Hell in the New Testament

On April 15, I had the opportunity to present my paper entitled “Hell No? The Void of New Testament Theology” at the Doctoral Biblical Studies Seminar at Asbury Theological Seminary. This is a work of New Testament theology on the negative afterlife. My fellow Ph.D. student Donald Murray Vasser responded with a scholarly review.

Here is the paper abstract:

“It is no small quest to understand and plunge the depths of such a heated matter as Hell. Many throughout church history have perennially ventured on such an endeavor, some understandably with hesitancy and reluctance. At best, their efforts have demonstrated that this doctrine is vitally important for understanding the Christian take on the afterlife. At worst, they have left us today gazing into an abyss of immortal uncertainty about the final destination of the wicked. While some still hold to a traditional interpretation of Hell, many today have meandered off the trail pushing the theological boundaries with universalism, annihilationism, and purgatory. Furthermore, these differing perspectives and the unending debates concerning them seem to lead to more frustration and confusion, putting everyone into a state of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Not only so, but these further leave people asking the question, “What exegetical support is there for such proposed claims anyways?” The task set before us then in answering these questions is to delve into the recesses of Hell as presented in the NT and mine the quarry therein in order to provide a thoroughly exegetical NT theology of Hell. As such, we will do this by describing and summarizing each explicit mention of Hell in the NT throughout its major sections: (1) in Jesus and the Gospels, (2) in the book of Acts, (3) in the Pauline Epistles, (4) in the Catholic Epistles, and (5) in Revelation. After the survey of each major section, I will discuss the theological implications of that section for contemporary theology and the church. To finish, I will synthesize the various perspectives on Hell in the NT, thus setting forth a NT theology of Hell. Overall, I am arguing that only the traditional interpretation of Hell holds true when compared with the theology of Hell found in the NT. Put another way, neither universalism, annihilationism, nor purgatory have any exegetical grounding in the NT, but only the traditional take on the fate of the nefarious.”IMG_2534

Sola Exegesis: Why Sola Scriptura Is Not Enough

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Greece

Sola Exegesis: Why Sola Scriptura Is Not Enough

At the time of the Reformation, there were two major battle cries among Protestants: Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and Semper Reformanda (“Always reforming”). It is the former that I am concerned with here. Within Protestant circles today, clergy and laity alike claim to uphold the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, however in practice they have all but forgotten that the claim Sola Scriptura means Scripture alone rightly understood. It is my contention then that the only method by which we can rightly understand Scripture is through the method of Exegesis. For those that are unfamiliar with the term Exegesis, this is a method of biblical interpretation that draws out meaning from the text of Scripture instead of reads into the text what’s not there. Exegesis, then, seeks to understand the Bible within its original contexts – namely, the historical, literary, social, cultural, rhetorical, and linguistic contexts of the Bible in the ancient worlds of the Ancient Near East (OT) and the Greco-Roman world (NT) – in order to draw out its meaning. So in order to do Exegesis well, one must use a variety of critical approaches to interpretation such as the historical-critical method, literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, social-scientific criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, linguistics, etc.

I am, therefore, suggesting that Sola Scriptura is not enough, because the Bible needs interpreting and interpretation requires method. So I am proposing a new motto: Sola Exegesis – Exegesis alone! Only the method of Exegesis will help us rightly understand the Bible in it’s original contexts, and once rightly understood in it’s original contexts, then we can rightly appropriate it for us today in our 21st century context.

Another facet of Sola Exegesis is that the method of Exegesis should be the foundation for developing and understanding Biblical Theology, both Old and New Testament theology. So then, Exegesis is not for Exegesis’ sake, rather it leads us forward to theology; a movement from Exegesis to Theology. And this is not simply for Theology’s sake, rather biblical theology moves us to ministry and Christian living; from Exegesis to Theology to Ministry. This is the process, I believe, that guides the second cry of the Protestant Reformation, Semper Reformanda (“Always reforming”). So then, we do Exegesis…which forms our Theology…which shapes our Ministry…and then we do it over again. And again. And again. This is the ongoing process of Christian living and always reforming. But Sola Scriptura is not enough, because a method of biblical interpretation must be chosen; and I am choosing Exegesis. Will you join me in the journey, in this ongoing process of Christian living?

Together we can discover what the Old and New Testament emphasizes via Biblical Theology, and then we ourselves can emphasize what OT Jews and NT Christians emphasized in our lives and ministry as the body of Christ. Together, therefore, we can discover how Biblical Theology founded upon Biblical Exegesis should shape Christian preaching, teaching, evangelism, and ministry in our 21st century world. Will you join me?

Resources for Exegesis

Michael Gorman’s “Elements of Biblical Exegesis.” David Bauer’s “Inductive Bible Study.”

Resources for Biblical Theology

Ben Witherington’s “The Indelible Image” volumes 1 and 2

These resources can be found on www.amazon.com