Richard Carrier vs Paul on the Lord’s Supper

Dr. Richard Carrier is the well known champion of Jesus Mythicism–the position that Jesus was originally conceived as a celestial being (by Paul), but only later become historicized by the Gospel authors and later Christians.

As you can tell, a core tenant of Jesus Mythicism is that the letters of Paul do not attest to a historical Jesus, but rather to a celestial or angelic being Jesus.

If a number of verses from Paul’s epistles immediately popped into your mind, you are not alone. Foremost among them will no doubt be Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 on the Lord’s supper which reads:

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Likewise also the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

1 Cor 11:23-26 | Lexham English Bible

Do these verses not attest to a historical Jesus? Carrier thinks not. I would like to examine his claims in his popular book On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Location 35641 – Location 35719. Kindle.)

Tradition or Revelation?

Carrier asserts right from the gate that when Paul says “I received from the Lord” this means Paul got this message from his supposed hallucination of Jesus and that this should be understood as a claim of divine revelation like in Galatians 1:11-12.

But upon further investigation, we fine Carrier’s assertion to be less tenable, or at least less certain.

Whereas in Galatians Paul goes out of his way to make clear that he did not initially receive the gospel “from man,” that his gospel “is not of human origin,” and that he “received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ;” in 1 Corinthians Paul simply says, “I received from the Lord.”

It is also worth noting that in Galatians Paul is saying that he initially received the gospel from Jesus in a divine revelation in order to bolster his claim to apostleship. He is not claiming, and nowhere claims, that he didn’t learn anything from the other apostles.

In fact, such an assertion (one that Carrier does not make) would be absurd. Paul himself claims to have visited the Jerusalem church twice, specifically highlighting his encounters with Peter and James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:18-19, 2:1).

The purpose of the visitations was to affirm that Paul was not teaching “in vain”. He wanted to be sure his message coincided with the original, apostolic message being preached by the leaders in Jerusalem.

So, clearly there was corroboration between Paul and apostolic sources before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. I do not get the impression that Carrier would dispute that. I only bring it up to remind us that Paul had access to apostolic tradition and most likely would have received it from Cephas or James.

When it comes to Paul’s phrase “I received from the Lord” we can either say the source was:

  1. Jesus himself through divine revelation.
  2. Jesus via apostolic tradition.

Carrier cites Galatians 1:11-12 in favor of divine revelation. It should be pointed out that the Corinthians did not have the backdrop of Galatians 1:11-12 as a context for understanding Paul’s “I received from the Lord.” It is not as if someone in the Corinthian congregation would’ve said “Oh yeah, remember what he said to the Galatians.”

So as not to caricature, Carrier is correct that Paul did claim to have divine revelation and that is a possible interpretation. I make the above characterization to point out that using Paul’s language in Corinthians will be more suitable than using his phraseology in Galatians as an interpretive method.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 we find an early credal outline of the gospel message. Nearly all commentators, I believe including Carrier (but could be wrong), believe this to be a very early church tradition that preceded Paul.

Paul uses the same language of “receiving” and “passing on” here while notably dropping the “from the Lord”.

So what do we make of the data? It’s hard to tell. While Paul claims divine revelation in Galatians, he doesn’t explicitly say so in 1 Corinthians. He does use the qualification “from the Lord” however. We know from 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul was aware of earlier traditions and creeds that he surely received from the Jerusalem church with which he was acquainted.

It isn’t my aim to pick a side, for it doesn’t really matter concerning the question of Jesus’ historicity. I only want to point out that it isn’t as cut-and-dry as Carrier portrays and Galatians 1:11-12 certainly doesn’t end the discussion.

Markan Dependence

Carrier asserts that the similarities between 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and Mark 14:22-25 can hardly be coincidental and uses this as a basis for establishing dependence. Since 1 Corinthians is believed to be earlier than Mark, the dependence would be that of Mark upon Paul.

Again, this is peripheral to the question of Jesus’ historicity, but it should be pointed out that this is far from the certainty that Carrier assumes.

Of first importance, would be the dating of Mark. Carrier would undoubtedly date Mark later than I or any conservative would. In an email exchange with New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Keener, he responded to my question about Mark-Paul dependence saying he believed Mark was written too early and from too far away to be dependent on a letter in Corinth.

Nonetheless, if we answered the previous question about where Paul got this tradition from with “apostolic tradition” instead of “divine revelation” then what we will see is that Paul and Mark had similar sources: apostolic tradition. Considering Paul claims to know Cephas (Peter) and Mark’s Gospel has long been thought to be connected to Peter’s testimony, this whole situation looks quite a bit different.

But again, we don’t need any of these counter interpretations to succeed in order to show that Paul believed in a historical Jesus. We can grant Carrier all of his assertions up to this point for the sake of argument, if we’d like. And I do like because it makes dialogue easier.

Using Acts for Interpreting Paul?

Carrier takes a turn that, I must say, took me by surprise, which is saying something.

He states that Paul’s divine revelation of this event must have been something like Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-17. He draws a similarity between the fact that they were both visions and included meals.

First of all, the dissimilarities far outweigh the similarities, but we’ll leave that to one side.

Acts was written decades after 1 Corinthians. If it is fair game to use Acts as an interpretive method, why on earth would it be off-limits to use Mark, which Carrier just stated has an astonishing amount of similarity? The similarity of Mark and Paul far outweighs the supposed similarity between Paul and Acts.

If Acts is fair game, then Mark certainly is, and even if we grant that Mark used Paul, we could still say that Mark understood Paul as recording a historical event, and that’s why he recorded the Lord’s Supper as a historical event in his Gospel.

Carrier would then be interpreting Paul differently than a very earlier source that possibly knew Paul and certainly knew the surrounding context better than any modern interpreter. Carrier’s thesis is 100% ad hoc. He is obviously being inconsistent with respect to what he counts as evidence and what he does not.

A Textbook Fallacy

Paul recounts Jesus as saying, “This is my body which is for you.” According to Carrier, Jesus’ body is obviously for “all believers” and not just a particular group of people that would’ve been present, if this were a historical event. Hence, this is not a historical event.

Here is where Carrier’s thesis completely falls apart and obviously so.

For one thing this is a text book case of a negative inference fallacy. If a father tells his son “I love you” and his daughter responds “What?! You don’t love me?” she has committed a negative inference fallacy. The fact that the father loves his son does not exclude, or negate, the fact that he also loves his daughter. The negative inference is unwarranted.

Jesus no where says my body is only for you. This means that Jesus could say to a specific group of people “This is my body which is for you” while at the same time maintaining that his body is for all believers, or even all people, because the specific group in question would be considered part of the whole.

We will argue below that this is not only possible, but most probable. For now, it is worth noting that the fact that this is possible brings Carrier’s entire thesis crashing down.

For the sake of argument, we have ceded all of his previous arguments because they do not prove that Paul had in mind a celestial Jesus. The only argument of weight was this one and it is based upon a textbook negative inference fallacy!

On That Night

The key to interpreting this text, which just so happens to be the one thing Carrier glossed over (how convenient), is Paul’s statement “on the night in which he was betrayed”.

Carrier interprets “betrayed” as “delivered up” which, according to Carrier, is a reference to Jesus’ death. So, “on the night in which [Jesus] was killed, or handed over to be killed”.

Everything that follows–the bread, the cup, the eating, Jesus’ teaching–happened “on the night in which Jesus was delivered up”.

Here’s the key: neither Paul, the Corinthians, or “all believers” were present “on the night in which Jesus was delivered up.” But someone was, namely the plural “you” in verses 24 and 25.

So, on the night in which Jesus was delivered up there were a plurality present which could not have been Paul, the Corinthians, or all believers.

Who was it? Well, if we’re allowed to use Mark as an interpretive tool, the answer is easy. But let’s restrict ourselves.

Carrier is quite correct that Jesus’ body is believed by Paul to be for “all believers” or “all people”. But let us point out the obvious: Jesus’ body is for only people, not animals, and we have no reason to believe his body is a sacrifice for celestial beings either.

So on the night Jesus was delivered up, he states that his body is “for you,” which should be interpreted as a present group of people, or humans. He is speaking to a group of people and stating that he is giving them his body and blood which are obvious Passover symbols.

Conclusion

Now, back to the original question: Does this sound like a historical event or a celestial vision?

We could go a step further and say that the symbolism of Jesus’ body being for the present group of people only makes sense if they took the literal bread from him. This would indicate a shared meal. But common sense tells us that obviously a shared meal is in mind anyway.

On the night Jesus was delivered up he shared a meal with a group of people and instituted what we now call the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. Jesus’ teaching applies to all believers, yes, but his words were initially spoken to a present group of people “on the night in which he was delivered up.”

This is much more consistent with the text and much more consistent with a historical event. Hence, we have Paul claiming to know about a historical event that included Jesus and a small group of people just before he was killed. The fact that Mark’s Gospel records the same event with more historical detail shortly after Paul’s letter reinforces the fact that this was conceived as a historical event all along.

What the Bible Says About Hell

Life has been busy for the Clark household. I started a new job, my wife is pregnant (It’s a girl!), we just bought our first house, and on top of all of that I am in school.

I bring this up to explain my absence on here, YouTube, and social media. I still haven’t even got my internet set up in the new house. I’m only able to be on here right now because my wife can do some voodoo magic called “hotspot” on her iPad.

Technology is crazy, man.

Anyway, I want to return to my dialogue on the topic of “hell”. My previous post on this subject was well received by most and I am still pursuing this topic in study. I am reading what I am told is the best defense of the “traditional view” — eternal conscious torment — and also reading Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism.

I wanted to share some insights from the latter in this post. I’ve only read the first few chapters, but can tell that it is going to be a good read and I recommend it for anyone wanting to understand why some Bible-exalting evangelical Christians are embracing “conditionalism” over and against the traditional view that non-believers will spend eternity in conscious torment. Whether you end up agreeing with the authors, or not, it will be at the very least insightful.

The Final End of the Wicked – Edward Fudge

The second chapter of the book is an article by Edward Fudge, minister and theologian. The article was published in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1984.

Fudge begins his article by making a clarifying statement that needs to be made at the outset:

“The question at stake is not, therefore, whether the wicked will suffer ‘eternal punishment.’ It is rather of what that punishment consists.”

It is important to keep in mind that both traditionalists and conditionalists believe that God’s just wrath will be dealt upon the wicked and non-believing. Likewise, both agree that this punishment will be eternal and irrevocable.

The traditionalist believes that God will confine the wicked to a place where they will be consciously tormented for an unending amount of time.

The conditionalist believes that God will annihilate the wicked to the effect that they will cease to exist forever.

The consequence is that both believe there will be an eternal punishment. The two views differ on what precisely that punishment will be. And that is the (only) question here.

Fudge then characterizes the traditional view as resting on (1) that the Old Testament is silent on the matter, and that (2) the doctrine of unending conscious torment developed between the testaments and was the common view by the writing of the New Testament.

His characterization may be a caricature for some that hold to the traditional view, but I will say that in the circles I know personally that hold to the traditional view, this characterization is fair.

One can see how a certain interpretation of a few verses in the New Testament combined with the background knowledge of some Second-Temple texts might lead one to the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. It would seem quite the stretch to squeeze the doctrine of eternal conscious torment out of the Old Testament, on the other hand.

The Old Testament

Fudge agrees that the Old Testament is silent on eternal conscious torment, but states that the Old Testament “overwhelmingly affirms their [the wicked] total destruction.”

In support of this bold claim he cites Psalm 2:9, Malachi 4:3, Psalm 37:20, Psalm 1:4, Psalm 58:8, Isaiah 1:31, Isaiah 33:12, Psalm 68:2, and Psalm 73:20.

The word pictures which describe the fate of the wicked in these verses imply their total destruction. Fudge states that the Traditionalist must negate that the wicked will become like the things these verses describe and must affirm that they will become like something none of these verses, or the Old Testament as a whole, describes: “an everlasting spectacle of indestructible material in an unending fire.”

He is correct that the Old Testament describes the wicked as substances that will be destroyed. This is informative for the obvious: the New Testament writers formed their theology on the backbone of the Old Testament. This is brought up in every discussion about hermeneutics not the least by the more conservative who just so happen to hold to the Traditional view of hell, by and large. The irony is a bit sharp.

A conservative hermeneutic would seek to understand the New Testament writings in light of the Old Testament. If we apply this to the doctrine of hell, one wonders where the idea of eternal conscious torment would have come from. It certainly did not come from the Old Testament. The Old Testament speaks of the fate of the wicked in terms of destruction, not eternal torment.

Fudge then turns to God’s judgment upon the wicked in the historical books taking the earth at the time of Noah’s flood as his first example. The world was wicked and God destroyed it, sparing Noah and his family. This event then becomes a model for the judgment of the wicked at the time of the eschaton (2 Peter 2:5; 3:3-7; Matthew 24:38-39).

Fudge then turns to the example of God’s judgment upon Sodom which was also total destruction. Likewise, this became another model for God’s judgement upon the wicked at the time of the eschaton (Gen 19:24-29; Deut 29:23; Isa 1:9; 13:19-22; Jer 49:18; 50:40; Lam 4:6; Amos 4:11; Zeph 2:9; Luke 17:28-33; 2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7, 23).

Fudge continues his survey with the Prophets noting that they likewise describe the destruction of the wicked as total (Zeph 1:14-18; Isa 66:16-24; Ezek 39:9-22; Dan 12:2; Mal 4:3).

“The wicked become, in short, as though they had never been (Obad 16).”

Intertestamental

Fudge agrees that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment “developed during the time between the Testaments, but modern research totally destroys [the] presupposition that unending conscious torment was ‘the’ Jewish view held by the earliest readers and writers of the NT Scriptures.”

Fudge seeks to show that while eternal conscious torment can be found in Second Temple writings, it is not the only game in town, and in fact not the majority view.

He states that the books of Tobit, Sirach, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees and the Wisdom of Solomon all agree with the Old Testament on the final destruction of the wicked. These are intertestamental books that do not put forward the traditional view.

His next line is one of paramount significance. “The first appearance of conscious unending torment in anything resembling biblical literature comes in the apocryphal book of Judith (16:17).”

If Fudge is correct, the significance could hardly be overstated. The dominant view of Hell today, eternal conscious torment, first appears in an apocryphal book during the intertestamental period. How in the world could that be?

The book of Judith uses Isaiah 66:24 to draw out its doctrine of eternal conscious torment. But Fudge notes the stark contrast between Isaiah’s picture and Judith’s.

“The prophet has unburied corpses; Judith has consciously tortured people. Isaiah’s fire and worm destroy; Judith’s simply torment. In Isaiah the fire and worms are external agents consuming their dead victims; in Judith they are internal agonies perpetually torturing from within. In Isaiah (and all the OT) the victims are destroyed; in Judith they ‘feel their pain forever.'”

Fudge also notes that the Sibylline Oracles, Psalms of Solomon, 4 Esdras, and the Qumran literature all affirm the total destruction of the wicked.

He grants that some scholars interpret 2 Enoch and 4 Maccabees as affirming eternal conscious torment, but that not all scholars do.

To recap: the Old Testament overwhelming affirms the total destruction of the wicked, never once affirming eternal conscious torment. The first attestation to eternal conscious torment is in an apocryphal work during the intertestamental period and represents a minority view at that time.

From this survey, it becomes impossible to say that the dominant view at the writing of the New Testament was eternal conscious torment. If anything, we can say the exact opposite.

Remember why this is important. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment rests, according to Fudge, on the assumption that (1) the Old Testament is silent and (2) that eternal conscious torment was the major view at the time of the writing of the New Testament.

Fudge has shown that the Old Testament describes the wicked as being totally destroyed and that the intertestamental period largely agrees. The foundation for eternal conscious torment then becomes unfounded, resting on sinking sand.

The New Testament

Next, Fudge launches into an examination of the language used in the New Testament to describe the fate of the wicked, or non-believers.

Unquenchable Fire

When the New Testament speaks of the “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43, 48), traditionalists assume this is a defense of eternal conscious torment. “See, the fire won’t be quenched.”

Fudge responds in the affirmative, but notes that this language of “unquenchable fire” comes directly from the Old Testament in which fire totally destroys the substance it is burning.

It is unquenchable because nothing will stop it, nothing will prevent it from burning and completely consuming that which it burns. All you really have to do is consider anything that you have ever seen burn. What happens to it? Does it become ash, or does it burn in agony forever? Obviously it becomes ash and is destroyed.

The language of unquenchable fire, when noted in its Old Testament context, actually becomes support for the conditionalist view.

Jesus himself says, “He will clear the threshing floor…burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:12).

Undying Worms

Mark 9:48 and “the worm that never dies” is another common verse cited by traditionalists in support of the eternal conscious torment view.

But once again, Fudge notes that this language comes directly from Isaiah 66:24: “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Note that the wicked are now “dead bodies.” Are they being consciously tormented? No, they are dead, or no longer conscious.

The language of “worm that never dies” and “unquenchable fire” not only don’t support the traditionalist view, but actually affirm the conditionalists. The wicked will die and be totally destroyed.

Gnashing of Teeth

In Luke 13:28, Jesus says that evildoers will be thrown into a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Notice that he nowhere says how long they will do so.

Fudge points out that the language “gnashing of teeth” is also found in the background of the Old Testament (Job 16:9; Psalms 35:16; 37:12; Lam 2:16). It always refers to someone so angry that they grind their teeth. We see this even in the New Testament with Stephen’s murderers (Acts 7:54).

Evildoers are not grinding their teeth and weeping because they are in eternal pain, but because they are angry and frustrated.

Psalm 112:10 says “The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.” Here we see the language of the “gnashing of teeth” in the same verse of “waste away” and “come to nothing.”

Once again, the traditionalists’ proof verse is flipped on its head.

Smoke that Ascends

Fudge notes that the “smoke” that “rises for ever and ever” in Revelation 14:11 comes from the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:28). Because of the wickedness of Sodom, God rained fire down from heaven and totally destroyed the city.

When Abraham saw the smoke rising, it was confirmation that the city had been fully consumed by fire.

This same word picture, notes Fudge, appears again in Isaiah 34:10 with the destruction of Edom. Isaiah says “its smoke will rise forever” speaking of the destruction of Edom. Again, the smoke symbolizes that Edom is destroyed and irreversibly so.

The language of smoke rising forever and ever speaks to the irreversible destruction of whatever the fire has consumed. There is no hint of eternal torment, only utter destruction.

This is what the author of Revelation had in mind when applying this same language to Babylon in Revelation 18-19. Like Sodom and Edom, Babylon will be totally destroyed and the smoke that rises forever is a testimony to God’s judgment upon, and destruction of, her.

No Rest Day or Night

While Revelation 14:9-11 does state that those who worship the beast will “be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb…There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image,” we should not undo everything we have already seen because a vague and symbolic passage mentions “tormented” and “no rest day or night” in close proximity.

If you remove your presupposition of eternal conscious torment and read Revelation in its Old Testament context, you will see that the author is using familiar word pictures that we have already discussed to describe total destruction.

The wicked will certainly be tormented, no denying that. But all of the Old Testament language used by the author of Revelation leads us to believe that this torment will end once they are totally destroyed by God. The rising smoke, which was previously discussed, is evidence that the author of Revelation has in mind an end to the wicked’s torment, once they are totally destroyed.

The Lake of Fire

A lake of fire must be the most common view of hell. The influence of Hollywood would have us believe that Hell is a place engulfed in flames where Satan tortures the wicked forever. I know this isn’t what Traditionalists believe about Hell, I’m just noting that even I still bear this image in mind when I hear “lake of fire.”

The Lake of Fire is mentioned in Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 15; and 21:8.

Fudge notes that the “Lake of Fire” is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. The closest parallel comes in Daniel 7:9-12 where a “river of fire” comes out from God and the terrible fourth beast is thrown in to be destroyed. Keyword: destroyed. Not tortured forever.

If this is the Old Testament background for Revelation 19, 20, and 21 then destruction is obviously in mind and not eternal torture. If this is not the Old Testament background the author of Revelation had in mind, then there is likely none.

In Revelation itself, the beast and the false prophet are first to be thrown in the lake of fire.

Depending on how you interpret “the beast” and “the false prophet,” Fudge says, this will either disconfirm eternal conscious torment, or you might still try to squeeze the doctrine out of these verses.

In verse 14 “death and Hades” are thrown into the lake as well. Isaiah (Isa 25:7-8) and Paul (1 Cor 15:26) agree that death will be destroyed once and for all.

Fudge makes this remark: “Death and Hades are certainly abstractions, not persons, and the lake of fire here means their annihilation. Death will be no more–forever.”

Death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire does not mean that Death and Hades will be consciously tormented forever, obviously. It means they will cease to be. Unless we are to apply a strange double-hermeneutic (?) here, the same meaning should be applied to any persons (v.15) being thrown into the lake of fire. Whatever is thrown into the lake of fire is utterly destroyed and ceases to exist. There is no hint of eternal torment.

In fact, those thrown into the lake of fire are directly contrasted with those whose names are written in “the book of life.” The opposite of life is obviously death (not torture) which the author of Revelation makes explicitly clear: “The lake of fire is the second death.”

Paul’s Letters

Very briefly, Fudge adds that Paul’s teaching on the matter is clear that the final fate of the wicked is death and destruction (Rom 6:21, 23; 2:12; Gal 6:8; 1 Cor 3:17; 2 Thess 1:9; Phil 1:28; 3:19).

Conclusion

Based on Fudge’s thorough survey of the Biblical literature, one can easily see that the biblical evidence in favor of a doctrine of eternal conscious torment is severely lacking. There are but a few word pictures one can point to in the New Testament in an attempt to hang on to such a doctrine, but as Fudge has shown, these word pictures rightly understood in light of their Old Testament background actually show the exact opposite to be true.

The wicked will be punished by their just Creator, yes. Their punishment will have an everlasting effect, yes. However, they will not be tortured for an unending amount of time. The wicked, sin, evil, pain, and even death will all be defeated and utterly destroyed by our righteous God. Once and for all, for all eternity to come.

Get the book here: Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism

The Gospel Authors Knew Palestinian Geography

Talk to some skeptics, even skeptical scholars of the New Testament, and you will get the impression that the Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses in distant lands by people who had never even met the historical Jesus. While there are a few ways to go about responding to someone like this, an interesting way to go is: geography. Yes, geography. Ryan Leasure explains.

The Gospel Authors Knew Palestinian Geography

What Biblical Books are Included in the Earliest Canonical Lists?

If you listen to some skeptics, you get the impression that the books of the Bible were chosen at some arbitrary church conference in the fourth century. I’ve even heard someone well-known say that Constantine chose the books of the Bible. In fact, all the books of the New Testament were being widely used by the early church, and recognized as divinely inspired. Here are a few early lists and where we find them.

What Biblical Books are Included in the Earliest Canonical Lists?

Love Your Enemies, Don’t Assume Their Motives (David French Response)

President Trump attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast once again this year, and plenty of evangelical voices have taken to the columns to give their opinions. I read two articles that gave their assessments, both were written by conservative evangelical Christians.

One was written by David French titled “Will Somebody Please Hate My Enemies for Me?” and published at the Washington Post. The other was written by Michael Brown at the Stream titled “‘Love Your Enemies’ is a Command, Not a Suggestion.”

French is outspokenly opposed to Donald Trump and is clearly of the conviction that Christians ought not support him due to his moral failures. Michael Brown is an evangelical leader that recognizes said failures and still justifies lending his support and vote for Trump. So, the contrast was interesting to read. It didn’t go the way I figured it would.

French’s Article

French’s article at the Washington Post bears this tagline: Donald Trump is making it even harder for Christians to defend him, and yet they still do. This is an apt tagline that sets the tone of the rest of the article.

French begins with a paragraph that summarizes Arthur Brooks’ moving speech just before the President’s in which he admonishes us, as Jesus before him, to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. It truly was a powerful speech and you should give it a listen (Brooks begins at 36:00).

But that’s not what French is here to write about. His next paragraph begins by drawing a contrast between Brooks’ speech and the President’s.

The President began his speech by saying he wasn’t sure if he agreed with Brooks. The audience laughed, the President laughed, you can’t see Brooks in the camera shot, but one can assume he laughed as well. He was clearly joking which is evidenced by the fact that his next statement was “But” followed by thanking Brooks for his speech.

French sees this as an opportunity to capitalize. He then goes on to say that the President proceeded to hate on his political opponents by personally attacking them. No examples are given because there were none. I listened to the president’s speech and I heard no personal attacks. The president says that he does not like it when his political opponents attack him in what he perceives to be unfair ways, like the impeachment. Who can blame him? His intentional use of “I don’t like it when” comes across as a confession more than anything, especially after Brooks’ powerful admonishment to love our enemies. I took this to be a confession on the part of the president, where French again sees it as an opportunity.

What would you prefer? That he lie?

French goes on to use Jerry Falwell Jr. as an example of Christian Trump supporters who justify such egregious behavior. Again, what egregious behavior? The president’s speech was anything but egregious and there were no personal attacks. That is why French cites Trump’s tweets and past actions.

Obviously, many evangelical Trump supporters are the furthest thing from the Falwell-types, which French acknowledges. But only in a back-handed manner.

It’s not long before he grays the line between the Falwell-types and the more “moderate-types”.

French writes, “Let’s talk for a moment about a far more common Christian Trump supporter.” He then goes on to describe the type of evangelical Trump supporter that he believes is much more common than the Falwell-types.

He describes a sweet Christian woman who would never do or say anything of the things Trump has been accused of doing, but she votes for him because she isn’t going to vote democrat, wants to see an end to abortion, and is tired of the way the media represents her conservative views.

Now, at first, his description is spot on. This is exactly right. People are tired. They are tired of being told that they are bigots, when in fact that they are not. People are tired of being told that their religious views are homophobic, when in fact they are not. And most of all, they are tired, or more like disgusted, at how flippantly the media discusses the genocide of innocent children.

For these reasons, they are willing to vote for someone like Donald Trump. They would never vote for a democrat, and they view a third-party vote as a waste. This isn’t difficult.

Well, it shouldn’t be. French either has trouble understanding this simple explanation, or trouble accepting it. Here’s what he says:

Here’s the end result—millions of Christians have not just decided to hire a hater to defend them from haters and to hire a liar to defend them from liars, they actively ignore, rationalize, minimize, or deny Trump’s sins. They do this in part because they can’t bring themselves to face the truth about Trump and in part because they know it is difficult to build and sustain a political movement if you’re constantly (or even frequently) criticizing the misconduct of its leader. To criticize Trump even a quarter of the time he does something wrong would be to unleash a constant drumbeat of criticism against the man they hope to re-elect.”

David French, “Will Somebody Please Hate My Enemies For Me?” Washington Post.

Let’s break this down.

“Millions of Christians.” First of all, where did that number come from? French has no idea how many people think what he is about to say because what he is about to say describes motive and intent, something he knows only about his own self.

“Hire a hater.” Now, if French wanted to make the case that Trump was a “hater,” he could easily do so by finding some old clip of something stupid that Trump has said. But what we saw at the National Prayer Breakfast was anything but a “hater.” What was “hateful” about Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast? Of course, French provides no quotes of Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast to back up this claim.

“Hire a hater to defend them from haters and to hire a liar to defend them from liars.” In case you hadn’t noticed, evangelical Trump supporters don’t need someone else to “defend” them. Okay, I’m mostly jesting, but I just wanted to say that.

The problem with this caricature is obvious. When I voted for Trump, I did not say in my heart, “Yes, good, now go own the Libs (Sith Lord voice).” There may be people like that, but is it “millions” like French tells us? Or are most evangelical Trump supporters like me? When Trump does stupid stuff we say “Yeah, he’s not the brightest.” When he does immoral things we say, “Correct, that’s immoral.”

Here’s where the whole issue lies between those like French who, to use a phrase I was trying to avoid, would never vote for Trump, and those like me who would. I look past all of this and straight to the policies. I like what Trump has done for the economy and I like the justices and judges that he has appointed. I like the momentum of the pro-life movement. I like the fact that the country isn’t pummeling into socialism and further into the Left’s agenda, at least from a policy standpoint.

None of this “ignores, rationalizes, or minimizes” immoral things that Trump has done or said. For one thing, I’m tired of speaking of Trump’s immoral words and actions in the abstract. Give me specific examples of what you think are so bad that they justify giving up everything just previously mentioned. Because, as previously noted, there was certainly nothing in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast that would justify such a thing.

Are Trump’s ills so bad that we should hand this country over to the Left who are actively putting forward a candidate that is an open Socialist who supported Communist regimes in the past? That’s not a caricature, you can ask Bernie yourself, he won’t deny it. Are Trump’s ills so bad that we should hand this country over to the Left who are in support of abortion up until the point of birth?

“This is a false dichotomy. You can vote third-party!” You mean I can throw my vote in the trash. I’m not saying a third-party vote is a vote for the Democrats. I am saying it’s a wasted vote. It’s a conscientious objection. You might as well have not voted.

Most people want their vote to matter, so they are voting for one of the two major parties. Given that, the choice is obvious for most conservative evangelicals. We are not going to vote for a party that supports socialism and abortion. We’ll take Trump over that 10/10.

And that is really all there is to it. Unless you’re David French, or someone like him.

If you’re like French, you hear all that I just said and respond with, “Nope, I know the real reason. The real reason is because you have hate in your heart, but you know that’s wrong, but still you want to express it, so you hire Trump to do your hating.”

What a childish thing to imply. How does this get published?

All it amounts to is critiquing some imagined motive. That is no Trump supporter’s motive that I have ever talked to. And if French thinks he knows some, I want him to name one person that would describe their own motivations for voting for Trump the way he does.

“Well, they wouldn’t admit it!”

No kidding, that’s the point. You don’t know people’s motives better than they do. David French doesn’t know millions of people’s motives better than they do. And when they tell you what their motives are, like I just did, take them at their word.

The debate around Trump should be substantive, not painting the opposition as having evil intent and motive. That should be obvious.

French says we should love our enemies and follow the Ten Commandments while engaging in political dialogue. Well, let me ask you: Is it unloving of me to support Trump because I’m pro-life, pro-small government, and pro-capitalism? Or is it unloving to paint your political opponents as haters who lack the certitude to do their hating themselves?

A Stark Comparison

If you’re interested in reading an analysis of the National Prayer Breakfast and Arthur Brooks’ speech that isn’t condescending, check out this article written by Michael Brown at Townhall titled “‘Love Your Enemies’ is a Command, Not a Suggestion“.

Compare the tone of Brown’s article with French’s. Whereas French saw Arthur Brooks’ speech as an opportunity to condemn his fellow Christians, Brown sees an opportunity for us all to search introspectively, aligning our motives (as best we can) with Jesus’ commands.

In sum, don’t be the guy in the pew who hears a sermon and thinks “Too bad so-and-so isn’t here to hear this.” Jesus’ words apply to you. When he said “Love your enemies,” he was speaking to me. I do not hate my liberal sisters and brothers. I do not hate my Democratic brothers and sisters.

And when Trump, or anyone else, speaks unnecessarily hateful things about them (which they do to him all the time), I believe it is wrong.

So, I hate hate. And I want to see human flourishing. That’s why I vote for Trump. I believe his policies will lead to human flourishing in the United States. I am not voting for Trump so he can go hate the Libs for me. Sinful as I am, I am all too capable of doing that myself. May God forgive me when I act in such ways, and teach me to love my enemies, just as His Son did.

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10 Proverbs to Improve Social Media

Social Media can often be a dumpster fire. Other times, it can be an amazing tool to connect with friends and family. No doubt, it brings out the worst in us at times. I’ve seen people (myself) say thing on social media they would never say in person. Here are some Proverbs that have a direct application to how we engage on social media.

10 Proverbs to Improve Social Media

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Hell Under Fire: Introduction Response

As previously mentioned, I’ve begun my study of hell. Based on my understanding of Scripture, and especially the atonement, I feel inclined to believe that unbelievers will experience the finality of death as the punishment for their sin. That is to say, I am inclined towards conditionalism, as opposed to eternal torment, or universalism.

But I want to be sure.

So, I’ve purchased what many have told me is an excellent contemporary defense of eternal torment. The book is Hell Under Fire and has a number of prominent evangelical contributors. Not to mention, at least at this time, the book is only $3 on Amazon Kindle.

I’m hoping to read through the book and share my thoughts here, we’ll see how it goes.

Is Hell Under Fire?

The book begins with the assertion that the doctrine of hell is under fire and has been since the enlightenment with increasing hostility in the past fifty years.

This is a clever approach and one that I see often when in dialogue with many Calvinists. The goal is simple and obvious: paint the doctrine of eternal torment as the doctrine of hell, and make it sound like modern liberals are attacking it.

However, this just simply isn’t true. Go back to second-century Christianity and you will find church fathers who held to a conditionalist view of hell.

Likewise, nearly all of the conditionalist theologians that I have dialogued with hold to conditionalism because they were convinced from proper exegesis of the Biblical text.

To then say, “No, its because liberalism is creeping in,” is both a straw-man and a boogieman.

It is a straw-man for the reasons mentioned above.

It is a boogieman because the goal is to paint it as liberal and then implicitly say, “You don’t want to be a liberal do ya?!” Oooo spooky.

The same thing happened recently when I was listening to a preacher tell his congregation that people who deny a Calvinistic-soteriology are robbing God’s glory and attempting to gain salvation themselves. It’s false, and its a scare-tactic.

You also see it from Young Earth Creationists. “Genesis is abundantly clear that the earth is 6,000 years old. Only those influenced by the Enlightenment, who elevate man’s word over God’s word, would believe anything else.” You’re being disingenuous and only proving that you can’t defend your own view without insulting your interlocutor.

Departure from Received Doctrine

The introduction also asserts that departure from received doctrine is not only happening from without the church, but now from within.

The same tactic is at play here. Again, it was the early church fathers who started this thing off, not those from “without the church.”

Secondly, whose received doctrine are we departing from?

My friend Chris Date is a reformed-Calvinist that believes in conditional immortality. He holds to the same creeds as his reformed brothers, only he sees nothing in them that necessitates that he believe in eternal torment.

Third, from a philosophical perspective, that something has been received does not make it true. Plenty of false beliefs have been received both within and without the church. Persecution of non-believers was once received truth. The entire idea of the Reformation was to break with some received truths. So, this whole concept is obviously flawed and in fact false.

Lamenting the “Attack” on Hell

The final portion of the introduction laments the attack on hell and expresses gratitude for God’s glory.

What a strange concept.

Is it really lamentable that people believe the Scripture does not teach that God is going to consciously torment some people forever? Even if I was convinced of eternal torment, I don’t think I would shed a tear.

Is God’s glory at stake here? How does it amplify God’s glory if he chooses to torture some people forever, as opposed to simply annihilate them? It’s an odd flex.

One can scarce keep from suspecting that the same scare-tactic is at play here. “God’s glory is at stake! We mustn’t take man’s word over God’s! Sound the alarms!”

Give me a break.

This introductory chapter was a giant virtue signal. Which is ironic since it is coming from the “traditionalists.”

For now, I remain un-committed either way, though I am tending toward conditionalism. It isn’t helping the traditionalist view any that its supporters are partaking in the above mentioned tactics, as opposed to intellectual honesty and charitable dialogue.

We should always steel-man our opponents and grant them the charity that we would like in return. If you have to rely on emotional appeal and scare-tactics, your argument will eventually be found to be what it is: vacuous.

Stop Dismissing John’s Gospel

The Gospel of John is often criticized for being written later. It is likewise criticized for having differences with the Synoptic Gospels. Since the Gospel is said to have a higher christology than the synoptics, it is said the Gospel of John is a later legend. Here’s why none of these critiques are valid.

Stop Dismissing John’s Gospel

The Atonement and Rethinking Hell

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Date from Rethinking Hell on the Help Me Believe Podcast.

Chris is a Reformed (Calvinist) theologian that holds to a conditionalist view of hell. This view, also known as annihilationism, holds that unbelievers will not spend eternity in eternal torment, but will cease to exist after the final judgment.

I am always initially skeptical of views that I deem “new,” although Chris informed me that this view can be traced back, in terms of Church History, all the way back to Ignatius. To be sure, I haven’t actually looked into that claim, but Chris seems like the kind of guy that does his homework.

However, I have been skeptical of the traditional view of hell, eternal torment, for quite awhile. As I told Chris, I focus on apologetics and philosophy, and don’t often have the time to dive in to theological and biblical issues, at least in a robust way. Therefore, I have not given this subject its proper due.

Before going any further, I want to be clear that I am not committed to any view at this time, except that I am not a universalist. I believe the Scriptures are clear that salvation is for believers alone and that God will punish the unjust and unbelieving. The question here is, what is their punishment?

Here are my initial musings on the subject, with respect to the role of the atonement in this conversation.

Death is the Punishment for Sin

The Scriptures are clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). This has always been the case and can be found all the way back in Genesis where God told Adam and Eve that in the day they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die (Genesis 2:17).

Because they disobeyed God, God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden for the expressed purpose of preventing them from accessing the tree of life which would enable them to live forever.

However you might interpret the specifics, the New Testament is clear that all of humanity will experience death and decay because of sin (Romans 5, 1 Cor 15, etc.).

One thing to point out: the punishment for sin is said to be death, not eternal torment. Before you unsubscribe, let me just say, I have not made up my mind on eternal torment.

However, I am finding less and less biblical support for it. A strong and obvious case can be made that the punishment for sin is death. I mean, that’s what the whole testimony of Scripture explicitly says. Only by inserting odd hermeneutics have I ever seen someone pull “eternal torment” out of places like Genesis 3.

I’ve heard preachers say, “Well, Adam and Eve didn’t immediately die, so when God say “You will surely die,” he must have been speaking of a spiritual death.” Umm, no. There’s absolutely no reason to think God was talking about a spiritual death, whatever that means. If it means “separation from God,” then Genesis 4 is a direct rebuttal to the idea, since God was still with Adam and Eve and their offspring, hence they were not “separated from God” after all.

A spiritual death is anything but obvious when reading Scripture. A literal death is abundantly clear and becomes even more explicitly clear when we consider the atonement.

Jesus’ Death Was Substitutionary

Whatever else Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished, He died in our place. Upon Him, was the wrath for our sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. While we were still sinners, He died for us. His death was substitutionary, that is, He died on our behalf.

The punishment for sin is death. Jesus substituted for our sins. So, Jesus literally dying on our behalf makes perfect sense. The punishment is death, so he died.

Now, if the punishment for sin were eternal torment in hell, in what way did Jesus die in our place?

After all, He did not spend eternity in hell. This would seem to imply that our penalty has not been paid.

Are there any viable solutions to this problem for the traditionalist?

The Traditional Solution

The traditional solution to this problem is to say something like, “An infinite being can pay in a finite time, what a finite being would have to spend eternity to pay.”

What is meant by this is: Since Jesus is God, he is of infinite value. Therefore, he can pay an infinite price in a finite amount of time. For a finite being to pay an infinite price, an infinite amount of time of punishment would need be allotted.

The Traditional Problem

I have seen this explanation put forward by many theologians including William Lane Craig. Here’s the problem I see:

A finite being spending eternity in hell will never actually reach an infinite punishment. If the argument is that Jesus is of infinite value, therefore he can pay an infinite punishment in a finite amount of time, then the analogy becomes dis-analogous.

It is impossible that a finite being spend an infinite amount of time anywhere. As William Lane Craig himself has often argued, an actually infinite amount of time is impossible. Time must have a beginning, and at any particular moment in time, it is only finite, with the potential to go on ad infinitum. This is why we speak of time as potentially infinite and not actually infinite.

In this way, the person suffering in hell will never actually reach their punishment. God’s just wrath will never actually be satisfied, only potentially, at best.

Not to mention, the whole premise of the explanation is a categorical mistake. When someone says that “Christ is of infinite value,” they surely are speaking in terms of quality. But when they speak of finite beings spending eternity in hell, they are speaking in terms of quantity. So the statement, “An infinite being can suffer an infinite punishment in a finite amount of time,” seems false to me. If the punishment itself just is “an infinite amount of time of suffering,” then not even a qualitatively infinite being can suffer an infinite amount of time of suffering in a finite duration. That would be a logical contradiction.

The only escape would be to say that the punishment for sin is not an “infinite amount of time of suffering in hell,” but is an “infinite quality of suffering.” But can a qualitatively finite being suffer a qualitatively infinite punishment? No, of course not. This is no less contradictory.

Conclusion

This is the problem I see with eternal torment with respect to the atonement of Jesus. Not to mention, I see strong biblical support against this view. As of now, I am uncommitted either way, but look forward to continuing to study more of God’s word as I approach this subject.

Also, if Jesus paid our debt, why is it that believers still die? I’ll tackle this soon, but let me know what you think.

For more on Chris Date and Rethinking Hell, check out rethinkinghell.com.

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10 Reasons to Accept the Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Fact

Can historical study uncover the miraculous? Some say no. But as we study ancient historiography, we do arrive at a set of “bedrock facts”. These are facts that, although they are not known with 100% certainty, most scholars agree on. There are a set of historical “bedrock facts” that scholars agree on that can be used for arguing for Jesus’ resurrection. Brian Chilton lays out some of that argument here:

10 Reasons to Accept the Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Fact

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