Jim was a Baptist, and a student at the Wesleyan Theological College. On this day, the immortal soul was the point of discussion.
God had a problem, he said. What would He do with those who did not repent? The class was in full agreement and eager to hear his further comment. He had to make a place for them, and this is why they will burn in hell for eternity.
There was one in the class who disagreed, a Seventh-day Adventist. In the discussion that followed, it was very clear that to convince a man against his denominational background was almost impossible.
But there is an eternal-burning hell, said Jim. It says so in Revelation 14, verse 10. “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God… and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” And the next verse makes it clearer still. Look, “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever…” v11.
We did not get very far that day – a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still. He could not see that other verses showed a different picture, indeed, no one in the class was ready to learn.
On December 19, 1513, Pope Leo X issued a Papal Bull declaring, “We do condemn and reprobate all who assert that the intelligent soul is mortal.”
In his 1520 published defence of 41 Propositions, Luther cited the Pope’s immortality declaration as among those “monstrous opinions to be found in the Roman dunghill of decretals.” 27th Proposition. No. c & e.
Standing with him in those early centuries were John Frith, George Wishart, Johann L. von Mosheim, John Milton, William Tyndale, Dr Joseph Priestley and many more.
Bishop Timothy Kendrick stated in 1805, “The soul of man dies with the body, and is restored to life in the resurrection and the second advent.”
Canon Frederick W. Farrar denounced the “dogma of endless conscious suffering, and could not find a single verse in all Scripture that, when fairly interpreted, teaches the common view about endless torment.” Canon of Westminster Abbey and Dean of Canterbury. (1831-1903) specialtyinterests.net/
Dr R.F. Weymouth stated, “My mind fails to conceive a grosser misrepresentation than when five or six of the strongest words the Greek tongue possesses, signifying to destroy or destruction, are explained to mean ‘maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence’. To translate black as white is nothing to this.” Translator of New Testament in Modern Speech. R.F. Weymouth. Headmaster at Mill Hill School. (1922-1902) Ibid.
What was the difference between Jim’s class and these men of the early centuries?
One group followed exegesis; the other eisegesis.
These are theological words with a vast difference in their approach. Exegesis interprets a text based on a careful, objective analysis, being led to a conclusion by following the text itself. (Exegesis means ‘to lead out of’)
On the other hand, eisegesis is the interpretation of a text based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. If there is a theological bias, the text will say exactly what the reader wants it to say. (Eisegesis means ‘to lead into’)
True exegesis will “rightly divide the Word of truth”. 2 Timothy 2:15.
In the study of the Trinity, there is much eisegesis, forcing the Bible to agree with the reader. We need to interpret the text by what it says, not what we think it says.
When studying certain doctrines, our interpretation must wait until we have carefully analysed every verse on the subject; only then will the true meaning be seen.
When studying the doctrine of an eternal-burning hell, the words ‘eternal, everlasting, for ever, evermore, ever and ever,’ will come into play. A Greek mind will see those words to mean ‘without end’, but a Hebrew mind will understand them to mean ‘as long as it lasts’.
There is no conflict between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, but the Hebrew sets the standard for the rest of the Bible. The main word in the above subject is olam, which can be translated ‘evermore, for ever, ever and ever, everlasting and eternal’. However, the texts have various meanings.
For instance, a slave’s ear is pierced for him to serve his master “for ever”. Deuteronomy 15:17. Clearly the length of time is the rest of his life. The Lord is King “for ever”. Psalm 10:16. The time period in these two texts is vastly different, but both are olam.
Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from the tree of life after they had sinned, lest they live “for ever”. Genesis 3:22.
Jacob’s blessing from Isaac was bounded by the “everlasting hills”, one day to pass away. Genesis 49:26.
Zion would be made an “eternal excellency”; for the earthly Zion, this was fulfilled until Christ withdrew His presence. Isaiah 60:15.
Daniel tells us that many who sleep in the dust will wake to “everlasting life”, and others to “everlasting shame”. Daniel 12:2. The Hebrew word (olam) is the same for both periods of time.
Jim and his friends said -- God is eternal, so both rewards must be eternal.
Eisegesis looks at the text with a strongly-held belief. The only way to rightly conclude the meaning of “everlasting shame” is to study the whole subject.
Another verse that once told an important fact about the birth of Jesus, is today a proof text for the Trinity.
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2. (The Hebrew word for ‘everlasting’ is olam)
What is this verse saying about the One to become Ruler in Israel? “His goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.”
How long is ‘everlasting’ in this verse?
With a Trinitarian mindset and an eisegesis method of study, it will be ‘for all eternity, without beginning’. But an exegesis approach will say – I don’t know.
We are told in the prophet’s writings that Christ’s pre-existence prior to His incarnation cannot be “measured by figures”. Signs of the Times May 3 1899.
Olam means ‘to veil from sight, to conceal from sight, vanishing point, time out of mind, so far back no one can remember, beyond the horizon, a very distant time.’
A common phrase, l’olam va’ed, is usually translated ‘forever and ever’. In Hebrew it does not mean ‘for eternity’, but ‘to the distant horizon and again’, meaning ‘a very distant time and even further’, either the ancient past or the distant future.
Another important Hebrew word that deals with time and distance is qedem. It has diverse meanings, yet all are in harmony to the Hebrew mind. Qedem is the word for ‘east’ or ‘the direction of the rising sun’. It also means ‘to project oneself, to precede, beginning, earliest time, from aforetime, ancient’, or ‘of old’. It has also been translated ‘eternal’, but must be understood as the Hebrew sees it.
The word qedem has been used for ‘old’ in the text -- “his goings forth have been from of old…” This parallels olam, confirming that Christ’s pre-existence has been from ancient times, but it does not tell us how far back.
It could be eternity. It could be from a point in eternity.
As this is a controversial issue, our interpretation must wait until we have studied further.