Monday, February 14, 2005

Read the Fine Print Again

John Ray answers my query to his post about the evidence for the traditional conception of an everlasting torment in Hell for the unsaved:


The author of Daily Duck has asked me to comment on Matthew 13:37-43 -- a very interesting scripture that I may get back to in future posts. I will just makes some brief comments today, however:

"He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." (KJ)

Tares are of course weeds or burrs, a curse for farmers. The obvious question is whether this is a description of evildoers being cast into hell. The "wailing and gnashing of teeth" is certainly familiar in that context. That reminds me of a story:

It was a Pentecostal congregation in which a certain amount of impromptu response from the congregation is allowed. The preacher read out the scripture above and warned his congregation that it might happen to them. A cheeky old guy called out: "But I aint got no teeth". The preacher didn't miss a beat: "Teeth will be provided",
he replied.

Seriously, however, Jesus makes it perfectly clear what he means. He describes the fate of evildoers as being the same as that of weeds: "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire". Do weeds burn forever? No. They are just gathered up, quickly and completely destroyed and then the fire goes out. So we see here as in the rest of the Bible that the fate of sinners is complete destruction, not torment. And naturally those going into the fire might be expected to do a bit of "wailing and gnashing of teeth".

It may be of note that the Greek word here for "furnace" ("kaminos") is also used in the Septuagint at Genesis 19:28 where the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is described: "The smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace". So a furnace fire as an image of complete destruction is one that Jesus could well have inherited from the OT. And his frequent quotations from the OT do show that he knew his OT pretty well. People must have listened pretty carefully to readings from the scriptures in those days.

Now that seems like a logical way to interpret this passage. However, knowing that there has to be more to it, and remembering some passage related to unquenchable or everlasting fire, I ran some more queries at BibleGateway.Com and came up with this passage:

The Son of Man Will Judge the Nations

31"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

41"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'

44"Then they also will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' 45Then He will answer them, saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (MT: 25)

So there you have it. According to the NT, Hell does indeed exist.


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