We read the Bible and forget that the events took place over thousands of years. From approximately 2,000 BC to around 587 BC, the Bible records approximately 74 battles and various campaigns and lists *of victories of the kings of Israel and later, Judah. Some of these were in “wars” or parts of campaigns, so could be grouped together, just as Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, etc., were all battles fought in one major conflict. It appears that there were roughly 90–100 conflicts that took place (it’s hard to be accurate since some of the lists* may include battles already listed) within a 2,600 year period, at least that are recorded in the Bible that involved “God’s people”, from Abraham to Zedekiah, the final conflict between Judah and Babylon. Many, if not most, of these were also quite small engagements, skirmishes, struggles over land, passage through territory, mercenary engagements, etc. It is doubtful that there were very many engagements that cost more than a few thousand lives (though there was one battle between Israel and Aphek that resulted in the death of some 300,000 Israelite soldiers).

The following article from a skeptic website gives a total number of 25 million “killed by God” through the entire Bible (How many has God killed? Complete list and estimated total (Including Apocryphal killings)). I do not see where he got this estimate, which is highly speculative; for example, the author gives the number of people killed in the flood at 20 million. It is impossible to know the population of the entire earth at that time. If the Bible chronology is anywhere near accurate, the flood occurred in app. 3,000 BC. This, too, is speculative, and there are many, including myself, who believe in a great local flood, not worldwide (cf. Psalm 104:9 – Does it refer to the Original Creation or the Flood?The Genesis Flood).

Regardless, the Biblical account (plus the Apocrypha), according to the article, gives a total of approx. 2.8 million “killed by God” throughout a 3,000 year period. Consider that “at least 108 million people were killed in wars just in the twentieth century.” “‘What Every Person Should Know About War’” Between 1941–1944, the Siege of Leningrad claimed 1.12 million casualties over a period of just around 872 days.

The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. He is compassionate and merciful always. He is also, by our standards, unbelievably patient. For example, one site that may possibly be that of ancient Sodom bears evidence of near continuous habitation for some 3,000 years (fyi, if you read Ezekiel 16, you will see that God’s anger with Sodom had much more to do with their arrogance, greed, and pride than their sexual immorality, though that was definitely one reason). They did not reach their “pinnacle” of wickedness overnight (the inhabitants desired Lot’s guests be given to them so that they could rape them!), and even up to the last moment, the Lord bargained with Abraham to save the city. Abraham stopped at ten righteous persons. Could he have bargained further? Down to just one? Probably not, but God did spare the righteous anyway.

The point is that God is patient. The skeptics wail about the “genocide” of the Canaanites, but they had been warned for 400 years what was coming, and it was God’s desire to drive them out without bloodshed, but the stubbornness and complaining of the Israelites eliminated that idea (see Exodus 23:20–33). In Joshua 24, Rahab, a resident of Jericho, tells the Hebrew spies who were scouting out the city before they attacked it, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Why, if this was the case, did they not flee, surrender, or repent?

These were a people ( the Canaanites) who sacrificed their children to the god Molech (Moloch, Milkom) by placing them bound—and alive—on the outstretched bronze hands of the idol, which had been super heated to glowing, fiery red by an internal furnace. Historians say that when this was done, instruments were blared and the people sang as loud as possible to drown out the screams of the burning children. The charred remains of the bones of children sacrificed in similar fashion to the god Cronus (Ba’al Hammon) have been found in Carthage dating back to 310 BC. (Carthaginians sacrificed own children, archaeologists say) The Carthaginians were Phoenicians, descedants of the same people who settled Canaan. The Aztecs, Inca, Maya, Moche, Timoto-Cuica people of the Americas all practiced child sacrifice, as well as adults and captured enemies. “An ancient mass grave in Kenya reveals a brutal, violent end for a group of humans that lived 10,000 years ago. According to a paper published Wednesday in Nature, this may be our oldest ever evidence of human warfare.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/n…)

Israel, from the time of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt, to the last war with Babylon, a period of some 700 years, were constantly bickering, moaning, complaining, killing each other, rebelling against God, and often engaging in the same child sacrifice as their neighbors and those they conquered. Sure, there were periods of goodness and stability, unity, but for 700 years, God endured their periods wickedness, which just got worse and worse. The prophets he sent to warn them either laughed at them or had them killed, or both. But God gave them chance after chance to repent. Indeed, the Word is true, that

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever…”

Psalm 103:8–9

It is interesting that many people look upon the destruction of the Canaanites (which the Israelites failed to complete anyway!) in horror— “God approved genocide! Murder!”, but never flinch at the millions of innocents killed in the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. Just in WWII, between 48 and 58.5 million civilians died from military activity/crimes against humanity and war related famine and disease. The US, the “good guys,” killed approx. 100,000 civilians in the raid on Tokyo alone.

It is also telling that the same skeptics will ask why, if God exists and is a compassionate God, he doesn’t intervene in events like the Holocaust. Note the inconsistency, the hypocrisy: when God doesn’t intervene to stop the evil of the Holocaust, he’s either impotent, evil himself, or doesn’t exist, but when he does intervene via a “just war” against a depraved people like the Canaanites and their “Holocaust”, he’s a monster!

Finally, according to the Biblical account, most scholars place the date of the flood approximately 6,000 years after Adam. Now, I am an “old earth” creationist; I have no idea when Adam was created* and disagree with the “young earthers” on the age of the earth/universe and the time of the creation, but just taking the Biblical dates and all at face value, 6,000 years seems about right…(maybe). So that’s 6,000 years the peoples of the earth had to become so wicked that God saw the need to wipe them all out and start over with Noah and his family. Note that the text says that human generated evil and immorality began almost immediately after the Fall (the murder of Abel by Cain) and simply escalated. Just five generations after Cain, his 5 times great-grandson, Lamech, is proudly more violent than his forebear. Just before the flood, the text says that “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5; emphasis mine). I can only imagine a combination of the Canaanites sacrificing their children, the horrors of the Holocaust, the sexual slavery of the slave trade, war, genocide, widespread torture and oppression…all rolled up into one terrifying society that was the pre-flood world.

If it helps ameliorate anyone’s feelings at all, in the aforementioned Ezekiel passage, God actually promises to restore even Sodom to its former glory, sometime in the future. This is at least indicative of God’s heart felt desire for reconciliation and restoration—for all people.


Most people make the mistake of just adding the years together in gen 5 to come to some sort of calendar. The problem with that is that the people listed in Gen 5 and 11 are most of the time not father/son relationships. That’s what Bishop Ussher assumend when he came up with his famous calendar. The word begat is used I believe every time. So and so begat so and so. However just because someone was “begat” doesn’t mean that person was the direct son of the person who begat him. It could be a son, grandson, great grandson, etc.

Gen 11:12 And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah

Was Salah an immediate son of Arphaxad? No. How do I know?

Luke 35-36 Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala, Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech

Cainan came between them. Cainan was the father of Sala, not Arphaxad. So “begat” just means a direct relative.

How many years from Adam to the flood?

Yes. It is even possible to be a liberal Christian. I am an orthodox believer, and except for abortion (I am a pro-life) and gay marriage, I am considered, on virtually every other issue, because of my faith and informed by the teachings of the Bible, especially Jesus Christ, pretty liberal.

That said, I personally strongly dislike using politically ideological terms to describe my faith. Jesus said what he said. His words were words of life, not politics. It should be telling that he never addressed the Roman government, which represented earthly power, but for a few very terse comments: his encounter with Pilate prior to his crucifixion (“my kingdom is not of this world”, “you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”), the trick the Pharisees tried to play on him regarding the payment of taxes (“render unto Caesar…”), and calling the puppet king, Herod, a “fox.” Jesus lived…and died…under the thumb of a brutal dictatorship that was just about as decadent and immoral as any in history, yet not once did he ever teach or preach about “rights”, civil or otherwise. On the contrary, he consistently taught the necessity of his followers abandoning their rights. “Take up your cross and follow me” and “If someone slaps you on your right cheek (this was a backhand slap, which meant an open hand slap was next!), turn to them the other also” are not exactly what we are taught in civics class.

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I don’t think God created “that world.” He did, however, create a world in which we would be able to choose between him and ourselves. That’s what love is. If there is no freedom to reject, there is no freedom to accept.

But, if I may point out a few of things: The very question poses a real dilemma: Remove God from the question: Do we really live in a world where the weak HAVE to suffer at the hands of the strong? If so, why? Why do the strong oppress the weak? Do we not have free will? Are we not “responsible” agents? Are we not all born “good”? Even if we are not born “good”, are we not born innocent? And if we are born good, if you trace humanity back far enough, was there not a “first” human or were there not first humans who were inherently good? So, where did evil come from? Can evil even be defined or quantified? Rather than ask why God “created evil”, why did we? Remove God from the question and there is only despair: The questions cannot be answered.

Go to any kindergarten and you will see rooms full of beautiful, laughing, industrious little people, eager to please, eager to learn. You will also see future murderers, child molesters, drunks and drug addicts, serial killers…more than is comfortable to acknowledge. Yes, you might say, but it’s because of their parents/uncles/society/whatever. Okay, so go back to their kindergarten rooms, and those of their parents and on and on and on back into the darkness of time. It’s like with reincarnation, where a person is atoning in this life for the sins they committed in the previous one. Go back far enough, and won’t there be a “first” person, an “Adam”, so to speak? Well, for whose sins was he atoning? At least the Bible has as story to tell: Here’s what happened. Here’s why you’re all so wicked. Now, here’s how to fix it. “Nature” has got nothing! It cannot even be extrapolated from Nature that evil even exists, much less provide any solutions!

I don’t think so. I appreciate the following brief, but powerful, explanation of this passage by Bob Wilkin (Ph.D., Dallas Theological Seminary):

The reference to wandering from the truth concerns moral, not doctrinal defection. This is evident from the content of the entire epistle. James repeatedly exhorts his readers to live godly lives, on some occasions also rebuking them for practicing evil (cf. 1:22-27; 2:1-13,14-26; 3:14; 4:1-2,11-12; 5:9). Yet he nowhere evidences concerns as to their orthodoxy.

While some have no room in their theology for failure in the Christian life, James does. Believers are indeed capable of living contrary from the truths found in Scripture (compare also, 1 Cor 3:1-3; 11:30; Gal 5:13-26). The question is, what will happen to such a wanderer? James doesn’t leave us in doubt.

James’s words here are reminiscent to similar instructions by Paul and Jude. They instructed spiritual believers to attempt to bring carnal believers back to the Lord (cf. Gal 6:1; Jude 23).

James emphasized the gravity of the matter by pointing out that the believer who turns a sinning saint back from the error of his way will save a soul from death. James is saying that this is a matter of life and death.

As a matter of fact, the Greek word psyche, here translated soul, has within its fields of meaning both life and person (see The GES News, Dec 91, p 2). For example, the Lord Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life [Gk psyche] a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). Clearly Jesus Christ did not give up His eternal soul.

We could translate the clause in question, “he will save a life from death” or “he will save a person from death.”

Dr. Charles C. Ryrie writes, “The reference is evidently to Christians, and the death is physical death which sin may cause (1 Cor. 11:30)” (The Ryrie Study Bible, p 1863n). Others who hold this view include Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, p. 173; Ronald Blue, James, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT Edition, p. 835; H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on James and Peter, p. 63; Lehman Strauss, James, Your Brother, p. 226.

Of course, there are some who suggest that eternal salvation from hell is in view here. That suggestion, however, flies in the face of clear Gospel teaching all through the Bible. The sole condition of eternal salvation is faith in Christ, not moral reformation.

The wanderer who is brought back to the truth avoids premature death (cf. 1 Cor 11:30;1 John 5:16-17). He is also blessed to have his many sins covered, that is, forgiven in a fellowship sense (cf. 1 John 1:9).

“Soul Salvation,” Part 2

I might add that the problem with faith+works is two-fold: Those who adhere to it always set up the straw man, “Well, so you’re saying I can be saved then do whatever I want!” and beat it to death. They place the cars before the locomotive, to use the analogy of a train. Cars have no power to move the train; only the locomotive can do it. Set the locomotive—faith, in motion, and the cars—works, will follow. If they do not, if there is a locomotive but no cars, what good is it? James, too, recognizes this when he says, “Faith without works is dead.” A locomotive with nothing to pull is a very expensive assembly of metal parts, nothing more, nothing less. In fact, I would submit that when you see a person “get saved” (walk the aisle, make a profession, etc.) but see no subsequent change in that person’s lifestyle, you’re seeing an impostor, someone who has, to use a modern term, stolen an identity!Image result for cart before the horse

Second, it sets up a salvation based on fear mentality. One can never really know if they are saved because it is simply not possible for us to live according to the standards God has set for us. Lives will be spent performing good deeds in an endless drudgery, but a frantic one, instead out of joy. Even the apostles were not immune to sin, like pride and wrong-headed thinking. Peter, for example, had to be rebuked by Paul for his religious bigotry/self-righteousness, “When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Galatians 2:11) In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes in horror of a man in the church who had been sleeping with his step-mother. While he exhorts the Corinthian church to “Expel the wicked person from among you”, nowhere does he mention the state of the man’s salvation other than to say, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Apparently, then, this was a Christian who had fallen into terrible sexual immorality, but it did not cost him his salvation:

The expression “deliver such a one unto Satan” is the equivalent of “put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (v. 13).It is a biblical idiom for the severing of Christian fellowship.It represents a dramatic expression of the literal formula, “have no company with” (v. 9), or the more specific admonition “with such a one do not even eat” (v. 11), i.e., refrain from ordinary social fraternization with such a one (cf. 2 Thes. 3:6).

One must note that Hymenaeus and Alexander had been “delivered unto Satan” in order that “they might be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20). If the “deliverance” was death, how does the subsequent clause make any sense?It was not anticipated that these gentleman would be doing post-mortem blasphemy!

What then, is the meaning of that ambiguous phrase, “for the destruction of the flesh”? The sense almost certainly is this: Turn the man over to Satan (i.e., back into the world community of debauchery), that he may reap the consequences of his rebellion (whatever physical and/or emotional disadvantages that might involve), along with distressing estrangement from a warm, loving association with the church.Under such circumstances of distress, if there were a remnant of conscience remaining, the rogue brother might well learn to “destroy” his baser, “fleshly” urges, and thus be reclaimed for the Savior’s cause.

This is a sensible approach to the text that does not thrust scripture into the realm of the absurd or the inconsistent.

What Is the Meaning of, “Destruction of the Flesh,” in 1 Corinthians 5:5?

Scripture must always be judged by scripture. Where it is silent, ambiguous, or paradoxical, or where meaning has been lost due to time and/or culture, we must humbly learn to admit, in the exhortation of Maimonides, “I do not know”, rather than to pretend God has anointed us with “special revelation.”

No, not like the prophets and apostles of the Old and New Testaments. See Acts 1:21-26; 5:32; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8–9. Ephesians 2:19–21 and 3:2–5 indicate that the offices of prophet and apostle were confined to those with whom God had revealed his divine word: “…it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.” Ephesians 4:11–13 clearly states “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (emphasis mine) Acts 1:20 calls the apostleship an “office.” 1. The offices were given personally by Jesus Christ*; 2. There would be an end to them.

What were the qualifications for apostleship?

When one assembles all the relevant New Testament data, at least three qualifications emerge as prerequisite to one becoming an apostle in the official sense (Hayden, 1894, p. 33, expands these credentials to seven in number). First, an apostle had to have seen the Lord and been an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22; 22:14; 1 Corinthians 9:1). Second, an apostle had to be specifically selected by the Lord or the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:5; Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:26; 9:15; 22:14-15,21; 26:16). Third, an apostle was invested with miraculous power to the extent that he could perform miracles. The power to perform miracles included the capability to confer the ability to work miracles to other individuals through the laying on of his hands (Mark 3:15; 16:17-20; Luke 9:1-2; John 14:12,26; 15:24-27; 16:13; Acts 2:43; 4:29-31,33; 5:12,15-16; 6:6; 8:14-18; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6; Romans 1:11; Hebrews 2:3-4). Jesus referred to His bestowal of miraculous capability upon the apostles when He promised they would be “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

Are There Modern-Day Apostles?

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Sargent, “Frieze of the Prophets”
Micah, Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah.

Ironically, the unity that the Church subsequently experienced was effectively corrupted with…the re-introduction of the doctrine of apostleship—by the Catholic Church, with the office vested in the Pope. The reason is obvious why the office was not intended to last after the death of the last of those personally called by Jesus: Anyone can claim to be an apostle. Today, many groups and individuals either claim apostleship or make the same claims as apostles, among them, the Catholic Church, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and an entire new charismatic movement has grown up claiming apostleship: the New Apostolic Reformation. Even Islam can be considered a kind of claim to “apostolic succession.” ALL of them have important, foundational doctrines that contradict each other, yet ALL claim direct revelation by God himself and they ALL say those doctrines are backed by scripture. Needless to say, they cannot possibly all be right: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

Similarly, the office of prophet is no more, and for the same reasons: All of the above mentioned groups claim to be prophets, not only to be speaking directly for God, revealing his divine word (contradicting each other, of course), but also, in many cases, making false predictions, saying that certain events would occur which do not come to pass. Just Google “false prophecies made by______.”

What’s the solution? It’s actually quite simple: Reject out of hand any person or group that claims direct revelation from God. God has spoken, past tense, through his apostles and prophets. Today, he speaks to us individually through his Word. None of the objections to this principle can overcome the dangers of heresy. It is better that one person go astray because of the influence of their own desires than for thousands or millions to be deceived.

*Note that we never hear of Matthias, who was chosen by drawing lots, again. There is much to be said for the teaching that the disciples were to wait until the Lord himself filled the office vacated by Judas, and that the person to fill it was to be—and, in effect, was—Paul.

There was also a spiritual gift of apostle (this is not to be confused with the office—they are separate). Among those who had the spiritual gift were James (1 Corinthians 15:7Galatians 1:19), Barnabas (Acts 14:4141 Corinthians 9:6), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), possibly Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:12:7), and Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:69). This latter group had the gift of apostleship but not the apostolic “office” conferred upon the Twelve and Paul. Those who had the gift of apostle, then, were those who carried the gospel message with God’s authority. The word “apostle” means “one sent as an authoritative delegate.” This was true of those who held the office of Apostle (like Paul) and those who had the spiritual gift (like Apollos). Though there are men like this today, men who are sent by God to spread the gospel, it is best NOT to refer to them as apostles because of the confusion this causes since many are not aware of the two different uses of the term apostle.

Is God restoring the offices of apostle and prophet in the church today?

It’s sort of a myth. While the Bible does not actually “endorse” any economic system, there are laws and practices which, if it were possible to implement today, would absolutely horrify conservatives and libertarians. Land, for example, belonged to God; the first fruits of anyone’s labor/income was to be given to God via the priests (the “church”). This was a law, not a suggestion. Landowners were forbidden to reap the corners of their fields or to go over their harvest a second time; all grain that remained–the gleanings– was to be left for the poor to harvest (this is how Ruth, a foreign/alien widow, met Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus Christ). The people were strongly encouraged to give to the poor, especially widows and orphans: “There should be no poor among you” IF the people followed the law. This is echoed in Jesus’ commanding rich people to sell all they owned and give to the poor. What would truly horrify conservatives, especially the Ayn Rand acolytes like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan, would be the commands concerning Sabbath Years and Jubilees.

Leviticus 25 ordains a sabbath year, one in every seven (Lev. 25:1-7), and a jubilee year, one in every fifty (Lev. 25:8-17), to sanctify Israel’s internal economy. In the sabbath year, each field was to lie fallow, which appears to be a sound agricultural practice. The year of jubilee was much more radical. Every fiftieth year, all leased or mortgaged lands were to be returned to their original owners, and all slaves and bonded laborers were to be freed (Lev. 25:10). This naturally posed difficulties in banking and land transactions, and special provisions were designed to ameliorate them (Lev. 25:15-16), which we will explore in a moment. The underlying intent is the same as seen in the law of gleaning (Lev. 19:9-10), to ensure that everyone had access to the means of production, whether the family farm or simply the fruits of their own labor. It is not fully known whether Israel actually observed the jubilee year or the antislavery provisions associated with it (e.g., Lev. 25:25-28, 39-41) on a wide-scale basis. Regardless, the sheer detail of Leviticus 25 strongly suggests that we treat the laws as something that Israel either did or should have implemented. Rather than see the jubilee year as a utopian literary fiction, it seems better to believe that its widespread neglect occurred not because the jubilee was unfeasible, but because the wealthy were unwilling to accept the social and economic implications that would have been costly and disruptive to them.

The Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25)

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The Biblical paradigm was also one of large and extended families. Widows and orphans (a child without a father, not just a child without both parents) were to be taken in by the nearest relatives, the older son if possible. Unlike the surrounding cultures, if a man had no sons, property was passed to the daughters. Property, in other words, was to remain with the family, which could be quite large and extended.

The early church practiced a form of “voluntary communism”, but the extent of participation was left up to the individual believer. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) were struck dead, not for neglecting to give all the proceeds of a land sale to the church, but for lying about it, claiming to have done so when they actually had only given a portion.

Fyi: One per cent of US households hold 35% of the country’s wealth. Total household and non-profit net worth in 2016 was $93 trillion. So that top 1% holds approximately $32,550,000,000,000. $32.55 trillion. Ten percent of that would be $3.255 trillion. I realize that net worth is not income, but it’s telling that if that 1% paid just 10% of their wealth in taxes, the national debt–as it stands now($15.3 trillion)–would be wiped out in just 5 years.

The Bible addresses personal financial behavior quite often as well. There are injunctions against “get rich quick schemes”, taking bribes, cheating in finances (false measures, unequal weights and balances, were an abomination to God, on the level with bestiality and sodomy), etc., and, of course, commands to be generous, to give to the poor.

I would guess that they would say it’s mostly because of things Christians do, not that they really have a problem with Jesus Christ himself. When asked by an American reporter why he wasn’t a Christian, Ghandi reportedly (and erroneously*) said, “I like your Christ. Your Christians? Not so much.” Whether he said it or not, the point is well made. Well, sort of. A great many deplorable–dare I say, “un-Christian”?–things have been done “in the name of Christ.” It is a terrible argument (red herring? Straw man? Non sequitur?), though. One is not a Christian because of Christians, but because of Jesus Christ, and one must surely ask, if only for the sake of mere intellectual honesty, if those objectionable things that are done in Jesus’ name are actually encouraged by him. If Jesus said that if I am slapped on the right cheek, I am to turn the left one to be struck also, but instead I shoot the one who slapped me, I am not much of a Christ-follower, am I? And if I am not even to return evil with evil, how can I possibly justify instigating it!Image result for turn the other cheek

I am convinced, however, that the same people who claim not to be Christians because of the Inquisition, the Crusades, or other awful things “Christians” have done do so because it is an easy, if intellectually challenged, excuse. Fact is, Jesus places impossible demands on his followers, demands that can only be realized by complete and total surrender to his will, and even then, we still occasionally screw things up. And humans are loath to give up control to anyone, much less a moralist like Jesus Christ. Like with the rich young ruler, he tends to require us to give up our gods before we can follow him, and we do love our little gods, don’t we? Sex, money, power, fame…ourselves, our lives. Just try a little experiment: Ask your garden variety atheist if he/she would be a Christian if everything in the Bible, including the resurrection, were proven to be absolutely true. I will bet good money that the answer will be, in virtually every instance, “No.” Why? It’s not Christians, it’s Jesus.


* “A similar quote appears to be from an Indian philosopher named Bara Dada, brother of Rabindranath Tagore. The full quote from Dada appears to be from the mid-1920s: ‘Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.’” (7 Gandhi Quotes That Are Totally Fake)

I don’t know about “was”; people don’t change, really; and God’s word is a Rock, unmovable, unshakable. Times, circumstances, and cultures, however, do change. One of the great things about the Christian faith is that it transcends all of those things, and even penetrates them. The reality is that the more comfortable a people’s existence, the more difficult it is to remain true to the ideals of the faith. The Christians of the early church were united by a very strong, common bond: the threat of persecution and death. Up until the 1800s, virtually every Christian community on earth lived and worshiped under some kind of authoritarian rule, quite often lives that were in direct conflict with their leaders. The founder of the faith suffered the ultimate penalty for what he taught; such was the norm for the next 1800 years or so, and still is in much of the world. When your pastor or deacon is being beaten to death or your family is about to be burned alive, everlasting love may be the only thing that sees you through.

The church in the west hasn’t the “luxury” of persecution; thus, our comfort has become paramount, not the spreading of the gospel, not living lives worthy to be called “Christian.” We are often at each others’ throats for trivial matters, issues that will have no lasting value beyond the grave…or even the next election cycle. I recently read a newsletter by a minister friend in which he describes a fellow pastor who told his congregation, “Virginity is not the gospel.” A man in the congregation immediately stood and directed his family to leave, “That’s it,” he said, “We’ve had enough.” The pastor’s point was that we tend to focus on peripheral things, things that may be important*, but not Gospel, to the exclusion of the more important ones. Jesus made this point in his denunciations of the Pharisees, among which was the one where he criticized them for emphasizing tithing at the expense of the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former,” he told them. The pastor was right; keeping one’s self sexually pure is important, but it is not the gospel. Guess what? Patriotism isn’t the gospel, either.

Our church experiences today are divided by class, economics, race (less now than in the past, thanks be to God!), politics, even age. I have been to secular events, like rock concerts, where young people thought it was “cool” that an “old dude” like me would be in attendance. Talk my ears off! At a church gathering, though, like a college cook out, I’m a “creepy old guy,” avoided like the plague. Every age group in most churches is partitioned off into their own compartments, and they dare not “mix.”

All that said, the church has always had to deal with divisions, gossip, infighting, backbiting, etc. Jesus warned of this from the beginning (parable of the wheat and the tares) and Paul spent more than a little time addressing it. What is the standard, though? What is the requirement when it comes to love to which Christians are supposed to aspire? Well, Read 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It is not just hard to live up to this standard, it is impossible, which is why, of all the Christian virtues, humility should be the one that sets us apart most  noticeably. WE cannot do it, but Christ can, through us: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

* I believe and counsel virginity, chastity, celibacy if a Christian is not married, but I am not against providing kids with potentially life saving options if they, to me foolishly, choose sexual activity. Anthony Bourdain, who committed suicide June 9, 2018, once said, “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” He ended his amusement ride, and he was wrong, at least in the case of Christians. Our bodies ARE temples, and they are not ours to do with whatever we want. Still, if kids choose to act foolishly, immorally, they should still be protested from any avoidable consequences.

Often; less now than in my younger years. I also see times in my past more clearly, times when I felt I was upholding the truths of the gospel, but in fact, I was denying them, hindering them. I wanted prayers of “accepting Jesus” from “converts” rather than genuine repentance. I often played the “Jesus didn’t really mean______” game, with his teachings on wealth, violence, self-defense, poverty, denying oneself, just like the Serpent in the Garden to Eve. “Did God really say…..?” I see now how wrong I was, how Jesus never said a word he didn’t mean, exactly the way he said it. He didn’t die so we wouldn’t have to; he died to show us how it’s done. What he wants…is repentance.

In my 58 years, I have allowed my eyes to see and hands to do things that I am terribly ashamed of, that still rear their foul heads and condemn me, snap at me, gnash their teeth at my mind, my soul, my emotions. I have hurt people in ways subtle and obvious, and while I never “denied God” outright, I lived for years a hedonistic life of practical godlessness. I have caused great sorrow. But I can humbly pray…

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do: and I ask…you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

HOWEVER, whether anyone else forgives me or respects my conversion, I am, and shall forever be, so very grateful for a God, my Lord Jesus Christ, who, by his Holy Spirit, has forgiven me completely and brought me, welcomed me, like Peter, back.Image result for prodigal son

The Prodigal Son. Painting by Geliy Korzhev

Rather than engage in any argument over the use of the words Hell, Sheol, Hades, etc., or termes like “eternal torment”, let’s just address the question:

First, the Christians. Yes, several of the early 1st-2nd century Christians (which appellation, according to Acts, was first applied to the disciples around 37–40 CE) taught an “afterlife” both for the wicked and the righteous:

From “The Epistle of Barnabas” (70-130AD)
The author of the Epistle of Barnabas is unknown, but many consider him to simply be who he said he was, Barnabas, the associate of Paul who is mentioned in the Book of Acts. The letter was written to new converts to Christianity:

The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death with punishment. (“Epistle of Barnabas”)

From Ignatius of Antioch (110AD)
Ignatius was a student of the Apostle John, and succeeded the Apostle Peter as the Bishop of Antioch. He wrote a number of important letters to believers in churches in the area:

Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death. how much more if a man corrupt by evil reaching the faith of God. for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him. (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1-2)Image result for ignatius of antioch

From Clement of Rome (150AD)
Clement was Bishop of Rome from 88 to 98AD, and his teaching reflects the early traditions of the Church. “Second Clement” reportedly a recorded sermon, and Clement discusses the nature of Hell:

If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment (“Second Clement” 5:5)

But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’ (“Second Clement” 17:7)Image result for clement of rome

From “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” (155AD)
This work was written by an Early Church Father (unknown author) and is dated very early in the history of Christianity. It describes the death of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, and also describes early teachings of the church:

Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire (“Martyrdom of Polycarp” 2:3)Image result for polycarp

What Did Early Christians Believe About Hell? | Cold Case Christianity

Other writers were not so inclined and even some of the writings of the above are not as clear. Hell, annihilation, eternal torment…whatever, to paraphrase “When the Saints Go Marching In”, I do NOT want to be in that number. I have a friend who is an avowed atheist. His views on the “afterdeath” are not mere beliefs, to him they are absolute knowledge, and He KNOWS that when he dies, he will simply cease to exist. I asked him how he felt about it, and he said, “It scares the sh*t out of me.”

Judaism is similar, actually, to teachings all throughout Christendom:

Traditional Judaism firmly believes that death is not the end of human existence. However, because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected. Likewise, Orthodox Jews can believe that the souls of the wicked are tormented by demons of their own creation, or that wicked souls are simply destroyed at death, ceasing to exist.

Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife

While the Mishnah doesn’t elaborate on the afterlife, the Talmud (redacted in 500 CE) gives us a glimpse into the rabbis’ view of life after death.

In Eruvin 19b, we are told that all but the most wicked are sent to Gehenom (a fiery place, according to Berakhot 57b), but their stay in the flames is temporary. After being purged of their sins, they are ushered to Heaven by Abraham.

Elsewhere (Rosh Hashanah 17a), the torments of Hell are said to be temporary for most sinners – but instead of ending in Heaven, they end in nonexistence.

Some references to the World to Come in the Talmud seem to refer to Gan Eden; others clearly refer to a time after the dead come back to life, such as this section in Berakhot 17a: “In the World to Come there is no eating, or drinking nor procreation or commerce, nor jealousy, or enmity, or rivalry – but the righteous sit with crowns on their head and enjoy the radiance of the Divine Presence.”

What is the Jewish afterlife like? This article briefly introduces the notion that 1st century Jewish concepts of the afterlife influenced the budding Christian teachings.

Jewish conceptions of heaven and hell — Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) and Gehinnom — are associated with the belief in immortality and/or the World to Come, and were also developed independent of these concepts.

Most Jewish ideas about the afterlife developed in post-biblical times.

What the Bible Says

The Bible itself has very few references to life after death. Sheol, the bowels of the earth, is portrayed as the place of the dead, but in most instances Sheol seems to be more a metaphor for oblivion than an actual place where the dead “live” and retain consciousness.

The notion of resurrection appears in two late biblical sources, Daniel 12 and Isaiah 25-26.

Daniel 12:2 — “Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence” — implies that resurrection will be followed by a day of judgment. Those judged favorably will live forever and those judged to be wicked will be punished.

Is There a Jewish Afterlife? | My Jewish Learning