If hell is a factual place of punishment as many Christians hold, should God then have warned Adam of eternal torment rather than death alone?
As I tried to say farewell to the Older Testament (for this series) in a recent posting, ccragamuffin would have nothing of it. In comment, she brought to light a reality that appears unarguably sound, ” There was no Jewish theology of an everlasting burning damnation for sinners in the OT.”
She is very wise to add that “this is worth ponder time.” And so, here we are again. I will cast this premature thought offered up by some, “Christianity’s doctrine of hell has been greatly influenced by outside cultures and traditions.” This is a thought for another day, but it at least needs spoken to explain why considering the Jewish thoughts on the afterlife are important.
In the same referenced article, RJ from Real Christianity, challenged these inferred thoughts with a quote from John the Baptist.
“His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [Luke 3:17]
While he is very right in assigning the Immerser to a status of Old Testament Hebrew prophet, there are those who would refute that John is here speaking of hell-fire. Instead, they would claim he is announcing the coming of the Messiah’s Kingdom with the use of OT terminology, similar to the prophecies which found their fulfillment through Assyria and Babylon, that the New Covenant was being made a reality in Christ Jesus; the Old was becoming obsolete, burned away by an unstoppable fire.
One side of the aisle would argue favorably with RJ’s conclusion that John’s words are evidence of Israel’s awareness of hell, the other side not so much.
So convinced are those across the room of this that T.A. Herring says, “Contrary to popular opinion, there is no notion of post-mortem punishment, or even life beyond the grave, in the Old Testament (Scandalous Grace).”
In either inclination though, we must admit that the account of the fall in the garden leaves us with no such knowledge of hell; so what of the introductory question of Adam’s penalty for his rebellion? If the punishment for his partaking of the illegal fruit was eternal damnation, what do we make of God’s terminal warning, “When you eat of this fruit, dying you will die?”
Would it be fair here to make a ‘progressive revelation’ argument? This is undeniably a theme that plays out with all of Scripture. As we work our way through the Bible, we meet God as Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Healer, and a whole bunch of other titles ending ors-ers, until finally He is revealed fully in His Son.
What He has given us is the revelation of Himself and what He is doing, but He does this in His own timing and at exactly the time we need to know it. Therefore, if this argument is valid, then it is ultimately in His hands as to whether we need to know of hell, if it is real, if it is told at all, and if so, when.
If this is true, while it definitely gives us much pondering fodder, even if Israel seems silent of an eternal place of punishment in the Old Testament, it may not be sufficient evidence by itself to write the reality of hell off as mythology. For as the New Testament unfolds, it is hard to deny the inference of hell, and that one must eventually consider its veracity.
On a side-note, I realize this series is forcing me to look at some things that for many will seem borderline taboo. I’m trying to be unbiased, but as can be imagined, it’s very difficult when I’ve spent the majority of a lifetime within the walls of Evangelical Baptist churches.
As I re-read what I’ve written so far, I fear some may wonder if I’m arguing against my own denomination’s beliefs. In reality, I’m just trying to look at this topic objectively while giving all sides an opportunity to present their evidence.