Thank you for the hospitality you showed my family. I admire what you have worked into your children, by the grace of God. You are worthy to be called "Abba" by them.
I certainly had no intention of doing what we did Saturday night, except maybe to talk about our freedom from sin. I so sincerely believe that our steps are ordered of the Lord, that I know that nothing but good can come from it, as He causes all things to work toward that end in the lives of those who love Him. We both recognize Him as the One Who causes growth.
I sincerely meant what I said about the believers at your church. Fine people. I found good fellowship with them after the service. I think Barb thought maybe I was anxious to leave (and I appreciated her concern), but the opposite was true. I enjoy fellowshipping one-on-one with other believers, especially when there are coffee and donuts present.
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I wish, in your sermon, that you had mentioned which "hell" you were talking about when you said that we believers are going this-a-way, and others are going that-a-way: "to hell." As the subject is so weighty, it is important to be precise. I suggest this, not as criticism (your zeal and love of God are beyond criticism), but as exhortation. Paul exhorted Timothy to "have a pattern of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13), and this is also my desire for the both of us.
You saw some of the notes in my Scriptures. I have literally spent days tracing a single word through His Book. This can be done in any version that is supported by an exhaustive concordance. I have used both the KJV (with an open Young's concordance) and the CLNT. I say this not to boast (boasting is debarred in the grace of God), but as a testimony of the love God has put into me for His Word, and a passion for His original thoughts, unmarred as much as possible by the thoughts of men.
There are three different words indiscriminately translated "hell" in the King James Version. In 2 Peter 3:4, where the Greek word is tartaroo (English transliteration, "tartarus,") the KJV has translated "hell." In Matthew 5:29, where the Greek word is geenna," (English transliteration "gehenna"), the KJV has translated "hell." In Acts 2:27, where the Greek word is hades, (English translation, "unseen"), the KJV has translated "hell." Surely you see the crime in translating three different Greek words (with three very different meanings), by the same English word.
I believe, as do many others, that God had a reason for using three different words, and that man cannot simply dismiss this with a shrug and the flick of a pen. If God had meant to say the same thing in all these passages, He would have inspired the writers to use the same Greek word. To ignore these differences is to belittle God's revelation.
Thank God that He has not left us to trust the KJV translators (or any translator), but has given us concordances (such as Young's and Strong's), with which to check the translator's work. Looking up "hell" on pages 474 and 475 of Young's Exhaustive Concordance, you can confirm with me the separate words hades, geenna and tartaroo. Why did we have to consult Young's concordance to discover this? Because the careless translators did not consider it necessary to define these differences in the text.
The beauty of the Concordant Version of the New Testament is that it inserts these different Greek words right into the text. In 2 Peter 2:4, we read of "the gloomy caverns of Tartarus" (pg. 548), in Matthew 5:29 we read that "it is expedient for you that one of your members should perish and not your whole body be cast into Gehenna" (pg. 20). And in Acts 2:27, we read "For Thou wilt not be forsaking my soul in the unseen." You're a smart guy, so I'm sure that you can see the value of such a translation.
It is called "Concordant" because it puts the concordant definition right into the text. Rather than translating three, or four, or fourteen different words with one English word (look up the word "depart" in your Young's or Strong's concordance-pgs. 245-46 in Young's-and you will find at least fourteen different Greek words, indiscriminately translated by the single English word "depart" in the KJV. The Concordant version, on the other hand, assigns each Greek word its own English equivalent, which does duty for that Greek word alone), or translating the same Greek word by several different English words (for a good example, see "prosdechomai" on pg. 87 of the Lexicon to the New Testament in Young's, and you will find six different English words used throughout the KJV for this one Greek word. The Concordant version, allowing for English idiom, has reduced this to two.)
How is it, then, that the KJV is a "pretty good translation," as you say, in light of the minute accuracy of the CLNT? If you will consider this subject honestly, apart from any inherent bias toward the "Authorized Version," you will undoubtedly see and appreciate the value of such a translation as the Concordant Literal New Testament.
Okay, Peter. Back to hell. Just where are those people going, who we are passing while heading the opposite was as them? Are they going to hades, Tartarus, or Gehenna? To simply say that they are "going to hell" sheds no light on the subject, only confusion. What does it matter where they are going? Well, if it doesn't matter to us, it certainly matters to them (!), and it definitely matters to God, Who created them for His glory. It would be good of us, I think, to look more carefully into the Greek text, and not to treat the fate of billions so flippantly.
Can they be going to Tartarus? Hardly. 2 Peter 2:4 tells us that this place is reserved for "sinning angels." These, obviously, are not human beings. As those we are passing going "the other way" are of flesh and blood, Tartarus is not the place for them.
Are they going to Gehenna? No, not unless they transgress during the thousand-year millennial reign of Christ, which is unlikely if they die in their sins before its inauguration, as most of them will.
Gehenna is literally the "vale of Hinnom," literally ben-Hinnom. Owned then by the sons of a guy named Hinnom, it is a literal valley near Jerusalem that one can visit today (perhaps you were there when you went to Israel), where the city garbage was burned. Some believe it was also the place where children were offered in sacrifice to Molech. Could be. In any case, it will be that place in the kingdom (the millennium) where the carcasses of transgressors will be tossed (see Isaiah 66:24), as a detriment to further lawlessness. I think it will be quite effective, myself. (Maybe our American justice system could concoct some equivalent.) Anyway, this is strictly a kingdom judgment and has absolutely nothing to do with the so-called "eternal destiny" of men. How could it, seeing that "the rest of the dead do not live until the thousand years should be finished" (Rv 20:5), at which time Hinnom ceases to be?
This leaves us with hades, which indeed is the "place" where the souls of all the dead go, you and me included, if the Lord does not come for us first. It literally means "un-perceived" or "unseen." This is proven by checking every place this word appears in Scripture. (The Hebrew equivalent of this word, as you know, is sheol. We know this because that word was consistently translated hades in the Septuagint, or the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures).
I wish I had the energy to pursue this subject in depth. Just know that the soul of our Lord Himself went to hades (the unseen, Acts 2:29), as did the soul of David (Acts 2:27). If this is the so-called "eternal torment" of Christianity, how is it that a city resides there? (I'm speaking of Capernaum; see Matthew 11:23). Yes, go to Israel today and try to find the ancient city of Capernaum. You won't be able to do it. Why? Because, as the Lord said, it is abiding in "the unseen." All this means, again, is that it cannot now be perceived. It's gone.
I know what you meant to say in your sermon. What you meant to say was that there are unbelievers who will miss out on the life of the eons, or, as literal translations have it, "eonian life" (for the Greek word aion.) And that is painfully true.
To avoid the confusion gendered by the indiscriminate use of the word "hell," you should have said that the lot of these unbelievers is the lake of fire, which is the second death. I said you should have discriminated, because the lake of fire has nothing whatsoever to do with hell. Bereft of a pattern of sound words, however, many expositors have supposed the lake of fire to be hell. They also suppose that people will be writhing in anguish there. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as the Scriptures show.
Examining the text closely and believing what is written there, and only what is written (we don't want to be "disposed above what is written"- 1 Cor. 4:6), we find that only three are cast alive into the lake of fire. These are plainly stated in Revelation 20:10 to be the Adversary, the wild beast and the false prophet. Here they shall be "tormented day and night for the eons of the eons."
The "eons of the eons" corresponds in literary structure to the phrase "Holy of the holies," or "Holies of the holies," a phrase which isolates a particular holy place, or places, that exceed in significance and glory other holy places to which they (or it) are being compared. As no one of a sound mind would assert that this means "an unending tumbling of holy places upon one another," why is it that the "eons of the eons," or "the eon of the eon" or "the eon of the eons" are given that connotation? Strange that the KJV lumps all of these three, detailed, Scriptural phrases into the English catch-all: "Forever and ever." But the strangeness does not end here. If "forever" means eternity, then what the heck does "and ever" mean? Eternity and then some? God is not so dumb. No, man has cornered that market. The casual handling of these precise Greek phrases not only belittles God's precise vocabulary, but forces the reader to defy logic. As we have seen from the writings of Paul, God does not defy logic, but rather works within this God-given and worthy human framework.
It can be shown in Scripture (from tracing the word throughout Scripture in its contexts) that "eon" (Gr. aion), means time, or, more correctly, "pertaining to the eons." "Eonian," then (the adjective form of the noun), must also relate to time, or the eons, as the basic meaning of a word cannot change with the various forms of its parts of speech (i.e. hour/hourly, day/daily.)
That some suffer eonian separation from God is unquestionable. That these three mentioned will be tormented day and night for the eons of the eons (certainly not "forever and ever" as the KJV translates), is undeniable. We would have it no other way. The fate suits their crimes. But to lump those human beings (whose portion following the great white throne judgment of Revelation 20:12 is death, which is sleep) with the conscious torment of the three worst transgressors in universal history, is to do unjustifiable violence to the text (and aren't you a pacifist?)
The term "second death" (this is the lake of fire- Rev. 20:14) carries in its name its own definition. It is death. Those in the second death (the lake of fire) are dead. As can be shown in dozens of passages of Scripture (among them Job 14:10-12, Ps. 13:3, Ps. 6:5, Dan. 12:1-2, Ps. 146:4, Is. 38:18, Eccl. 9:5, Jn. 11:11-14, to name but a few) death is unconsciousness.
At death, as you know, the spirit returns to God, the body returns to the soil, and the soul returns to the unseen (sheol, hades), from which it came. The soul, in Scripture, is invariably associated with sensation, and therefore with consciousness. There is no soul, and therefore no sensation, apart from the joining of body and spirit. One beautiful and telling verse from Scripture proves this: Genesis 2:7- "And forming is Yahweh Elohim the human of soil from the ground, and He is blowing into his nostrils the breath of the living, and becoming is the human a living soul." Here we have all three elements of man: body, soul and spirit. Note: Adam did not become a "living soul" until the breath (spirit) of God met with the soil (body) of Adam.
Anyway, back to those billions in the lake of fire. It is not a place of torment except to the Adversary, the wild beast and the false prophet. To all else there, it is merciful unconsciousness (that is, death), until all death is abolished at the consummation, an event described in First Corinthians 15:26.
At the abolition of death, nothing remains but life. This is both Scriptural and satisfying. At this time, those who have been held by the second death (the lake of fire) realize the salvation wrought for them at Calvary ("Lo! the Lamb of God Which is taking away the sin of the world" Jn. 1:29). This is the beautiful, Scriptural, and immensely satisfying purpose of God. The reconciliation of all, not the eternal torment of most, will bring praise to God's name. How else is God to become all in all, and the Savior of all mankind, as it says He will in 1 Cor. 15:28 and 1 Tim. 4:10 (not to mention the sweeping verses of Col. 1:20, Eph. 1:10, Rom. 5:18, 1 Cor. 15:22, 1 Tim. 2:4, and so forth)?
Yet you do not believe that God means all when He says all. I can't do anything about that, except to exhort you to not so hastily brush these verses aside, or cut them short with a table saw to make them fit a prefabricated length of your human doctrine.
All conscious judgment of unbelievers takes place at the great white throne, not in the lake of fire. The great white throne is conscious judgment and repatriation for acts. (Here, yes, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. A dentist will do brisk business.) The lake of fire, again, is death, not judgment. Why should these who have been judged (remember, judgment means making right), go to the second death? For the same reason we who are now justified by faith go to the first one. We are justified concerning our sins and have the promise of eonian life (which not all have, obviously), yet we die for what we still are, that is, human beings born into the realm of Adam. Suffering, you will find, is for sin-for what we do-while death is the wage for what we are (before we even live to commit a single trespass).
If, in your sermon, you wished to emphasize the indignation, fury, affliction and distress that God will surely visit upon the head of every human soul which is effecting evil (Rom. 2:8-9), you should have referred to the great white throne. For it is here (not, by any means, in "hell") where this happens. (I should also mention at this time that the throne is white, not black.)
Remember, Peter, I am simply exhorting you to have a pattern of sound words, and to be very, very careful with what you lay upon impressionable ears. Your responsibility as a teacher is frighteningly real and worthy of the utmost care and consideration. As a teacher, you will experience greater judgment than would any others who would mishandle the Word of God.
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Now I come to "Bishop's View" in your church's newsletter. Bishop Ray A. Seilhamer, having no idea which "hell" he is talking about, has decided that we who have failed to win hundreds of souls to Christ have "stopped believing in [hell]." I am hard pressed to understand how Bishop Seilhamer himself can believe in something that he apparently has so little detailed knowledge about. Is it tartaroo we have stopped believing in, or is it geenna? Or perhaps it is hades. I do not know which it is, for Bishop Seilhamer has not told me. If the Bishop had told me, perhaps I could start believing in it, if, indeed, I had ever stopped believing in it. Bishop Seilhamer, apparently, does not deem it very important to make it concisely clear just what exactly it is I am to continue believing in.
Venturing a guess, I would have to say that the Bishop is referring to Gehenna. He must be, for he uses the phrase "the fires of hell," which, as neither hades (the unseen) nor Tartarus (lit. tartaroo), are anywhere in Scripture associated with fire, could only refer to Gehenna.
"All non-Christians," Bishop Seilhamer assures me, are "bound for the fires of hell," that is, for the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna. Strange. Bishop Seilhamer is here making the remarkable statement (unbeknownst to him, I am sure) that all non-Christians will be alive during the Lord's millennial reign, at least long enough for them to become criminals who are then cast into that burning valley. At this juncture, were I meeting with the Bishop face-to-face, I would have to ask him just who it is who "do not live until the thousand years should be finished" (Rev. 20:5). But Melody would probably stop me from asking that, being overly concerned with Bishop Seilhamer's tender feelings.
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The man-made church, including yours, is always concerned about social issues and ills, but not much about the Word of God. The only time that the Word of God is consulted these days, it seems, is to settle or illustrate some societal evil. I have abortion in mind at the moment. Abortion is an evil, yes, and we ought to address it, but not at the expense of mature, Scriptural learning.
It is the same in today's man-made church as it was in the man-made church of Jesus's day: neglect of the Word of God, over-concern with social issues, an embracing of the traditions of men rather than the truth of God, and the persecution (however subtle) of anyone who tosses stones of truth or mature knowledge into the settled (milk) pool of the system.
Peter, I sense in you the spirit of a freelancer. You are, in your spirit, untrammeled by the doctrines of men. Yet now, you are bound by them. Were you to seek these deeper truths, you would be shunned by the organization. That's why it is so hard for those who have given themselves to the institution to come to a fuller knowledge of the truth. If they did, they would lose the financial support, the esteem and the backing of the institution. Not many are willing to do that.
For many who rely on the institution for their livelihood, it is a difficult decision to forsake all that was gain to them and suffer evil with the evangel of Christ (as Paul did; Phil. 3:8, 2 Tim. 1:8).
"Howbeit, likewise, of the chiefs also many believe in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not avow it, lest they may be put out of the synagogue, for they love the glory of men rather than even the glory of God." (Jn 12:42-43). This is not you. Yet, if you were to search the Scriptures carefully, unbiasedly and diligently, and come to see by the spirit that these things I've been speaking to you are true, how could you sign the statement of faith of your institution, which would invariably deny your Scriptural belief? To entangle yourself in a religious institution can only hinder your spiritual growth, which is why I am exhorting you to come out of it. (And yet, God's will be done. I love you in Christ no matter what.)
You have great resources of talent, desire and strength to do great things. Why bow to the dictates of men when you can soar in the spirit of God? Before one came telling you otherwise (the gentleman of whom you spoke), it was your instinct and conviction to avoid the "higher" education of the institution. Your instinct here, I believe, was God-given and correct.
I hope I have not said anything offensive. I write in love. If I do, or say, or write nothing, it only shows that I am indifferent or unconcerned, and that you are not my friend.
The Lord Jesus Christ be with you,