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Hermeneutics and Hell by Robin Parry


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Universal salvation raises the critically important question of how we read the Bible—or ‘hermeneutics’. That is what Robin covers in this talk. He sweeps us through a big landscape in three succinct waves—each bigger than the one before. Firstly he confronts the foreground question of biblical texts—and he makes the point that everybody has problems here. How do we reconcile God’s love with his omnipotence? He then moves onto slightly broader terrain—we need the read texts in their context BUT the meaning of the texts will often be bigger than even the author intended or realised. And finally, he finishes with a new horizon of interpretation—the future. He talks about the ‘trajectories’ of the biblical canon, which stretch beyond themselves for future generations—like ours—to articulate. He uses the development of the doctrine of the Trinity as an example. So this talk is as much about how we read the Bible as how we do or don’t find ‘universal salvation’ in the Bible.

This is the second talk from our Hope and Hell conference.

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Hermeneutics and Hell by Robin Parry

  1. 1. 2. Hermeneutics and Hell Biblical Interpretation and Universal Salvation GOSPEL CONVERSATIONS (July 2019)
  2. 2. Do universalists rejecttheBible?  This is a debate about the interpretation of the Bible, not the truth of the Bible
  3. 3. Do universalists rejecttheBible?  This is a debate about the interpretation of the Bible, not the truth of the Bible
  4. 4. Reading theBible ain’t always straightforward  1. It is God’s redemptive purpose for the world (and therefore his will) to reconcile all sinners to himself  2. It is within God’s power to achieve his redemptive purpose for the world  3. Some sinners will never be reconciled to God, and God will condemn them to hell for ever
  5. 5. TwoThreads  The Bible has two counter-balancing threads  Thread 1: judgement, condemnation, and punishment/ destruction/torment (of some/many/most)  Thread 2: salvation for all  One issue is how to relate them to one another
  6. 6. Thread1: Eschatological punishment  Matt 25:46: “Then they [goats] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [sheep] to eternal life.”  Mark 9:47–48: “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”  2 Thess 1:9: “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might . . . .”  Rev 21:8: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
  7. 7. Thread2: ‘universal salvation’  Col 1:1–20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], 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.”  Rom 5:18–19: “Just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”  Phil 2:10–11: “. . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
  8. 8. Option A: TheBibleteaches incompatible futurevisions  Some argue that the Bible teaches both views and that they do not fit together. What then?  (i) Some leave it at that  (ii) Some then opt for one thread and reject the other  (iii) Some find a way to make a place for both
  9. 9. J.A.T.Robinson IntheEnd, God…  Eschatology is a function of our doctrine of God: it is “the explication of what must be true of the end, both of history and of the individual, if God is to be the God of biblical faith.”  From our perspective, those confronting the gospel face a real choice with two real destinies: life or destruction  But from God’s perspective, in the end all will choose life
  10. 10. Option B: Read‘universal salvation’ inthe light of‘hell’  ‘Traditionalism’: We know what the ‘hell’ passages mean, so the ‘universalist’ passages cannot mean what they seem to  ‘Universalist’ texts are reinterpreted to harmonize them with ‘hell’ passages
  11. 11. Denny Burk “Eternal Conscious Torment”  Securing the Archimedean point: ten passages that Burk thinks settle the debate (Isa 66:22–24; Dan 12:2– 3; Matt 18:6–9; 25:31–46; Mark 9:42–48; 2 Thess 1:6– 10; Jude 7, 13; Rev 14:9–11; 20:10, 14–15)
  12. 12. Option C: Read‘hell’ inthe light of‘universal salvation’  Makes the case for universalist interpretations of ‘universal salvation’ passages  Interprets ‘hell’ passages in the light of them and in light of other biblical-theological themes (e.g., God’s holy love, etc.)
  13. 13. Elhanan Winchester (1751–97)  We need a way to hold all biblical teachings together, not “in any way to explain away or weaken, the force of either the threatenings or promises, set forth in this wondrous book”  The promises affirm universal salvation (Eph 1:9–10; Col 1:19–20; Rev 5:13; Rom 5:18–20, etc.)  The promises have theological principles underpinning them  The ‘hell’ passages do not teach everlasting hell.
  14. 14. Rhetoric: hyperbole  Don’t ignore rhetoric  Rhetoric of wrath. Biblical texts can threaten punishment in very end-of-the-road terms, only to speak of restoration afterwards
  15. 15. Rhetorical context  If a speech aims to persuade its audience through warnings of coming judgment, it may not mitigate that warning  The presence or absence of post-destruction hope must be argued for on other grounds
  16. 16. Canonical Context  The meanings of texts cannot be limited to authorial intention but can ‘unfold’ and ‘expand’ in the light of developing canonical and salvation-historical contexts  Use of OT in NT. E.g., Isaiah 45 in Philippians 2
  17. 17. Canonical trajectoriesi  Doctrine of Trinity is not explicitly formulated in the Bible but develops from following the lines of diverse biblical teachings to the place where they meet
  18. 18. Canonical trajectoriesii  Universal salvation as a way of thinking through the implications of biblical teachings  Universal salvation as a way of holding together diverse biblical teachings
  19. 19. Canonical trajectoriesiii  Questions of hell and universal salvation cannot be limited to biblical passages about ‘hell’ or ‘universal salvation’—for the issues are entangled with countless other biblical ideas.  Divine love and justice  Sin and Christ’s defeat of sin  Human freedom and divine sovereignty
  20. 20. TheGrand Narrative  The parts of the grand biblical metanarrative need to be understood in the light of the whole, and the whole in the light of the parts  So eschatological punishment needs to find a narratively intelligible place in the wider ecology of the story
  21. 21. Behumble: Theseareour theologies  When we do theology with the Bible open we are not simply interested in the theology of Paul or John; often, we are also looking to craft a theology that draws on the authoritative insights of the full range of biblical authors  Karl Barth: our theological task is not to repeat what the apostles and prophets said, but to say what we have to say in light of what the apostles and prophets said (CD I/2, 16)  Thus, our Bible-based theologies are our theologies