23,000+ Verses - Temporal Versus Eternal?
Premise: Using a King James Bible, there are more than 23,000 verses in the Old Testament. Somewhere in there, the doctrine of an eternal punishment in hell should be stated.
Question: In the 23,000+ verses in the Old Testament, do we find temporal (having to do with this earth, this world, this time, etc.) or eternal punishment described?
Needless to say, we can’t look at every passage in this brief article but we can look at some key passages and see whether the consequences for “sin” are temporal, i.e of this world and time, or are they in fact, eternal.
We have already noted that hell isn’t mentioned in Genesis 2:17. The punishment was death. We saw in segment two how the Hebrew word muth has nothing to do with eternal punishment.
I want to stop a moment and acknowledge that there are those within Christianity etc. that believe that the punishment for sin is death and by that they mean annihilation, i.e. a ceasing to exist. I would grant that this would then be an “eternal punishment” in that the consequence would go on eternally. Though I do not believe that God is going to annihilate human beings so they cease to exist, I will gladly admit that this belief would be far easier to support biblically than an eternal hell. Perhaps in the future, we will address the issue of annihilation.
Getting back on topic, physical death CANNOT be viewed as an “eternal” punishment within most of evangelical, fundamental Christianity since fundamental Christianity, for the most part, believes that ALL people will live forever. To fundamental Christianity, the question isn’t whether you will live forever but where will you spend eternity as a fully conscious human being, i.e. in heaven or hell.
In Genesis 3 God delineates the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions and the punishments are temporal involving childbirth and toil in the fields, etc. Yes they will physically die but there is no mention of an eternal separation from God and everlasting punishment. When Cain slays Abel in Genesis 4, Cain’s punishment is again temporal and is described as being cast out from the land, and having to roam as a vagabond and a fugitive. God mentions nothing about hell despite the fact that we are dealing with the first murder. We have noted the flood in a previous segment. In Genesis 6:7 God says that he will destroy or erase man from the face of the earth. As horrendous as this may be, there is nothing in this verse that suggests God intends to punishment mankind in some place call hell forever after they are erased from the face of the earth. In essence being erased from the earth is physical death.
Let’s jump up to Moses and all the commandments and ensuing rewards and punishments God puts forth in the Torah for Israel. Deuteronomy 28 is a very well known chapter filled with “blessings and curses” that will occur based upon Israel’s obedience or disobedience. The entire chapter is filled with what would be called temporal blessings and curses. Not once is the possibility of ending up in hell mentioned. How is it possible that God never once in the Torah tells the “chosen people” that they face the possibility of ending up in hell if they are disobedient and die as unsaved sinners?
Rev. Henry Hart Milman in his book, The History of the Jews, wrote, “The law-giver (Moses) maintains a profound silence in that fundamental, if not of political, at least religious legislation - “ rewards and punishments in another life. He substituted temporal judgments and temporal blessings. On the violation of the constitution followed inevitably blighted harvests, famine, pestilence, defeat, captivity; on its maintenance abundance, health, fruitfulness, victory, independence. How wonderfully the event verified the prediction of the inspired legislator! How invariably apostasy led to adversity - “ repentance and reformation to prosperity!”
What Rev. Milman is saying is that Moses never once brings up the subject of hell hanging over the heads of Israel or humanity much like the Sword of Damocles. How is it possible that the reported author of the first 5 books of the Bible never once saw fit to warn His people of hell? Apparently Moses and Paul have this in common. Israel”s obedience or disobedience brought about temporal blessings or curses. Based upon obedience, Israel lived in the Promised Land as an independent nation flourishing. Disobey and the prosperity evaporated and others would rule over Israel or in fact, at times Israel would be deported into exile, scattered around the world.
Johann Jahn in Biblical Archaeology stated, “We have not authority, therefore, decidedly to say, that any other motives were held out to the ancient Hebrews to pursue the good and avoid the evil, than those which were derived from the rewards and punishments of this life.” Jahn is confirming that there isn’t to be found in the Old Testament anywhere a passage where God threatens Israel with punishments that go beyond the natural or temporal, or for that matter, promises rewards either.
In the book Notes and Illustrations of the Parables of the New Testament by Thomas Whittemore we read the following quote from Dr. Campbell: “It is plain that in the Old Testament the most profound silence is observed in regard to the state of the deceased, their joys and sorrows, happiness or misery.” Dr. Campbell acknowledges that there are no passages in the Old Testament that one can look at and find “eternal rewards or punishments” being described for those who have died.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at this time mention two passages in the Old Testament which some try to use to support an eternal hell. They are Daniel 12:2 and Isaiah 66:23-24. Daniel 12:2 reads “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Isaiah 66:23-24 states “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” One might wonder how Milman, Jahn and Campbell could make their statements, especially in light of Daniel 12:2? Be patient and we will get around to these passages in future segments. There is no question that those verses were considered completely when their opinions were formed.
The 21st section in the doctrinal statement of Dallas Theological Seminary, one of the major seminaries in the world, is labelled “The Eternal State.” Seven biblical passages are listed to support its view regarding the "eternal state" of mankind. Care to guess how many of those passages are from the Old Testament? I am sure you are not surprised that the answer is ZERO. How could it be otherwise? Can we therefore assume that God was silent regarding eternal punishment in the Old Testament. It would seem so.
Here is a quote from the Assemblies of God “16 Fundamental Truths.” In section 4 entitled “The Fall of Man” it states: “Man was created good and upright; for God said, "Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness." However, man by voluntary transgression fell and thereby incurred not only physical death but also spiritual death, which is separation from God.” Here are the Scriptures given to support this belief regarding spiritual death which apparently means separation from God though you are going to have search high and low to find any Hebrew word that means spiritual death/separation from God. The verses are Genesis 1:26-27, 2:17 and 3:6 and Romans 5:12-19. Let's see which of these support the doctrine of “spiritual death” and its apparent meaning of "separation from God?"
Genesis 1:26-27 definitely confirms the “man created in the image of God” part but says nothing about spiritual death. We have already looked at Genesis 2:17 says it says absolutely nothing about a “spiritual death” and to suggest otherwise, as this section may be doing, is totally unwarranted. Genesis 3:6 simply deals with Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge but it says nothing about spiritual death and separation from God. Since none of the other passages support the belief in spiritual death and separation from God, it must be in Romans 5:12-19. As arrogant as this may sound, I cannot believe that Romans 5:12-19 is being used to try and support the idea of eternal separation from God. This passage is one of the strongest passages in the Bible that proves the exact opposite. In fact, it is on my list of passages to be included in this series. We will get to it a bit later but please read Romans 5:12-19 and you will see that it doesn’t mention hell or eternal separation or eternal punishment at all. So we have a statement declared to be a "FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH" and the passages listed as proof of this "Truth" actually don't deal with this supposed "Truth" at all. May I suggest that this is sciolism at its finest!
What Paul does repeat at least 3 or 4 times in Romans 5:12-19 is that “death” was the result of sin. Paul uses the Greek word, thanatos, which we have mentioned before. Wouldn't this all be easier if Paul had simply said, you are going to "die" and end up in "hell." He knew the word Hades I am sure. Just once he could have dropped it into one of his 14 letters but did he? No, not even one time.
If you can show me where in any of these verses that the Assembly of God seems to believe prove their doctrine of spiritual death, i.e. separation from God, I would like you to do it. Perhaps I am so biased that I am missing it. Show me where the concept of spiritual death and separation from God shows up, even once in these verses.
To conclude this part of the series, the bottom line in all of this is that in 23,000+ verses in the Old Testament there isn’t a single verse that confirms the belief in God punishing people forever in some place called hell. God never once in the Old Testament warned humanity of this supposed impending fate and apparently chose instead to conceal it for some 4000 years. And you are supposed to accept that and believe it... and never question how illogical and unreasonable this would be if the doctrine of an eternal hell were true. By the way, be careful if you choose to question the sciolism of the orthodox view because if you do, you might not like the response and reaction from the powers that be.Blessings, shalom, namaste