Christian Universalism: Cosmology

Christian Universalism: Cosmology February 3, 2011

Being that I’ve been to Italy a dozen times, as a student, a tourist, and a tour guide, I’ve seen lots of creepy, medieval depictions of Hell.  The most arresting may be the doors of the Duomo in Orvieto, a detail of which is shown above.

Each of these depictions, however, is based on a cosmology that has long since been abandoned by Western intelligentsia.  We now look someone curiously at earlier cultures, in which people believed that there was a physical place populated by damned souls and governed by demons.  No longer can we say that Hell is “down” and Heaven is “up.”  Whether you accept a theory of chaotic inflation of the universe or a cyclical model in which the universe repeatedly contracts to a single point and then explodes outward again, it’s impossible to think of Heaven and Hell as places in the universe as we know it.

Some get around that by thinking that Heaven and Hell are places outside of the present universe, while others argue that both will only really exist at the end of time, when God (re-)creates them.  Until then, these latter folks argue, people who have died are in a state of “soul sleep.”  Both of these conclusions once again raises the metaphysical problem.

But it raises an exegetical problem as well: Jesus held an incorrect cosmology.Yes, of course our cosmology is probably wrong as well, or at least incomplete, but that doesn’t make Jesus’ cosmology any more right.  Both Jesus and John the Baptist seem clearly to have embraced the ancient Hebraic belief in Sheol/Gehenna/Hades — i.e., a physical place of fires that the bodies of the damned are thrown.  It seems merely wishful thinking when Aquinas, arguing that Jesus had full and perfect knowledge of all things, wrote, “Christ perfectly knows all human sciences.”

So we’re left with this conundrum: What do we make of Jesus’ teachings on Heaven and Hell if he believed that he existed in a geocentric universe and lived on a flat Earth? This is not unlike the conundrum regarding the Gospel writers (and Jesus) diagnosing “Legion” with demon possession, when today we would most likely consider him beset by schizophrenia.

The only option I see is to relativize Jesus’ (and Paul’s and the Apocalyticist’s) teachings on Heaven and Hell.  By that I mean we must put their teachings in conversation with what we now know about the nature of the universe and the cosmos.  We have to make them relate to our current understandings.  “Relativize” is a big, scary word to some Christians, but it’s exactly what we do whenever we take an ancient, biblical teaching and apply it to a modern setting.

If nothing else, our modern cosmologies at least problematize Jesus’ belief that there was a firery place somewhere nearby that bad people go…

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  • Jonathan Evans

    Why wouldn’t you call Jesus’ use of hell metaphor?

  • nathan

    It is interesting how “relativize” is such a scary term. Most preaching “application” points by even the most conservative among us are an exercise in relativizing and even ‘reading back’ our own content into ancient categories.

    Thanks for this post…got me thinking today.

  • I’m with Jonathan; wouldn’t another viable option be Jesus speaking of heaven and hell as a metaphor (especially since the word “gehenna” in part referred to the trash dump outside of Jerusalem)? That “heaven” and “hell” represent the total presence and total absence of God, respectively, which we can begin to experience in this life? Or yet, what about Jesus using concepts/ideas already present in the culture to elucidate his teachings (which fits with how God communicates with us in general… always through condescension)? Or, what is necessarily wrong with saying that Jesus’ (as well as the writers of the Gospels) cosmology was a little off? After all, he was fully human….

    Not saying your approach is wrong; just suggesting that there ARE other viable options.

  • Jonathan,

    Because it doesn’t come across as metaphor in the text. Or at least that’s my own studies would indicate.

  • Jonathan Evans

    I’m also okay with Jesus being a little ‘off’ on his cosmology – his mission wasn’t empirically tested science….

    Regarding relativizing, ‘looking back,’ and imputing our categories, we should recognize that the biblical writers did this all the time.

  • Actually, by your explanation, these options are examples of “relativizing…” I’m doing exactly as you suggested. So, never mind. 🙂 As you were…

  • Scot Miller

    I’m not sure if “relativizing” is the best term, but you’re describing what Christians have had to do for centuries when new evidence and better argument changed the interpretation of scripture. For example, the Bible was used to defend a geocentric model of the universe against Galileo (see Josh. 10:12-13; Ps. 19:4c-6; Ps. 93:1; Ps. 104:5; Eccl. 1:5). I don’t know any Christian today who read these scriptures as scientific descriptions of the world. Now we know that these scriptures are better read metaphorically. (It doesn’t matter what the “original intent” of the writers were… they may have understood them literally, but they were wrong if they did. Besides, I’m not sure they understood science as post-enlightenment people do.) So there are better and worse ways to read scripture.

    In addition, Southern Baptists defended the practice of slavery in their reading of texts like Gen. 9:18-27, but even the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention has officially apologized for their defense of slavery.

    Maybe you mean “contextualizing” or placing a text in its historical context. As Gadamer would say, the horizon of meaning of the text and the horizon of meaning of the reader are brought together in the act of interpretation. And maybe Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” is what you mean by “relativizing.”

    The problem with New Testament cosmology is similar to the problem with New Testament eschatology and the second coming of Christ. It’s pretty clear that the New Testament expects Jesus’ immanent physical return before their generation died. They (i.e., Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc.) were wrong. So what do we do with those expectations? Edward Schillebeeckx gave an interesting analogy about waiting for a train. If someone told you an important train were coming at a particular time and it didn’t come, how long would you wait? An hour? A day? A week? Christians have been waiting for thousands of years, but the “train” still hasn’t come. So one of two things must be true. Either the train isn’t coming, or we’re waiting by the wrong track.

    There are ways of reading scripture that create obvious problems and there are some readings that open up new possibilities and new horizons of meaning. Instead of rejecting the text as in error, it’s pretty clear that my way of reading the text can be in error. I’ll gladly change my way of reading scripture when my way of reading causes difficulty.

  • After he told the parable of the sheep and the goats, or after he told the story of Lazarus and the rich man, I think if any of his listeners had said to Jesus, “So let me ask you about the cosmological teaching in what you just said,” he would have been more than disappointed. I think he’d have been livid, would’ve ripped into this beside-the-point, desperately-seeking-distraction responder with one of his vipers & sepulchres tirades. Such cosmological musing wouldn’t have been a credible response to those stories. It’s still not.

    Those passages aren’t about cosmology. Whatever notions of Hades and “Abraham’s bosom” they invoke or allude to are in the service of the stories Jesus is telling and those stories are about something else entirely. Whatever cosmology Jesus may have had, he wasn’t telling these stories to communicate it and we shouldn’t read them looking for it.

    Both of these stories are often cited as “teaching” something about Heaven or Hell. It’s as though we’ve decided that the cosmology of these two stories must be taken literally, while the soteriology of both stories must be fiercely denied and condemned, and the ethics of both stories must be allegorized and nerfed into something nonthreatening.

    If one wants to say that Jesus believed or taught about Hell and Heaven in these stories, then one cannot escape the obligation of also accepting what it was that Jesus said about them. He said that Heaven was reserved for beggars and for those who feed them. He said that Hell was exclusively for the self-centered rich. That is what these stories teach — emphatically, unambiguously, undeniably — about Heaven and Hell. But that is never, ever, ever what anyone seems to mean when they say that Jesus taught about Heaven and Hell in these stories.

    Odd, that.

  • Kenton

    Meh, I think I can conceive of another option without raising the red flag of throwing the word “relativise” around. (And in italics no less.) It leads to throwing around the word “deconstrutction” which perhaps also raises a different red flag, but it’s not nearly so divisive. Start by deconstructing “Heaven” (where God lives), “Earth” (domain of man), Your three hell terms (they’re each unique), and start addressing the scriptures themselves.

    For example I think it was The Secret of Jesus where McLaren talks about where Jesus juxtaposes murder and verbal insults (Matt 5:21). Well, an executed murderer might not find anyone to claim his body for a proper burial and it might end up thrown on the literal trash heap of Gehenna. Likewise no one in the Kingdom would want to claim someone who’s always insulting people. That’s radically different from my childhood understanding of “He who calls his brother ‘fool’ is in danger of hellfire.”

    I just think that type of approach would go farther than “relativising Jesus’ words” which I think would be akin to saying “Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about” to a lot of people I rub elbows with.

  • Jon Schmidt

    I agree with others that there must be another option, like a metaphorical interpretation. I realize that I may be out of my depth here, but here goes…

    Seems to me that when one argues that “Jesus was/is wrong”, as Tony does in this entry, that one might be in danger of no longer being a Christian. I really DO NOT mean to be inflamatory or radical or fundementalist, or any other superlatives; however, “Christianity” as an attempt to follow Jesus would seem to require staying close to him.

    I also am nervous by the dismissal of the diagnosis of Legion as demonic, since we today would have called it schizophrenia. As secularly-based mental health worker, I buy-in (in part) to the empirically based Western medical model. However, as a Christian, I also believe that there is a spiritual realm that we cannot measure, and that some Schizoprenia might be purely neuro-chemical, while others may in fact be demonic. This may sound rediculous to some, but the Bible describes a spiritual world that we cannot see or measure. Are we really to dismiss (read “relativise) all the spiritual experiences of the Bible simply because in our Western-Rationalist perspective we don’t “see” this?
    Jesus performed miracles and sent out the disciples who performed miracles too. They spoke in tongues, prophesized and healed the sick. Where is it in the Bible that God “dispensed” these gifts only for that era? Perhaps we don’t see these things because we don’t believe.

  • Dan Hauge

    Boy, there is so much to say in repsonse–but I’ll try to limit myself, for now, to one key question–Tony, do you basically assume that the Western, enlightenment, materialistic worldview is inherently superior to all others, both past and present? There are millions of people who do believe in demons, and different states after death, today, and millions of them also have scientific knowledge of the material universe, and don’t necessarily see it as a contradiction. Many (including myself) believe that we can speak of realities that cannot be scientifically tested, that they could be revealed by divine agency. While I do think that traditional descriptions of heaven or hell fall under a category of metaphor, and yes, that is a step of ‘relativization’, I don’t see any reason why they can’t point toward different states of being, or relating to God, after death. (And I still want to know how we can even talk about ‘universalism’ without talking about after-death, and thus metaphysics, in some way.)

    You keep referring to the ‘metaphysical problem’, without yet going into a lot of detail. If we really can’t know or speak of any reality outside of the material universe as science is able to describe it, it seems that we can’t stop by relegating ‘heaven’, ‘hell’, or ‘demons’ or ‘angels’ to the historical/cultural dustbin, we also have to go directly for ‘God’. How do we describe God as something ‘within’ the material universe as contemporary science can describe it?

  • Chris

    “The only option I see is to relativize Jesus’ (and Paul’s and the Apocalyticist’s) teachings on Heaven and Hell. By that I mean we must put their teachings in conversation with what we now know about the nature of the universe and the cosmos. We have to make them relate to our current understandings.”

    Amazing. So now matter how foolish/crazy/bizarre something in the bible appears, we WILL find a way to creatively rationalize, explain away, account for this foolishness in such a way as to make it semi-palatable or vaguely coherent for us today.
    Again, this isn’t relativizing. It’s desperate rationalizing.

  • Logic only takes us so far in any subject, let alone the nature of the spiritual. There should be room in any conversation about the Bible, or faith, to discuss both the physical and the spiritual, and for there to be some kind of mystical interplay between the two. Otherwise, we are prone to reductionism. (Naturally we will all understand this interplay differently.)

    Tony, are you saying that by the “metaphysical problem,” there is not way to think about spiritual realities or spiritual dimensions beyond what we can perceive? I don’t think you are saying that, but that seems to be what some people here are picking up from your post. Maybe you do, and if so, I’m curious about how that shapes your conception of the Christian narrative.

    (As an aside, for the record, I don’t think Jesus believed that there was a fiery place that bad people would go, and I don’t think what he said in the Gospels requires him to believe that….although if I’m wrong, that wouldn’t bug me too much.)

  • Jim W

    So, let me get this straight; Jesus, The Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, had His cosmology wrong? You, with your almost Doctorate, are able to say that God is wrong. Got it. So, what else was He wrong about? Maybe that whole virgin birth thing? Maybe He was wrong about some of your pet ideas-love your neighbor? Blessed are the poor? Blessed are the meek? I would have to assume that whole feeding the 5000 was all made up as well. Anything else? Maybe He didn’t really die? I already know you don’t believe that He died for your sins (and mine). But what else did Jesus get wrong? Enlighten us, oh scholar.

  • Dan Hauge

    I basically agree with Josh L-W’s question (and thanks for putting it so much more succinctly than I did). There are times where Tony does seem to allow for talk about the ‘spiritual’ (he’s talked about belief in the resurrection, which would strain any materialist model), but in other cases, like this post, he seems to dismiss it out of court (as he seems to do in his third paragraph where he refers to the ‘metaphysical problem’, and his whole post on ‘weak metaphysics’).

    I actually believe that talking about heaven and hell as discrete places is actually non-biblical, even taking the text in a literalist fashion. Sheol and Hades were not understood as places of fire where bad people go–they were understood as “being dead”. Now with both, you find narratives and poetry describing them as rather gloomy places where you don’t necessarily want to be, but everyone who was dead went there. Gehenna is a bit different–it does indeed refer to the literal physical place where people burned garbage–so it is questionable whether Jesus’ use of that term actually was ‘cosmological’ at all. It may well have been a way of saying “those who don’t follow my way and insist on forging their own path will end up in a really bad way” (quite possibly referring to the coming real-life Roman assault on Judea).

    Either way, most biblical scholars that I’m aware of today would say that the most pervasive biblical view (since the Bible is not completely uniform) is not “going to Heaven or Hell” but rather death–just plain death–and then resurrection into a concrete new creation. What that new creation is like for you–how and whether you experience God’s presence in it, is I think the question that “universalism” debates are going for. (Whether you get ‘soul sleep’ in the interim is indeed a matter for metaphysical speculation).

    But, since resurrection from the dead is not a commonplace occurence, many people of the scientific persuasion would say that the notion that Jesus rose from the dead is just as fanciful, mythological, and ‘metaphysical’ as anything else we’re talking about in this post. So how do we draw the lines, exactly?

  • Matt

    Well, Jim W. seems a bit harsh, even though I would raise the same questions as him. Hopefully in more gentle way. How can Jesus be wrong? Is he not the song of God, part of the trinity? It seems that Jesus could not be wrong. I don’t know, this just seems like heresy.

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  • Scot Miller

    Wasn’t Jesus wrong about the parousia?

  • Actually Scot infers a question that fits with some other comments here (and their interpretation of T’s original post): Could the human Jesus be wrong? While I may not think Jesus had the picture of heaven and hell that is common to our culture (which we get more from Dante than from the Bible, anyway), he does seem to assume (along with the early church) that the parousia is quite near (although that is debatable), and it seems that he initially did not expect crucifixion to be his fate (although he eventually comes to that conclusion).

    Although I don’t think we necessarily have to see that as Jesus being “wrong,” what if part of the incarnation was Christ taking upon himself a limited, human intellect, which could (theoretically) only comprehend an ancient cosmology? Personally, that doesn’t change much for me…although I understand why it would bother some. Historically Western Christians struggle mightily with the humanity of Christ.

    All that, of course, has little to do with the metaphysical questions in this conversation… but it’s an interesting sidebar.

  • chaotic inflation of the universe ? a cyclical model? the universe as we know it?

    How very modernist of you Tony. 🙂 LOL

  • Dan Hauge

    I have no problem affirming that Jesus’ understanding of the world/cosmos was derived from what his time and culture and context knew and thought. I am just not so sure that our current cosmologies have so thoroughly refuted some of the things that they believed (such as a spiritual beings, or some kind of life after death) as many modernists seem to think they have.

    And I do believe that taking for granted that science has ruled out a spiritual realm, and that that’s what “we” all believe now (in spite of the billions living today who do not) is a modernist, rather than post-modern, perspective.

  • John

    Did you ever meet Jesus up close and personal in a living-breathing-feeling bodily human form?
    So that he could personally instruct you as to how to live the Spirit-Breathing Spiritual Way of Life that he taught and demonstrated while he was alive.
    And so that you could have extended conservations with him about All and everything – including metaphysics.
    Plus Jesus appeared and taught entirely within the tradition of Judaism as it was at the time – he was therefore a Jew, as were his direct disciples. He and they would not have considered themselves to be, or call themselves Christians.
    Plus if you are at all honest you will have to admit that Christian-ism is a religion about Jesus, all of which was invented by others, none of whom ever met Jesus up close and personal.
    Jesus certainly could NOT have created the entire death-and-resurrection idea/dogma that became the cornerstone of Christian-ISM.
    Dead “human beings” are fundamentally incapable of creating religions about themselves – such is IMPOSSIBLE.
    What then are you talking about?

    Even more so when 4 billion living-breathing-feeling human beings, and ALL other heart-sensitive sentient beings on this watery breathing planet are NOT Christians.
    Even more so in a time when all of the Sacred Texts of the entire Great Tradition of humankind are freely available to anyone with an internet connection.

  • Jim W

    “Well, Jim W. seems a bit harsh,” What’s harsh about pointing out the arrogance of mere humans that think they know more than God? If we think we know more than the actual creator, we have just placed ourselves as our own god(s). If we so cavalierly dismiss some statements by/about Jesus, why can’t we dismiss all the rest? Which ones should we toss out? All, some, or none?
    “none of whom ever met Jesus up close and personal.” Sorry, the Apostle Paul did meet Jesus up close and personal. Extremely close and personal. Close enough and personal enough to blind him and cause him to instantly become a follower. And Jesus most certainly did create the entire death, etc that you (John) so quickly dismiss.
    Where was Jesus wrong about His second coming (parousia)? He stated that only God the Father knew the exact time. That’s still true.
    Please, I don’t have an almost- doctorate from a semi-prestigious university to help me out. I just have a Masters in engineering from a little country school. I don’t have all the philosophical training and insight that you folks have. I’m obviously missing something.

  • @Dan (and others), you bring up a good point, and one that I was not clear enough about. I am not saying that our Western, rationalistic, science-driven mindset is definitely better than any other worldview extant on the planet. And maybe I shouldn’t say “our.” Maybe I should just say “my.” What I am trying to do is to claim my perspective, my bias, as I think through the possibility of a Christian affirming universalism.

    So, yes, I am admitting that I place a lot of weight on modern science. I believe that the Earth is a globe, not flat, and that we orbit around a star that is millions of years old and is one of billions in the universe. And this may be but one of many universes. I have no indication that Jesus thought such things.

    Does this make me “smarter” than Jesus? No, just better informed on some subjects than he could have possibly been.

    @Jim and @Matt – That doesn’t mean that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t God. The more interesting question is, How was Jesus of Nazareth God? That is, in what manner did divinity inhabit that singular man?

    Your comment has me thinking about a post that I’ll just go ahead and write today. I might as well get it down in pixels.

  • Carl

    “So, yes, I am admitting that I place a lot of weight on modern science. I believe that the Earth is a globe, not flat, and that we orbit around a star that is millions of years old and is one of billions in the universe. And this may be but one of many universes. I have no indication that Jesus thought such things.

    Does this make me “smarter” than Jesus? No, just better informed on some subjects than he could have possibly been.”

    Isn’t this an argument from silence? Is there anywhere where Jesus indicated that He believed that the sun revolved around the world? I think He would know, since He created it all.

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  • Steve B

    Tony, you seriously believe that you are better informed than the Jesus spoken of in Colossians 1:15-20? 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    That this Jesus had no idea the earth was a globe? He had no idea of the things HE created? And you understand these things more? Stunning.

    For those of you who would rather follow Tony than the true Jesus, see Col. 2:8. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

  • nathan

    Please, I don’t have an almost- doctorate from a semi-prestigious university to help me out. I just have a Masters in engineering from a little country school.

    These kind of comments are problematic and self-defeating.

  • nathan

    For those of you who would rather follow Tony than the true Jesus,

    Engagement with ideas and careful listening is not “following” someone on par with seeking after Christ.

    Such jabs are self-defeating since they only serve to alienate the very people you apparently believe need to find and follow the “true Jesus”.

  • Korey

    I wonder if Jesus had been perfectly informed on the universe or universe of universes (multiverse) how he might have communicated such knowledge. If he possessed such knowledge, would he have shared it? Would he not have used any language that seemed to endorse cosmologies extant at the time?

    I wonder if he ever adopted the inaccurate thinking of his time to make larger points, while actually knowing the thinking to be inaccurate. I suppose this may obscure his humanity too greatly while emphasizing his divinity.

  • I think the Scriptural evidence that the self-emptied Jesus was not omniscience when Christ lived a human life on Earth ca. 0-33 C.E. is fairly overwhelming; I make the argument fully here.

  • Jim W

    “These kind of comments are problematic and self-defeating.” And saying that Jesus had a wrong cosmology isn’t?
    You seem to like “self-defeating” as a term. I would say that your statements are self-defeating, since you obviously don’t believe in the One, true, God as revealed in the Bible.
    Tony deserves nothing more than mockery for his arrogant belief that he knows more than God. Same goes for anyone who puts their own intelligence above the Creator of everything.

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  • Linda

    I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ believed in a real Heaven and Hell, and that all will go to Hell unless they turn from sin and trust completely in Him.

    Do you want to know who is God going to throw in the lake of fire?- then listen to this Keith Green song…

  • Melody

    Wow. People like Jim and Linda are the reason Christians are mocked and ridiculed. The fact that you can’t get past your prejudices and archaic beliefs proves that YOU think you know more than God. Surprise-the Bible isn’t the only source Christians have. At least for Christians who know how to think and know there’s more than just “the Bible says so, therefore it’s true.” Muslims do the same with the Koran. You should be ashamed of yourselves for your arrogance and simplistic ideology.

  • Tony,

    I answered your post above with a video blog concerning the cosmological beliefs of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would like to dialogue with you concerning your statements above.

    You can view the video here:

    Blessings! Rob

  • Ian Devereux

    Tony – to quote your Feb 4 post: “@Jim and @Matt – That doesn’t mean that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t God. The more interesting question is, How was Jesus of Nazareth God? That is, in what manner did divinity inhabit that singular man?”

    The last sentence might suggest that Jesus, ‘that singular man’, was a simply vessel, a container for divinity. Possibly even a flesh-and-bones puppet under divine control. Did you mean to do that? I’m not sure that you did.

    If you did, then you have answered ‘the more interesting question’ of “How was Jesus of Nazareth God?” clearly – he was not.

  • Jim W

    Melody, What other sources are there?
    My beliefs are archaic? OK, I can live with that.
    What do you believe? How are your beliefs more modern? And why in the world does it matter?
    You are doing the same thing as Tony, elevating your supposed intelligence above the revealed Word of God. In doing so, you show yourself to be a fool. You need to do the same as any other human, fall on your face and confess your sins to God and beg His forgiveness. You only continue to mock God with your current thinking.
    BTW, don’t lump me or anyone else in with Muslims-I would never call for an unbeliever to be killed. I can only pray that you will see the error of your ways and come to meet the only God who is able to save us all.

  • Carl

    Amen, Jim. Blessings to you and yours!

  • nathan

    You seem to like “self-defeating” as a term. I would say that your statements are self-defeating, since you obviously don’t believe in the One, true, God as revealed in the Bible.

    I deploy the term I find most appropriate in any given situation.

    It’s puzzling to me how you can claim that I don’t believe in God revealed in the Bible. I don’t recall ever being asked or ever offering what I believe about God.

    Very strange.
    I offered my assessment of the rhetorical value/strategy of your comments.

    You assess theological views that you have no way of actually knowing since I haven’t articulate them.

    It’s quite baffling, friend.

  • D

    “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God…”

    When you step into the light, the “conundrums” disappear, and the need to “relativize” is gone…

    But one day, the Light will be shined on everyone, whether we prefer to hide in the shadows or not, and the Light will either purify and perfect us as we surrender to the Holy Fire, or it will blind and burn… No modern cosmology will mitigate the reality of that Day… No one will be able to scoff at a “literal interpretation” in that moment… The brilliance of the Light will obliterate any thought of trying to ignore it’s reality by hiding behind our feeble human abstractions, explanations or allegorizations…

    We will hear real trumpets sound. We will see the Dead actually rise. We will see with our own eyes the Son coming on the clouds. We will watch as real books are opened. We will hear real demons screaming. We will hear saints truly rejoincing. Will we hear real weaping, and the real gnashing of teeth…

  • Melody

    Sorry guys, but the only “fools” Jesus called out were the Pharisees who couldn’t let go of their legalistic beliefs. Guess what–they took the Torah literally! Oh, and Jim, doesn’t the Bible say “whoever says ‘thou fool’ will be in danger of hellfire”? If you literally believe the bible, I’d watch out. On my comment about Muslims, I meant that they would use the same kind of argument as you, “because the koran says so.” That is flawed logic, and you will never convince thinkers to see your point of view that way. If my knowledge makes me a fool, so be it. I would rather have the knowledge that the bible is largely metaphoric than to rely on metaphor as history. On the flip side, taking the bible literally, last I checked, Jesus didn’t say, “whosoever believeth in demons shall be saved.” I think you should stop being so threatened by people who believe differently than you. I applaud Tony for being honest. He’s not claiming to be God or to know more than God; you just can’t handle him having a different biblical interpretation than your own. Sincerely, an intellectual “fool.”

  • D

    The Pharisees did not take the Torah literally, they believed in their own self-righteousness through adherance to the Law…

    A truly literal and honest reading of the Scriptures completely crushes such a belief…

    If they had taken the Torah literally, they would’ve seen that their “works of righteousness” were worthless, that they were lost in their own sin, and in need of a Savior…

    Nothing has really changed from then until now, our ability to take God’s Words at face value is still directly related to our willingness to admit the deceitfulness of our own hearts…

  • “If nothing else, our modern cosmologies at least problematize Jesus’ belief that there was a firery place somewhere nearby that bad people go…”

    I would suggest that it is our lack of belief in a realm without God that is problematized, rather than Jesus’ belief.

    Since Tony has flatly stated that Jesus had his cosmology wrong, would I be able to state that Jesus’ care for the poor and oppressed was wrong? Why? Why not?

  • Jesus is God; he is all-knowing (Whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:20). “Jesus held an incorrect cosmology,” is heresy. Who is your theological authority, man or God? These errors are not minor; unlike small theological differences which occur among gospel-believing believers, these are theological errors which amount to denying Christ, and on the last day, being denied by Christ.

  • You misunderstand Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s cosmology. Indeed, they saw Sheol as below. This is the same for Hades because Sheol is the Hebrew term and Hades is the Greek term. Both terms apply to the same place: the underworld of all the dead. In their view (which was the view of the entire Old Testament), everyone (good and bad) went to Sheol (Hades) at death.

    Gehenna, however, is a completely separate term. It is related to Ben-Hinnom or the Valley of Hinnom which was the trash dump just outside Jerusalem. Until and unless you sort our these terms, you will misunderstand the cosmology of the Bible.

  • I should add that the Bible predicted that its cosmology would change – this is what the kingdom of God (the Second Coming of Christ) was all about. You may recall that Isaiah and John prophesied of a new heaven and new earth. When that new order took shape, people would no longer descend at death. They would ascend.

    There is more on this at The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven:

  • Scot Miller

    @Mike Gant, you’re a party pooper. What do you mean I have to sort out the correct meaning of the biblical terms? Can’t I just make them mean what I always thought they meant? Gee, you’re not much fun.

    @John Mulholland – There is a difference between fact claims and value claims. Cosmology isn’t a matter of value, it’s a matter of empirical investigation. Either the earth is the center of our solar system or not. The biblical writers and characters had no concept of a heliocentric universe, and they were wrong.

    Jesus’ moral teachings, on the other hand, aren’t about empirical matters. Jesus was right about his moral teachings, because his moral arguments don’t depend upon him but on moral reasons.

  • Hamilton Yang


    By Jesus’s time, belief in a physically spherical earth was pretty much a given. See:

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