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Articles by Brian Jackson

An Appeal to Reason

7 May 2009

"There is no hell."

It's an argument that's becoming more popular in our culture. There are consequences here and now, but a loving God couldn't have created an eternal hell to punish sinful mankind because God is Love.

I'm a firm believer in the sufficiency, accuracy, and inspiration of the scriptures, so my gut reaction is an immediate half-turn in my chair and a reach for my Bible from the bookshelf.

If there's no Hell, all the crucial doctrines in the Bible had to have come from somewhere. "True and reasonable" was my motto last time, so I have to see if the Bible stands up to the test of good reason.

It was a friend of mine who most recently brought the issue of eternal hell back to my consideration: he asserts that hell is "made up", drawn from a mixture of Greek and Roman superstition.

Now, before I talk about that, I've got to talk about this: a few months ago, I had a conversation with another friend of mine who was telling me that the Bible was good for what it was worth. I asked him what it was worth, and he related to me his suspicion that homosexuality was not, as the Bible says, actually a sin, but that the Romans had inserted all the related bits about homosexuality to discourage Greek culture, which was openly accepting of homosexual behavior.

Now, before you ancient history guys jump on me, it was his idea. I realize the Romans weren't exactly afraid of homosexuality most of the time. But even if they were dead set against practicing homosexuality for the reasons my friend enumerated, the idea was that they'd changed the Bible.

Let's examine the consequences of that idea.

First, the Romans were the enemies of early Christianity, not embracing it until long after Christ's death and the writing of what would become the New Testament canon. This means that there was more than two hundred and fifty years of Christianity under varying degrees of Roman persecution before the Edict of Milan made it legal to be a Christian. This is more than two centuries of Christians being sawn in two for their faith, lit as torches for Roman roads, and thrown to wild animals for the entertainment of Roman masses. Safe to say, I think, that the Christians who endured the treatment were committed to what they believed in. They'd read the letters of Paul, John, Peter et. al. and had established what became the Early Church tradition. All that said, for the Romans to change the Bible would mean either sneaking in a series of core changes to Christian doctrine before legalizing Christianity (which, since the Church was hiding, would be counter-productive to the Roman bloodlust) or making changes to a church whose members would notice new material, since they were just willing to go to bat for the real thing.

Second, even if they could change New Testament doctrines by either of the absurd methods I just mentioned, the Old Testament had been in place for not hundreds, but thousands of years, condemning homosexual behavior as a sin and an abomination unto God since the first establishment of Jewish law when Moses was still alive. Not only would early Christians notice the change, but Jews who were rooted in thousands of years of tradition, Jews who threw out a copy of the scriptures if they made so much as a single error would have to all simulataneously look the other way while the Romans modified not just new copies of the Old Testament, but every existing copy of the law.

Third, manuscripts that had been holed away to this day must have been modified before being hidden, including the Dead Sea Scrolls which may have been hidden specifically to keep the Romans away in 70 AD, according to some scholars.

So much for Roman modification, I conclude, although I couldn't convince my friend as much.

But getting back to the issue of hell.

If hell is a made-up idea, would it make sense for the Christian writers to choose their enemies to steal from? After all, the Romans represented gruesome executions or pagan ritual, and it was so difficult to accept any part of Greek or Roman culture that even eating the same food could be considered scandalous.

So much for the idea that the writers of the New Testament made it up themselves and stole the idea of the lake of fire from the Romans or Greeks. The Old Testament writers who corroborate what is said about hell mess that theory up.

But suppose everybody is one big hell-fabricating conspiracy. The question is if Christianity is a human-founded religion, how is it any different from the other human-founded religions? There are certainly other religions that demand less of their adherents than Christianity. But don't expect the Bible to back you up if you're believing something you want to believe instead of something that's true.

I don't want to end on such a biting note, though, and there's still hope to be found here.

Can we, sinful men and women, call God unjust if he punishes sins we committed willfully? God forbid. God is love, but God is also holy - so holy that He won't even look upon sin, according to the Bible. But the same God who executes justice for the insurrection of man offered His own Son to suffer the wrath of God on the behalf of anyone who would ever believe, so that we might exchange hell for heaven, punishment for reward. That's the message of the Bible that the early church went to their deaths for.

Anyone who is delivered from the gates of hell gains a new perspective on things, it turns out: the thing all people fear whether they are aware of it or not, the thing that we hated God for when we were His enemies has become the occasion of a miracle in our lives.

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