to dismiss Gethsemane by observing that the disciples were asleep? You suggest that the young man Mark was eavesdropping. I can't disprove that, but there are other ways of responding. Ted's argument is a commonplace, and I've long wondered about it. It says: here is a story without witnesses because they are sleeping. But one could, reasonably enough, urge that the sleeping element is secondary. It certainly fits Mark's hortatory interests, and it lines up with the parable at the end of Mark 13 very nicely. So why not argue that Jesus' non heroic, unmartyr-like behavior is historical, the sleeping a secondary element? Again, get concrete for a minute. How much do we have from Jesus in Gethsemane, assuming for a second that Mark 14:32-42 is historical? Maybe one sentence? How long do you have to stay awake to hear one sentence? People prayed out loud in antiquity, didn't they? So are we to envisage Jesus going off a bit and the disciples soundly snoozing away before he's walked, say, 10 feet? Of course this is all ridiculous; I don't know what really happened; the sources are brief and theological; digging history out of them is pretty tough. But I can't see that the sleep motif outlaws further discussion. It is possible that it took the disciples a few minutes to settle down to dreamland, and that before they did, somebody heard Jesus say something nonheroic.
Now, for the rest:
i. You write:
sometimes I find myself convinced by whomever I am currently reading
I have had and still often have the same experience, and of course not just with NT studies. Maybe this is the danger of rhetoric. I think Aldous Huxley somewhere recommends, half seriously, that preachers should try to be as boring as possible. That way we will only respond to what they are saying, not how they are saying it.
ii. You write that I'm demythologizing like Mark, who removed the layers of religious accretion. Here we disagree. First, I don't think Mark is removing the religious accretions we find in Matthew and Luke because I think Mark is the first synoptic writer, so he can't be removing things from the others. They are rather adding some things. Second, Mark is anyway full of religious accretions, that is, Christian theology. Further, Jesus himself had plenty of mythology. You can't get back to a nonmythological tradition; it's mythological from the first.
iii. You write: Our words are first given to us by others and
then we learn to express - but the culture and propositions we learn
prevent our expression and we often remember what is not real and as
a result allow our words to have a reality they do not deserve.
Well, this is a big philosophical issue I suppose and I could just about anywhere with it. All I'd say here is that many of us NT scholars spend our careers in one way or another coming to terms with or being influenced by the religious ideas we were given as youngsters. Some of us defend those ideas. Some of us come to hate them and try to replace them with something better. Some of us slowly drift away from the past. But I suppose all of us with religious upbringings are always being influenced in one way or another by what we got before we could do anything about it.
iv. You are big on a realized apocalypse. Three things. First, I think there is support for your view in the NT. Mark e.g. as is well known correlates the passion narrative with the apocalypse in Mark 13. The upshot is hard to pin down precisely. Is the end of Jesus the end of the world in miniature? is it a foreshadowing of the end? is it the beginning of the end? Anyway, you can legitimately see some move toward a realized apocalypse in Mark, and you certainly have it in John. Second, my own work in the essays for this forum and in Jesus of Nazareth is primarily directed to Jesus himself, and I don't see in his teaching a realized apocaypse. I think that Jesus sometimes spoke of the kingdom as present. But it's not altogether clear to me what he meant by that. And I think that his own focus was still upon the future. Third, wherever your own theology takes you, you have to remember that this issue of Jesus being wrong about the end is one of the major theological problems of the last 3 centuries (it starts with the deists). So you can't dismiss it as of no interest; the debate has been far-reaching, and falling back upon Mark or John doesn't settle everything if you think Jesus was doing something a bit different, as I do.
v. I'm at a loss to know what you mean by this--
Yes they looked for the world to come - but all these warnings about Hell lasting forever - are they eternal torment or eternal thanksgiving for life? And I mean in their eyes - not just in mine.
I agree that those not going to hell may be thankful for it; but I think Jesus and the early Christians really believed in hell. It seems that you don't. Fine. But you need to acknowledge that your interpretation here is reinterpretation, not just historical exegesis. You're doing what I do at the end of the essay on Gehenna--trying to make sense of something that you can't accept at face value.
vi. I'm also confused by this--
"The smoke of the damned before the Lord and his saints" is a phrase that recurs in Revelation.
Supposing these words came out of the same generation - what an appalling piece of vengeful writing unless one considers it the substance of our story having been redeemed in Christ.
How can the smoke of the damned be the substance of our story of redemption? Again, I think the texts are sending real people to torture. I hope this isn't anywhere near the substance of Christian faith.
vii. At one point your then write: I admit this is not a historical perspective.
Good. We need to make clear that when we are interpreting mythological ideas, such as smoke rising from hell, we are not being historians but interpreters.
viii. Re the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. You say it is a parable and that we can't read too much into it. First, I agree that it appears to be a parable. I do note, however, that the church fathers debated whether it was a real history or a parable. Second, while think the fathers who took it to be a parable were almost certainly correct, that doesn't help us much with hell. Here's why. I don't think the parable works if you don't believe in an afterlife. And it doesn't work if you don't think it possible to be punished in that afterlife. The details belong to mythology and parable certainly. But it seems to me that whoever composed this parable must have believed in the possibility of suffering in the world to come. It's a rhetorical failure otherwise.
ix. You write:
It seems to me that all writers of the NT imply that the death of Jesus expresses that theological truth. Death is over and done with – not continuing. The judgment is past (e.g. John 5:24 – he has passed
from death to life). I think you get to this in your final comment.
This is where I want to play the theological skeptic. My father died. My mother died. My grandparents died. I saw their dead bodies. What sense does it make to say that death is over and done with? And do you really think that Jesus, Matthew, and Paul thought the judgment to be past? I know there are sentences in which NT writers talk about death as defeated. But all this is proleptic, isn't it? The world is full of death. Maybe, if you believe in souls going to heaven or reincarnation, it's all illusion ultimately. But we do feel it, don't we? How can we not? So here I want to be very careful about how I read and apply NT texts. I don't want to ignore the facts around me. And death is one of those facts. In fact, most people, including most religious people I know, don't seem particularly anxious to go through it, despite their profession of faith. Seems to me it's still a rather powerful enemy. Maybe, as Luther put it, Lo his doom is sure. But the doom hasn't fallen yet; the devil still walks around. Maybe the NT has uttered the verdict against death, but I don't think the verdict has yet been carried out.
Yikes! Looks like I'm pretending to be a theologian rather than a historian. Sorry everybody.
- Dear Professor Allison
Thank you for your detailed replies.
When you say "I think Jesus and the early Christians really believed in
hell," is this the traditional hell of the Dies Irae? It seems to me that
this poem is based on a combination of the images of the NT, a linear
thought process with respect to life and death and a fear of the future
unknown. I may be guilty of premature 'realized' synthesis and a missing of
the obvious 'beliefs' of the intertestamental period of Judaism in the time
of Jesus, but I don't exactly get the impression that they thought in terms
of creed as the later Christians have done. Nor does it seem to be necessary
to assume that they all thought linearly about time.
The early Christians used 'hell' (gehenna) in the synoptics and James (re
the tongue set on fire from hell); 'hades' in Matthew, Luke-Acts, and
Revelation; no use of either word in Paul or the deutero-Pauline tradition
('the wrath to come' is used in both - perhaps reflecting the teaching of
John the Baptist - or vice versa); and 'Tartarus' in 2 Peter.
I wonder, if James would be closer to Jesus than the gospel writers? His use
is a 'present' fleshly fire of the tongue.
Would you think hades as used in the parable of Dives and Lazarus a
different concept from gehenna?
The image of the worm not dying and inextinguishable fire is in Mark only.
Curious uniquenesses in Mark. The fire (pur) is the same in all writers
whether the word refers to the fire of the Spirit or the fire of hell,
except for James who implies that hell lights (phlogizo) the tongue. Are
there degrees of fire or is it the same fire? Revelation links the wrath
with the work of Jesus (19:15).
These 'early Christians', all Jews, are reflecting a vocabulary of the first
century (except maybe 2 Peter) - and following from the covenant they knew
in Judaism. Is the medieval doctrine of hell-fire consistent with the
beliefs of these first century Jews? Your footnote 66, re the final line
from Isaiah, speaks not of everlasting torment but of completed victory -
following the revelation of glory (v15) and the new heaven and new earth
I think the texts so far are open to an interpretation of timeless love
rather than a narrow concept of sequential vengeance. I think this can be
based on a composite image of the suffering Christ as portrayed in the NT
taking up the extremes of the fire of judgment - both hell and Spirit - by
his death. Then if the image of hell is original with Jesus, did he know
what was coming as the gospel implies? I think this prediction of his
passion is possible given the circumstances of Jewish history under Pilate
and the invitation of the first covenant.
The texts on judgment and condemnation are much more prevalent in all
authors except Mark. Hebrews is the only one that 'assumes' a teaching of a
concept of eternal judgment. (add Mark 3:29.) Here too the word eternal
needs research - is it everlasting as if death were a linear experience - it
is this but was that all it was for them? Or is it a quality independent of
the sequential nature of time? As in John - this is eternal life - to know
thee the only true God ...etc
Rev 10:36 indicates an awareness that time itself is created - foreshadowing
I really appreciate the patience of your scholarship - it seems one needs 8
to 10 hours a day for years to look at these texts. I appreciate very much
the opportunity to interact.
+ + + Victoria, B.C., Canada + + +
- Dear Bob:
Hell, despite its apparent demise, has evidently not been forgotten entirely; you, like so many I run into, seem to be very interested in it. Speaking for myself, it fascinates me--where it came from, what it became, how it declined, etc. I think my interest arises in part because I know how important it once was and how unimportant it now is, and I think this change has altered the entire character of modern Christianity in the West. When did I last hear about hell in a sermon? Certainly not once in the last ten years. The only sermon on hell in my memory is one I heard in 8th grade, and its purpose was to explain why there is no hell! Look at the liturgical passages that come round every year; the committees are doing a good job of excising most the texts about hell and judgment. Look at the change in the Anglican marriage ceremony--giving account to God on the dread day of judgment has been replaced by some statement about living in joy and peace! Anyway, to be short and brutally honest, I think Bob that your reading of hell is a purely modern one; I don't see it in the ancient texts. I think you're reading the texts as you do because you're a modern person who can't believe in hell, yet you're traditional in that you want to find truth in Jesus and the Bible, so you've found a modern view in the ancients. My approach is rather to acknowledge the distance between the ancients and ourselves and then to build bridges. But let's pass from the generalizations to the particulars:
i. The hell of Jesus and the NT is the hell of their contemporaries, pure and simple. I can't see that they contributed much if anything to the traditonal ideas in their environment. They >>used<< an idea that they found to hand. I can't see that they gave it much thought--which is one justification for not pushing the details, as the later church did.
ii. You write: >>I may be guilty of premature 'realized' synthesis and a missing of the obvious 'beliefs' of the intertestamental period of Judaism in the time of Jesus<<. I think this hits the nail on the head. I spend more time in ancient Jewish sources than in the NT, and that colors how I read the NT; and I don't see a non-literal, metaphorical hell outside the NT, which makes me very hestitant to see one in the NT. And certainly, until you get to the reflections of Origen on hell (which I greatly adminre and find legitimate), the church isn't adding to conventional Jewish or Greek ideas of post-mortem or eschatological punishment.
iii. >>Nor does it seem to be necessary to assume that they all thought linearly about time.<< Well, it's not a question of what's necessary, it's just a question of what the texts really say. Speaking for myself, I see a lot of so-called linear thinking in the NT, even in John. In fact, I don't know that I see non-linear thinking, whatever precisely that might mean, anywhere. The early Christians know what the three tenses are; and the past started with Genesis, and the future will end with the parousia.
iv. You write: >>The early Christians used 'hell' (gehenna) in the synoptics and James (re the tongue set on fire from hell); 'hades' in Matthew, Luke-Acts, and Revelation; no use of either word in Paul or the deutero-Pauline tradition
('the wrath to come' is used in both - perhaps reflecting the teaching of John the Baptist - or vice versa); and 'Tartarus' in 2 Peter.<< One comment: I think Paul has a different idea than the synoptics. He seems to me to imply either annihilation of the wicked or unviersal redemption. So I don't think the NT is consistent here--again justification for us to have some freedom in reinterpreting hell.
v. You wonder about a possible difference between hell and gehenna. I don't see it. See Boyd's article on gehenna in E. A. Livingstone, Studia Biblica 1978. Jeremias found a difference, but it is very artificial.
vi. You wonder if the NT writers could think about degrees of fire. Again, they just don't reflect on this issue. If they don't ask the question, it's hard to know how to answer it. You can find some evidence that some Jews and Christians did not think of punishment as undifferentiated--the worst people get the worst punishment, that sort of thing. But this isn't connected with fire or its varying temperatures in the NT.
vii. Is the NT's doctrine of hell consistesnt with Isaiah? Well, probably not; Isaiah is teaching something different. Beliefs about the afterlife, including post-mortem punishment, evolved over time, and the NT reflects where things were in the first century, not when Isaiah was completed.
viii. You write, Bob: >>I think the texts so far are open to an interpretation of timeless love rather than a narrow concept of sequential vengeance.<< All I can say is: I wish you were right, but I think you are wrong; this is an ahistorical reading. This doesn't, to reiterate what I've said before, mean it's illegitimate--it's just that it's a mdoern reinterpretation, which is all we can do anyway. The end of Mark 9, however, doesn't sound like timeless love. Nor does the end of Matthew 25, nor the end of Revelation. Where do they speak about timeless love?
ix. Your apparent notion--which I could do something with homiletically but not historicall--that took up into himself the pains of hell reminds me of Schweitzer's view that Jesus sought to take upon himself the eschatological tribution. I think Schweitzer was right to this extent: Jesus probably did interpret his own time and fate in terms of the eschatological woes. We will soon have a dissertation dedicated to this topic from Notre Dame and a very good student there, Brant Pitre. But I can't see that this has anything to do with hell.
x. I don't think Hebrews is alone in teaching >>eternal<< judgment. Matthew and Mark, e.g., do also. But in the essay I state that we'd be foolish to insist that any NT writer had some sophisticated, philosophical concept of eternity. I refer you to that discussion.
xi. I don't know how to answer your question about Rev 10:36 because, in my Bible, Revelation 10 has only 11 verses. You must have a typo. But if you're thinking of 10:6--chronos will be no more--, this may just mean that there won't be any more delay; see the commentaries.
Thanks again for all your questions.
- Dear Dale:
I am not sure if I am a very model of a modern hermeutical person -
For the record, I do acknowledge hell - as my essays on the evil one
will show when I get them published (in process). (I don't
say `believe in'.)
It is in the creed as you noted: he descended in hell. I do think it
is particularly modern to want to eliminate the three tiered
cosmology - though it seems we have still a problem with `seeing'
outside the expanding universe, i.e. we have not done much better
than Milton's world on a chain hanging from heaven.
And you are right I have found `truth' whatever that is, in Jesus and
the Bible, (but I didn't want to until I found it and maybe some
never lost it (an old bumper sticker) as I did more power to them).
>>non-linear thinking, whatever precisely that might mean.here's non-linear Biblical thinking for you: if one man died for all
then all have died.
>>I don't see a non-literal, metaphorical hell outside the NT, whichmakes me very hesitant to see one in the NT.
I don't see a `non-literal' `metaphorical' bride-bridegroom
relationship with Christ either, but the metaphor is definitely there
in the synoptics in John, and in Paul (Romans 7) and it becomes
flesh in us.
>>The early Christians know what the three tenses are; and the paststarted with Genesis, and the future will end with the parousia.
I agree they knew what the tenses are and they used them very
carefully it seems with respect to judgment (past) and mercy
>> vi. You wonder if the NT writers could think about degrees offire.
I was not thinking degrees just the same fire put to different
purposes: judgment and love.
>>The end of Mark 9, however, doesn't sound like timeless love. Nordoes the end of Matthew 25, nor the end of Revelation. Where do they
speak about timeless love?
This week's lesson was John 3:16 - out of scope in the discussion
I shall look forward to Brant Pitre's paper how could I know when
it is published?
Sorry for the typo on Rev 10:36 Yes I meant 6 and I read Aune this
morning as you say he comes to the conclusion that it means no more
delay and we are back to the relationship between hell and
apocalyptic 'soon', 'in this generation'.
But not popular well who can say?
To finish with a quote from James Macauley:
"Who shall say on what errand the insolent emu walks between morning
and night on the edge of the plain?
But northward in the valley of the fiery goat,
Where the sun like a centaur vertically shoots his raging arrows with
Stand th'ecstatic solitary pyres of unknown lovers featureless with
- Dear Bob
You know, if we sat down and talked face to face for five minutes, we could settle some of these issues; it's clear that I've misread some of what you've said, and I'm still in the dark about some things. Let me then try again:
i. I'm not clear from your recent letter whether your profession of a belief in hell is a belief in judgment after death or something else. I've been assuming it's something else.
ii. If one man died for all, all have died--you say this is non-linear. Off the top, sounds good to me: touche. But you can't go from instances of this sort to denying instances of another sort. That is, There are some Bs therefore there aren't any As is not a valid argument. My point all along has been that there is (to use the word you use) linear thinking in the NT--not that there is nothing but linear thinking in the NT. It appears, however, that all I can do is call attention to some texts which you see differently. Don't know where to go from here.
iii. You speak of judgment as past, mercy as continuing. Here again we see things differently. I just don't know to read Mark 9:43ff. and Mt 25:31ff. as being about the past. In my favor, I don't know any exegetes who would disagree with me.
iv. Your point about the same fire put to different uses--well, if you want to go this direction, the place to start would be Paul in 1 Corinthians, where he speaks of being saved as through fire, being refined, etc. But this is a place where it's hard to see what's metaphor and what's more than metaphor; and he himself doesn't otherwise talk about hell fire. Maybe 2 Thess 1:8 (Malherbe says Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians; I agree)--but still not much to work with.
v. You seem to deny that the hell you believe in is metaphorical. Fair enough; that's my word, and if you don't like it to describe what you're saying, ok. But again, I'm not sure what you're saying. What I'm saying is: there are NT texts in which punishment belongs to the afterlife or the final judgment--which means it's still to come from the perspective of the NT writers. I include the historical Jesus in this generalization.
vi. You want to bring in John 3:16. Well, why not read John 3:16 in the light of Matt 25:31ff., Mark 9:43ff., etc.? This is what the church has done throughout the years. Even if you can come up with a hermeneutical or canonical justification, as an historian I can't let John 3:16, much less my modern understanding of it, dictate how I interpret NT judgment texts in their original context. That's ahistorical. Of course, that doesn't determine what we make of them now. That's where your interpretation, which I regard as reinterpretation, has a chance to speak.
vii. Re Pitre's work--this is a dissertation. I think he told me he'd be done this year. But publication will be a while after that.
That's it for now; got two more of these to answer.