Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mt. Nimrud-- The Turkish Mt. Olympus













Climbing up Mt. Nimrud did not prove to be as difficult as I had expected because we were able to drive to within about 1500 feet below the top of the mountain. I have a variety of pictures and thoughts to share with you in this post. What you are looking at above is in order: 1) the head of Zeus; 2) the next two are heads of local deities it would appear; 3) the top of Mt. Nimrud, and artificial mound inside which is said to be the burial chamber of Antochus; 4) Antiochus I the King of the Commagenes, complete with astral hat and garments, and his tambourine, or offering bowl (take your pick); 5) Heracles (aka Hercules), Antiochus' favorite deity; 6) further statue of Antiochus on the west slope of the mountain (there are thrones and statues on both the east and west sides of the mountain facing the rising and setting sun respectively); 7) royal lion next to the altar to the gods; 8) heads on the western slope; 9) longitudinal view of the thrones and heads and burial mound from the eastern side.

Antiochus I was a remarkable king of a relatively small kingdom in eastern Turkey. His lineage was impeccable. He was the 16th generation direct descendant of Darius I of Persia, and the 15th generation direct descendant of Alexander the Great. Not a bad pedigree, and it is easier to demonstrate his connection with Alexander than with the Persians. But like the Persians he was especially fond of astrology, hence his wearing the astral hat and garment with stars on both. My interest in this king is several fold. For one thing he left us on top of this mountain some far more impressive ruins than one finds atop Mt. Olympus to help us understand how ancient peoples viewed the Greco-Roman gods, but he also left us a remarkable inscription, the famous Nemrud-Dagh inscription which is the parade example of Asiatic Greek, a form of Greek we also find in the NT in Ephesians and 2 Peter. It is Greek which is verbose, long-winded, prone to complext sentences and big words. It is simply not true that all we have in the NT is Koine Greek, and this inscription helps us see what is going on in Ephesians and 2 Peter. The honorific inscription (in which Antiochus toots his own horn) in part reads-- 'It was, as being of all things good, not only a most reliable acquisition but also-- for human beings-- a most pleasant enjoyment that I considered piety; and the same conviction I held to be the reason
for a most successful authority, as well as for a most blessed employment thereof; furthermore in my lifetime I appeared to all in my monarchy as one who regarded holiness as both a most trustworthy safeguard and an inimitable satisfaction." In other words, 'the key to my success as a king was I was a truly spiritual and pious dude, and the gods not only favored me, they took me up into their company or pantheon, like Herakles was treated'. In other words, Antiochus decided to place himself on his own personal Mt. Olympus, right up there with Zeus and the gang.

Now this reminds us, if we needed reminding, that in the eastern part of the Roman world, the line between human and divine was much more easily blurred. Persian rulers, and others were regularly claiming to be gods or the sons of gods. The imperial cult of the Roman Emperors was just an extension of this idea into the western part of the Empire. You can see from this I think that the eastern part of the Empire would be more ready to consider even Jesus a deity, than the western part-- if Hercules or Antiochus could make such a claim, why not Jesus? Of course the difference was that Jesus was a monotheist and he served an exclusively monotheistic God Yahweh, which complicated matters when divine claims were being doled out. For Jesus to say 'hi I am God' in Galilee or Judea, if he was speaking to Jews, would be tantamount to saying 'hi, I am Yahweh'. But Gentiles would not have heard such a claim in that way. This is why Jesus is so very careful in the way he refers to his divine sonship. He does not wish to violate Jewish monotheism, and yet he wishes to make divine claims about himself and his ministry. Early Jews before or during Jesus' day did not already have a concept of a Trinity, and it was Jesus who set in motion a Copernican revolution in their thinking about the one God and his character and personhood.

But there is something more to contemplate on the basis of the hike up Mt. Nimrud. Ancient peoples in all these cultures believed the gods were 'up there', and so one could draw closer to them by being on top of a high mountain. We see this of course in the Bible as well with the Mt. Sinai theophanies to Moses and Elijah, and also in the stories of the Transfiguration of Jesus. High places of worship, altars, even temples like the temple on Mt. Zion, needed to be built up high to be closer to the divine zone, the holy space, the realm of God. This is the way ancient people's thought. Furthermore, they not only believed the benevolent deities were 'up there' in the sky or in the heavens, they believed the malevolent one's were as well. It is thus not a surprise to hear of Satan being in the heavenly court in Job 1-2, or about the Devil being the prince of the power of the air, or one demons and powers and principalities being in the heavenlies. The later cosmology that placed Satan and demons under the ground was based in part on the conclusion of Revelation where Satan is cast into the lake of fire, combined with the Greco-Roman ideas about Hades being below, and being equivalent to the land of the dead (e.g. like Sheol). The ancients even believed that the stars were gods, they were the heavenly hosts, which is understandable when one goes out every night and sees those bright lights moving around in the sky. They seemed to be alive, animated. Ancient astrology, unlike modern astrology, was not about human lives being fated in certain ways because of the alignments of inanimate matter. Ancient astrology was trying to chart how the celestial deities were affecting us in various ways.

And this leads to an important point. What about heaven. Where is it actually? Is it part of the material universe or not? Is it just above the mountain tops? The ancients mostly thought it was-- passing through the sky led into the lower regions of heaven, and there were various levels of heaven (see Paul's comments about the third heaven in 2 Cor. 12.1-2).

I would suggest that since heaven is properly speaking the dwelling place of God, and since God existed before there was a material universe, and God created that material universe from heaven, that heaven is NOT a part of the material universe. I remember the snide comments of a Soviet astronaut in the 60s who was orbiting the earth and commented that he did not see God or heaven out his window. Well, actually he had a point. You don't get to heaven by blasting off from earth and turning left at our moon, or for that matter at the end of the Milky Way Galaxy. Heaven to be sure is 'out there', but it's not really up there if we are talking about merely being beyond the earth's atmosphere. In fact I would suggest that heaven is part of a parallel universe, the spiritual universe which is contiguous with the material universe at every point-- like two hands folded together palm to palm in prayer. I would suggest that the Ascension was not an attempt by Jesus to leave earth and turn left at Mars in order to enter heaven. The Ascension was not for Jesus' benefit , but rather the disciples, to let them know he would no longer be on earth in the flesh. And this leads me to another point.

Does the Bible really require of us a belief in a cosmology that requires a three story universe with heaven above, the earth in the middle, and hell below? Well no-- that is how various ancients conceived of things, as did the medieval church (read Dante's Divine Comedy). But the Bible does not require us to think in this sort of way about where heaven and hell are. It DOES require us to believe that heaven and hell are realities-- realities beyond our earthly and also our material existence.

So the next time you are longing for a 'mountain top' experience of God, ask yourself this question-- since God is everywhere, isn't it just as possible to get close to God down in the valley as up on the mountain? Antiochus I didn't think so and so he built his shrine on Mt. Nimrud--- but we are not required to follow his example.

25 comments:

Leslie said...

Thank you for those thoughts Dr. Witherington ... particularly I enjoyed the point about Koine Greek. I have wanted to study Greek (and Hebrew) for some time now, but my graduate studies do not entail intensive Greek/Hebrew studies. I do a word study for a paper now and then, but that is it. Any information I can catch on the side is a welcome sight.

On another note, so you would say then that Paul, or some other Biblical figure, talking about Heaven in such a way does not suggest a flaw in the Biblical text? A lot of skeptics will point things like this out and use it against Christianity, saying the Bible is clearly flawed, which is why I find it interesting that you are talking about it here.

Harvey Schmidlapp said...

Mt. Nimrud is a place I've wanted to visit ever since my in-laws went there about 10 years ago. Thanks for sharing your pictures and thoughts. On correction: I believe you have the labels 3, 4, and 5 in a different order from the pictures.

On the topic of the Trinity and of the location of Heaven, I've often wondered if the only way to understand either is by looking into more dimensions that we normally see. We live in and easily understand four dimensions (three spatial and one temporal). Only in the first three can we be said to move freely. The fourth is sort of imposed on us and we all travel through it at a fixed rate. Yet we are asked to believe that there are more. If I understand it correctly, current string theory suggests ten or eleven dimensions. I have as hard a time visualizing those as do the two dimensional beings in Edwin Abbott's Flatland visualizing three.

It seems quite possible to me that the phrases and figures of speech used to describe both the Trinity and the location of Heaven are an effort of an eleven dimensional being (or whatever number turns out to be correct) to describe them to creatures stuck in three (or four).

Ben Witherington said...

Leslie I think we have to distinguish between what the Scripture teaches and what it touches or assumes. I don't think we have any direct teaching about the locale of places like heaven in the NT. I deal with this kind of problem in my new book on the inspiration and authority of the Bible entitled the Living Word of God-- due out next spring.

Harvey I like your reflections, and I suspect you are right. God is trying to explain stuff to us that has a hard time being edited down to our worldview.

Ben

Ben said...

In fact I would suggest that heaven is part of a parallel universe, the spiritual universe which is contiguous with the material universe at every point-- like two hands folded together palm to palm in prayer.

This sounds very similar to Francis Schaeffer's ideas in True Spirituality. Are you familiar with FS and his ideas? Have they had any influence on you or have you arrived at this perspective independently? Thanks

Matt said...

When traveling to Mt. Nimrud, don't forget your hat and don't forget to book it with Travelocity.

Very good thoughts. I look forward to reading the book.

Josh said...

Hi Dr. Witherington

I just finished my first year of Greek (Union University Jackson, TN)so this was a really interesting post for me.

Since Ephesians is written in Asiatic Greek, do you still think that Paul was the author? Is there a huge jump from Koine to Asiatic? If I was to exegete the Greek text of Ephesians, what would I do different or be looking for?

I am also in the ordination process of the UMC. I was raised in the UMC but born again in a SBC church. I have recently returned to the UMC and would like to know about some of the things going on (good and bad). If you could offer some help, I would really appreciate it.

Thanks

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ben:

He may have been some subliminal influence since I read everything he wrote back in the 70s, and I heard him lecture at GCTS.

And Josh, you should shoot me an email with those questions-- ben_witherington%asburyseminary.edu. I do indeed think Paul wrote Ephesians.

Ben

preacherman said...

Ben,
Great post.
It seems that God is most in the valleys it is just harder for us to see Him and harder for Christians "have mountain top experiences" in the valleys because they fail to see the God who is with in it.

As I read the book of Job I notice that God joins Him on the ash heap. The same goes with us today, God joins us on the ash heap of life. Do we notice?

Again, excellent post brother.

Andy said...

Thanks for this post.

Regarding Heaven and Hell as realities, how do you begin to think biblically about Hell? Thanks to information, like your post and NT Wright's book on the Resurrection, my understanding of the after life has grown. It seems to be popular as of late to subscribe to an annihilationist perspective on hell (Rob Bell has been such an advocate as of late).

My own denomination’s statement explains, “We believe in the resurrection of the body, in the general judgment at the end of the world, in the eternal happiness of the righteous, and in the endless punishment of the wicked.”

It sounds like the higher ground to say that a loving God could never endlessly allow any form of punishment. However justice (and free will) requires some form a consequence and I am not sure if this form of metaphysical extinction is the opposite side of heavenly realities.

Any direction you can supply would be appreciated.

Michael Gilley said...

Very interesting. Thank you for this.

Josh, out of curiosity, what caused you to return to the UMC way?

Josh said...

Michael,

Its the bell choirs, I love those things.

Seriously....

I was raised in the UMC. It was a vibrant country church with a lot of members compared to the population ratio. I served as an acolyte some times (I didn't know that was their official name till the other day). There was a time in my early teens (the awkward years) that I began to explore scripture and approach God (praying to the sky behind the smokehouse). But then I got a girlfriend and went AWOL. I ended up in the drug culture. In my early twenties, I was born again in a Southern Baptist Church. I served in youth ministry, short-term mission trips, and preaching. I was called to pastor there. But I also had some very bad experiences (demon deacons; its not just a NCAA team). God opened up a door for me to pursue my academic training (laid off with a severance package; full ride). So my family (wife and son) moved to Jackson, TN to attend Union University (awesome school). I had formed some convictions through exegesis and reading the church fathers and we landed in a small church that tried to be like the early church. The only problem was that they had a Reformed chip on their shoulder and were not focused on making disciples (Dallas Willard influenced me big time). Also, after a year we had no meaningful relationships. So, I spent a long time in agonizing prayer trying to find out where God wanted us. And along came my home church back home with its gracious pastor who asked me to preach when I visited again. I knew driving home that we would have peace when we drove back to Jackson. We did. We are now in a large Methodist church that is amazing. Their mission statement is "Spreading God's love and making disciples of Christ." They have embraced us and went out of their way to help me into the ministry.

Why do I embrace Methodism? Its suits me to a tee and I honestly believe that it conforms to the teachings of scripture more than any other denomination. Its like me: a little Pentecostal, a little Anglican, and very evangelical (classical sense). It has got some major problems but as long as God has lead me here I know that He will do more than I could ever expect. There is also those crazy bell choirs. Man, I dig those things.

Sorry I took up so much space on something off topic. But I know how Wesleyans love a good testimony.

Michael Gilley said...

Great stuff. Thank you for your testimony where life has brought you thus far. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. I serve in one now. I just had an interesting conversation with someone just today. They said the same thing you said about being the closest out of all the denominations to the Bible, only about the Southern Baptists. Well, this was after I informed him that I was applying to Fuller to get my Masters. Appartently, being schooled somewhere outside the Southern Baptist Convention is a bad idea if one wishes to work in an SBC church or even school. (I want to eventually teach Bible.) One thing that puts me off more than anything else is arrogance in the Body. I wish some people would get the idea in their heads that the Bible is not Southern Baptist, nor is it Wesleyian, or Anglican, or any other fragmentation. I am perturbed about this obviously. I can't allow bitterness to take root. Pray for me brothers and sisters.

Thank you Josh for your honesty and I appreciate the Methodists greatly. I don't see any perfect denominations and not all SB churches have wicked deacons. I am just happy that we can all come together as one Body for our Father's calling.

Ben Witherington said...

I'm enjoying these testimonies, and I will just add I am a Methodist by conviction, as I too find its combination of the spiritual, the social and the evangelistic Gospel close to the Biblical mark.

Andy as for your question, I really don't see much basis for anhilationism in the Scriptures. The teaching of Jesus especially in Matthew and Luke suggests eternal punishment. Consider for example the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The point about hell is that while a lot of the description may be vivid imagery to warn people off from it, no one goes there by accident. I like the way C.S. Lewis talks about this issue in The Great Divorce. Hell is the place where God says to those who insist on it-- o.k. have it your way, your will be done. What we don't seem to understand is that repeatedly choosing sin and a self-centered existence is repeatedly rejecting God and choosing hell, however pleasurable that sin might be for a moment or so. Hell is a destination no one arrives at without having repeatedly chosen it. The issue is not how could a God of love let this happen. Hell breaks God's heart. But without righteousness and justice as the way the universe runs, there would be no room for love of any kind.

Blessings,

Ben

T Michael W Halcomb said...

Dr. Witherington,
I agree with your comments about heaven (and hell for that matter). Do you have a take on the whole argument of what happens when humans die (e.g. does their soul separate from their body or do both simply die and wait until the return of Christ)?
Paul, in a number of passages, seems to imply that we are simply dead (the whole of us), until the 2nd Coming (e.g. 1 Cor. 15).
In the last couple of years, I've been thinking a lot about this issue. To use an old quip, I think so many Christians today have "become so heavenly minded that they're of no earthly good." It's like all people want to think about is "getting to heaven" (young and old alike).
The closing speaker at Ichthus, before a crowd of 15-20 thousand talked "only" about "getting to heaven" and how that's our purpose in life. I was apalled. Preaching a message of "getting" does fit this generation of youth but that does not mean that it's a good thing. They need to be taught about "giving" themselves to the Lord and His cause now.
But as I said, I see this same attitude in so many adults too (especially the older ones who are quite nostalgic).
I say all that to simply say that, if we simply die and wait until the 2nd coming, we radically need to reform out teaching of "heaven" in the Church. Is heaven even a place persons go or is it simply where God dwells until His return? Perhaps reshaping our doctrine of heaven (if necesarry) will be a key to reshaping the mission-orientation of the upcoming generations.
Any thoughts?

--Michael Halcomb
http://michaelhalcomb.blogspot.com/

T Michael W Halcomb said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, the "Blogs4God" link on your blogpage is not working.
Just thought I'd let you know.

-Michael Halcomb
http://michaelhalcomb.blogspot.com

Josh said...

Hey Michael,

I hope I didn't come off as arrogant on my move back to the UMC. The truth is that I affirm the Baptist Faith and Message and could easily serve as a Baptist pastor. I am deeply indebted to the Baptists for giving me a deep commitment to scripture, evangelism, and missions. My best friend and neighbor is a missionary to closed countries in North Africa. Also, I could be a Methodist in a Baptist context because Methodism focuses more on praxis rather than ecclesiology (that is a rather simple statement but it is generally true).

There are two major universities in my area; one SBC and one UMC. Although I am now a Methodist, I would still pick the SBC one for its commitment to integrating faith and learning and its academic excellence. It was very agonizing for me to go back to the UMC. God is raising up a generation here at my school who really get it. I also felt like I was leaving missions but I was glad to find that their is a renewed interest in missions in the UMC and that the UMC is on the verge of becoming a truly global church (if the powers that be allow it).

The only beef I have with the SBC is the focus on "getting people saved" rather than making disciples of Christ. The biggest strength of Methodism is focus on laity training. Pastors and staff are servants to the congregation rather than demanding leaders. When there is a pastor transition, a thriving church keeps on thriving because it is not dependent on a charismatic leader. Does it always pan out that way? NO.

Oh yeah, not all deacons are demons. I came from a great church that had godly deacons. But I have seen too many pastor/deacon conflicts in my short time in the SBC. We are praying with a pastor right now who got booted out of his church because he simply spoke the truth. The problem is the anti-biblical assumption that leadership in the church is the same as leadership in the world. Whether it is deacons or bishops, the outcome is always negative.


Michael, as for Fuller, go where God leads. There are quite a lot of my professors who graduated from non-SBC schools (Trinity Evangelical; Aberdeen; Gordon-Conwell). If David Dockery and other good thinkers get their way, the SBC has a bright future. I hope it does. I hope that every orthodox denomination does.


Michael, I visited your blog. It is great to see a fellow exegete. That is why I love this blog. Let's grapple with the text rather than getting mushy or dogmatic. Keep up the good work Dr. Witherington!

Michael Gilley said...

Josh,

No, you didn't come off as arrogant whatsoever. More like honest. I didn't mean to imply that or come off sounding that way if I did. Sorry.

I know what you mean about troubling situations in some SB churches. The trouble is, as I've seen it growing up, most SBists have left in the dust a spirit and atmosphere of confession. It's almost a sin in itself some places to pour your heart out and rely on your brothers and sisters. I don't know where that idea came from. I also know that a lot of the Biblical exegesis that we dove into in school was not coherent with a lot of the Baptist Faith and Message. For example, we had some long discussions about women in ministry, Paul's view of baptism (it's more than just a symbol), the community aspect of John, and not to mention Satan in scripture, or the all too often lack thereof. (Seems that there is no one singular repeated figure in Scripture seen as Satan. We attribute that name to the occurrence of evil figures. The figure in Job was a being in heaven doing its job of accusing.) Anyhow, I know what you mean by the emphasis in the Baptist church being placed on getting people saved. Baptists at large seem to think that the salvation process is limited to a one time, in the past event of saying a prayer. This is TULIP stripped down to what some like and the majority of what they don't like. I have since come a far way. Let's just say that Witherington's book on The Problem with Evangelical Theology has drastically changed the way I look at the NT. You can't mess with TULIP without the whole thing crumbling down. And like you said, we ought to just deal with the text as it is never mind our previous doctrines. Truth cannot hurt us and the Bible just simply does not warrant a view of salvation as a one-time punctilio event. It's a race to win.

I'm sorry to hear about the pastor. I'll be praying for him as well. I can't imagine how hard that would be. Thank you for the encouragement. I almost forgot about my blog.... I haven't had time to post on there in a long time. I ought to do that soon.

Josh said...

Hey Michael,

Man, it is sure glad to hear of others who are taking the same line as me. There are a lot who are seeking something different and making labels: post-evagelical, emerging, etc. When I learned exegesis, it opened up a new world for me. And it's really just common sense reading of texts. I have noticed that all the historical reformations, big and small, have come through people wrestling with the text (not capitulating to contemporary culture or epistemology). I can fit into almost any orthodox denomination because I derive my theology from the texts (and church tradition; but only church tradition that is derived from exegesis). What is good about this is that it leads to a true ecumnicism in that we try to discover the meaning together under basic literary rules. By doing this we help each other see assumptions and perspectives that could hide meaning from us. Its a journey that I love and look forward to for the rest of my life.

Michael, I noticed that no one had commented on your blog. There are so many that it is hard to get noticed. But your essays were good and I would be glad to interact as you wrestle with the texts (my favorite phrase it seems). I will be taking a class on the Pauline epistles this Fall, so I am reading through all of the epistles alongside Gordon D. Fee's Paul, The Spirit, and the People of God. My teacher is Calvanist (I don't really like systematic theology, at least the old flavor, at all) and I have to up to par. It will be fun!

Scott said...

A couple of questions in argument for "heaven as a renewed and restored material creation":
One - What about the prophetic refrains of the "new heaven and new earth" woven through the prophets and the NT "coming down"?

Two - What about 1 Corinthians 15 intimations that resurrection from the dead is a "firstfruits", that is, a hint of what is to come?

Three - Does Jesus having a physical body (at least as we understand it) post-resurrection intimate something about heaven?

Wondering...

Ben Witherington said...

O.K. Short answers will need to do. 1) Paul does not affirm the Greco-Roman notion of a soul, but he does believe the human spirit survives death just as Jesus did ('Father into thy hands I commend my spirit'); 2) there is simply too much evidence of saints alive and conscious in heaven to believe in either the soul sleep idea or the disintegration and reintigration notion. Consider the parable of the reach man and Lazarus, and the saints under the altar in heaven in Revelation. As Paul says-- to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. 3) yes indeed Jesus has a glorified ressurrection body in heaven. He should be easy to spot since he is the only one there with a body; 4) heaven is not the final destination at all-- that would be the new heaven new earth, after resurrection and our final dwelling place is down here in a res. body, not up there. Life in heaven is an interim condition.

BW3

Michael Gilley said...

Josh,

People have been trying to return to an idea of the early church for awhile now. The emergent folks are actually on the way out. They practiced seperatism from the body at large and believed they could do it on their own, in small groups or house churches, mostly lead by people who have never seen a day in Biblical training. It was started by the late Baby Boomer generation. They've run into problems because of it. A lot of politics have entered the scene as well as you could imagine.

Right now, the church at large is changing by the influence of the uprising Millennials. (That's me.) The church itself is changing across the board by a generation that is saying "we don't want another 'program;" we want a real, life-lead faith. There's a return to ecumenicalism and creative worship centered on tradition. There is an appreciation for art and music. There is a return to the need of higher knowledge of those leading the church. There's a pushing for all believers to be ministers and help equally in the ministry. I'm excited about it.

Some of the humps we'll have to get over is that the Millennial generation are consumers by trade. That's going to have to change in the church. Also, there is a hint of indiviudalism and polyvalent teachings, but I believe this is a lagging of the emergent church trend that is going out.

Falantedios said...

What if God didn't HAVE a 'dwelling place' before the events recounted in Genesis 1-2? Surely he doesn't NEED one, possessing an independent existence rather than a derivative one. I think it is simpler to understand that heaven and earth are both created realms whose initial unity was shattered by sin. It wouldn't surprise me if there is a LOT we don't know between the lines of Genesis 1:1-3.

A friend of mine on 'Stoned-CampbellDisciple.Blogspot.Com' just released an elegant series of posts on Heaven and Earth. One concept that really struck me was his depiction of Eden as the First Temple, where God and humanity came together in fellowship.

Check it out!

in HIS love,
Nick

Ferrell said...

Recently I spent 3 weeks visiting biblical (and related) sites in Turkey. I have posted a link to your blogs on Mount Memrud and Ephesus on my Travel Blog at http://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com.

The lightning photo at Ephesus is excellent. Thanks.

Josh said...

BW3,

I also enjoyed C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce. I thought it really showed how our decisions can mame us for eternity and blind us to reality (the professor who refused to believe in the supernatural while walking around in the afterlife was a great little narrative). I often hear of hell talked about as seperation from God. That is the way I like to think about it but scripture also speaks of a last judgement and retribution for sin. Many times popular theology speaks of hell as a big furnace where everyone is lumped into. That is truly unbiblical but can we really speak of hell as simple separation from God? The idea of retribution must be worked in as well. But the idea of someone being punished/tortured forever does sound like unjust punishment for a lifetime or less of sinful living. I don't mean to take sin flippantly. I have worked in a factory for 8 years and no can keep up a facade for 8 hours. I have seen people at their worst and at their best. I was also saved out the drug culture so I know the depths of depravity that a man can go. But infinite punishment for a finite live does seem lopsided. Are people given just punishment (and what would that be; I have read Dante's Inferno and although I see the his logic [sin as a gradual departure from love], a lot of it was still pretty morbid. As a preacher and teacher and as one who has a father who does not believe this topic is very important. There are a lot of evangelicals who treat this topic flippantly (I am thinking of Mark Driscoll-he describes his church as a place where the "beer is cold and we preach that hell is hot"- that kind of talk makes me want to throw up-who can talk about other people like that?)I know it is a tough and debatable topic so I would appreciate any insight that you might offer.

Also, is it right to translate gehenna as "hell?" The word "hell" imports a lot of meaning that I am not sure is there. Would it be better to put a footnote that stated what "gehenna" referred to and explain that Jesus was using a metaphor of a fiery garbage dump to describe the destiny of those who refused to repent? After reading the Odyssey and the Aeneid, I just wonder how much theology concerning hell was imported from the pagan world.


And is "hades" in the NT the same as "sheol" in the OT?

That's not too much to ask is it?

Ben Witherington said...

Hades in Greco-Roman parlance is just the land of the dead. But in Luke's parable of the Rich man and Lazarus it seems to be much more than that. Gehenna is certainly the early Jewish equivalent of what we call hell, but translating the term that can be debated.