Does God love everyone?

Ah, love, that simple mystical word that is used to describe the warm feeling caused by body chemistry that overwhelms us at times.

Does God get these feelings?  Is that what is meant by the love of God?  Or are there different loves?

To understand how God loves and if He (She?) indeed loves anyone or everyone, we need to understand what the scriptures say about it.  (Yes, I’m stirring with the ‘she’ …)  Since they were written in Hebrew, Greek (and some Aramaic), we need to at least take note of the different words blithely translated “love” in the English bibles.

In Hebrew we have:

English Hebrew Meaning
RAYA רַעְיָה friend (female), used for wife
AHAVA אהבה love, emotion
DOD דוד beloved, either innocent or sexual when the RAYA and AHAVA are present
TZEDAKAH צדקה charity
CHESED חסד loving-kindness, covenant love, grace, compassion
TSHUKA תשוקה lust
KHIBA חיבה liking
RAHAM רחם womb, compassionate

Remember, ancient Hebrew was mostly a spoken language and the written language didn’t have vowels, only consonants, so meanings are not as clear from the usage as one might have wished for!

The English word love probably comes from the Hebrew word “lehv” (spelled lamed-beyt) which means heart (the seat of emotion in Hebrew thought). The Hebrew word translated as “love” is “ahav” (spelled aleph-hey-beyt) which comes from the parent root “hav” (spelled hey-beyt). Hav means “the family one is born into and given as a gift, a privilege.” From this parent root comes the child root “ahav” (love) meaning “the love (emotional and actions) one gives to the family that one is privileged with.”  (Ancient Hebrew Research Centre)

Then in Greek we have also a couple of words for love:

English Greek Meaning
Eros ἔρως romantic, sexual or erotic love or passion
Phillia φιλία deep friendship, brotherly love
Ludus (orig. Latin) Playful love, also when sitting around bantering and laughing with friends, or when going out dancing
Mania μανία Unhealthy veering off from true affection with intense highs and lows
Pragma πράγμα Longstanding love, deep understanding between long married couple for instance
Storge στοργή Familial affection, also between owner and pet, companions
Xenia ξενία Hospitality, love for strangers
Philautia φιλαυτία Self love. Two types: narcissistic liking oneself a lot, total selfishness, and, the ability to enhance your own ability to love, ie self-esteem, thinking of oneself of proper value, taking pride.
Agape ἀγάπη unconditional love, loving continuously with reciprocation,  non-exclusive love

We use the word “love” in modern English at one time or another for all these words in Hebrew and Greek.  We could use more descriptive words, but generally people don’t these days. We use different words to describe these, but generally not the word love. However when we refer to what God has done and how He feels about humanity and his creation in general, we summarily use the word love, whereas we should really ask what it actually means.

To a blanket love statement or question, I only have one answer: No God does not “love” everyone.  We need to first understand what God’s love encompasses and then we can attempt to answer this question again.

In the scriptures, only the Greek words Phillia/Phileo, Storge and Agape/Agapao are used, so that should give us an indication with which love God loves humanity. A classic example of how things get lost in translation, is John 21:15-17. Jesus asks Peter if he does “apapao” him. Peter says, yes, he does “phileo” him. Jesus repeats his question and Peter gives the same answer. Then Jesus asks him is he does “phileo” him and Peter says, yes, he does “phileo” him. You can see this here. (Hovering over the words will reveal the underlying Greek. The only Bible that I can find that does justice to this section, is the World English Bible. The older translations by Weymouth and Darby also get this somewhat right, but sadly it seems most of the modern ones just parrot the bad lead by the King James. The Amplified Bible also expounds on the different meanings though. So Jesus here prompted Peter about unconditional love, but Peter wasn’t there yet.

Agapao/Agape/Agapeo is by far the most used “love” word in the Greek scriptures. That alone gives us a good indication of its importance in the greater scheme of things. It is used to describe God loving people in Romans 5:8, as in the famous John 3:16.

Agapao is the one word for love that’s used over 300 times in the New Testament.
This is the one we should take notice of!

Agapao (and Agape) is however not exclusive to God or Christians, although many mistakenly have claimed that. In John 12:43 it is said that some rulers believed in Jesus, but did not confess him because they agapao‘d the approval of man rather than of God, so the if we translate this as “they unconditionaly loved the approval of man without reciprocation”, it becomes more clear that they were fearful of man regardless of whether it was founded in actual approval or not. There are many great studies and lists of places were Agape is used in the new Testament which can be found on the internet. To get you started, here’s one.

What does become clear is that when the New Testament speaks about “love”, it does not mean a warm fuzzy erotic or familial feeling, but it means a deeply committed unconditional and non-reciprocal decision and conviction. Actually the word astergos (a-storgos, meaning without storgos) is used in Romans 1:31 and 2 Tim 3:3 to describe people that have lost natural affection, a terrible state of affairs, the opposite being so normal and natural that it’s never even mentioned.

Since we know now what God’s love means, we can explore the question further. It’s truly and amazing and mind boggling notion once one really comes to terms with the immensity of this. Take time to let it sink in, it will be worth it. In Part 2 we will examine some implications of this love of God for everyone.

Those terrible twins: Sin and Repentance

Why is the Christian life being defined by so many drivel words? Word that don’t have any real meaning to most people? Words like repentance and sin

I’m constantly, pleasantly surprised by learning things such as the following:

Mark 1:4 seems simple enough:

In the King James Version (KJV):
4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

The Lexham English Bible (LEB):
4 John was there baptizing in the wilderness, proclaiming[a] a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The Amplified Bible (AMP)
4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness (desert), preaching a baptism [[a]obligating] repentance ([b]a change of one’s mind for the better, heartily amending one’s ways, with abhorrence of his past sins) in order [c] to obtain forgiveness of and release from sins.

Footnotes:

[a] Mark 1:4 Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies.

[b] Mark 1:4 Joseph Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

[c] Mark 1:4 Charles B. Williams, The New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People.

 

But what does it really mean?

This last translation at least gives us an indication that the religious words actually have real meaning, not just some pseudo-psycho-babble that few, if any understand. But that mother of all bad words “sin” is still there!

So, let’s see another, this time helpful, translation:

Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament (MOUNCE)
4 John [Iōannēs] the [ho] baptizer [baptizō] appeared [ginomai] in [en] the [ho] wilderness [erēmos] and [kai] began preaching [kēryssō] a baptism [baptisma] of repentance [metanoia] for [eis] the forgiveness [aphesis] of sins [hamartia].

I made the Greek words a different colour to highlight them., but you can check the source here.

I originally made this note on Sunday 22 January 2012 during a church service. (I can’t remember where it was though)

  • metanoia: (religious word: repentance) Actually means ‘change of mind’
  • aphesis: freedom, release from bondage
  • hamartia: to miss the mark and thus not share in the prize

Therefore the verse should read (without the religious drivel):

John did fully immerse people in water in the wilderness, and preached this act as a change of mind for the freedom and release from bondage from continually missing the mark and thus not sharing in the prize.

Suddenly there is meaning in the words, in a way that can be understood.  Now we can ask ourselves questions like,

  • what is the prize?
  • what mark are we missing?
  • How can we have a change of mind to change the status-quo?

None of these are even remotely addresses by that terrible word: sin.  And neither by it’s partner: repentance.

Why is doesn’t any translation show this?

Lastly, even “The Message” fails on this one…

The Message (MSG)
4 John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins.

What do you think?

The most abused verse in the Bible?

Note: Recently updated. Fixed a lot of spelling and grammar errors and typos and added more references.

To call any verse in the Bible abused, is in itself a bold statement. To call one verse the most abused may be too bold for many, but what if this verse is one that is consistently used in a carefully constructed character assassination on God the Father himself? What if one verse was used to misrepresent God patently and grossly and was the cause of a large volume of scripture being misinterpreted and twisted to suit this caricaturisation of God’s character? Would that make it qualify as the most abused verse in the Bible? What if there was one verse being a reason for millions, if not billions, of people not having any interest in the salvation that Jesus Christ has brought to the world, nor in the grace of the Father and the revelation of his awe-inspiring goodness?

I believe there is such a verse and it is known, in its abused, twisted rendition, by most of the western protestant and catholic world and eastern countries as well. It is referred to in Hollywood adult and kiddies movies, used in Sunday school, children’s bibles, comedy shows, the topic of classic art, literature, fiction novels and countless more situations and references.

I will quote Shrek (from the original animated feature) where he and Donkey reach the rim of the fiery crater en route to the castle to rescue Sleeping Beauty. As they carefully peer over the rim of the crater towards the castle and it’s dragon, Donkey complains: “Awe, Shrek! Did you bump one off?” Shrek replies: “If it was me, you’d be dead! No, it’s brimstone!”

Brimstone! That famous, or rather infamous reference from the Lake of Fire and Brimstone in Revelation 20:10. But, you may think, that verse is crystal clear and reads almost the same in most mainstream bible translations? It is hardly abused in any manner by anyone, is it? Let’s see what it says: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

In the apparent clarity of translation lies the deception though. Although there are two aspects of this text that should prompt one to investigate further, I suppose prevailing religious thinking, or rather lack of thinking, prevents this from happening.

Brimstone

The first is the meaning of brimstone. What exactly is it? More modern translations use sulphur instead of brimstone, but that only adds to the lack of clarity, rather than clearing it up.

Fortunately we can find the original word for brimstone quite easily using Strong’s Concordance (I use Xiphos on Ubuntu Linux, but eSword on Windows would serve equally well). G#2303 is theion (θεῖον) which is probably the neuter of G#2304 theios (θεῖος). Theios means “godlike” in it’s original sense of flashing. Furthermore, The Bible Lexicon has this definition: “divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off disease”. So we have a sulpherous substance in the literal sense of the word, but the meaning thereof, especially when it is being burned is clearly one of purification, not one of stench or foulness and definitely not any aspect of punishment. Although bad odour and other effects may be part of the purification process, that is not the understanding brought by the specific choice of this word. This is crucial in understanding all scripture, not just this verse: What would the original readers have understood when they first read or heard it?

[On a note on the usage of specific words in scripture or literature in general: When an author chooses to use a specific word, that choice is made to convey a meaning, that which the author wants to convey. The meaning of a word is defined by it's usage, so when an author wants to say something that the readers or listeners should understand, the word choice by the very nature of the matter is constrained to those words which the target audience has knowledge of through the usage of the word at the time.

To make this really simple, here is an example: If I want to say that the cat has been bad by attempting to eat the canary, I could write: '"Bad, bad, kitty!" said the owner.' The meaning would be clear, i.e. that the owner of the cat is unhappy with the cat's behaviour, and is telling the cat that he is no good. Now, note how the usage in a different context can mean the exact opposite. In context, Michael Jackson wrote a song with the first words of the chorus being: “I'm bad, I'm bad”. To the future translator, 1000 years from now, translating that song to the language of that future time, it could seem that Michael was being honest about the fact that he had been a bad person. However, the meaning in that context is that he is so good at it, that he's “bad”. So correctly translated it should be: “I'm good, I'm really really good”]

So when John wrote the Revelation of Jesus Christ (ever wondered why it’s called a revelation and not a shrouded mystery?), he chose to use words and symbols that his audience would easily understand to serve as a revelation of the nature and plans of Jesus Christ. The choice of “theion” is therefore not a coincidence.

Of course “theion” does not stand isolated, but closely with it is fire and pool (or lake). Actually the whole scene is described as a pool of fire and brimstone. Firstly, note that brimstone alone is not a cleansing offering, but burning brimstone is. Secondly, if we want to see what a symbol means, we should check the usage firstly in scripture and then also elsewhere if necessary. If the scriptures don’t clarify the meaning through usage, we could check how other authors used the word and what the word’s meaning is as defined by its usage. So we see that in the rest of scripture fire is a representation of God, His guidance & protection, his purging & cleansing and his power and might. Refer to Moses and the burning bush, the pillar of fire going before the Israelites in the desert, this section about purification in Jeremia, the fire from heaven when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and many more. Satan never comes in fire and smoke in scripture; God does however.

So up to this point the symbolism of the the first part of this verse could very well be God’s fire and purification ritual to which the Devil is fully subjected. However, this section of scripture does not end there but goes on the basically say that they are tortured there day and night forever. Let’s have a closer look at that as well.

Bazanos

The word so blithely translated “tormented” in the KJV and many other translations is basanizo (G #928 βασανίζω).  Again, the choice of words is not accidental, but conveys a very specific meaning. Although Strong’s concordance simply claims this means “to torture”, this is not upheld by the root word which is basanos (G #931 βάσανος). This Strong’s does say is a touch-stone and then goes on to say “(by analogy) torture”. However, understanding what a touch-stone is, reveals a completely different understanding of what is being described here. A touch-stone was used by coin inspectors as long ago as ancient Babylon to test the purity and quality of gold coins and other precious metals. By rubbing a coin onto the touch-stone and then applying some acid to the stone, the resulting line is compared to a chart of colours of known alloys and purities by which the inspector learns the purity and thus the value of the coin. Basanizo is simply the verb of basanos.1 This word does not in any way indicate worthlessness, expendability or torture in the sense of the maltreatment inflicted on people in the dark or middle ages by abusive and power-hungry priests and rulers to coax information from them of satisfy their desire for power and control. It is true that the word bazanizo changed meaning to eventually (about 300 years after the NT was written) mean torture as by means of the rack and more. (See Dennis Caldwell’s excellent analysis of the changes.) There were however words, like timoria ( G #5098 τιμωρία) that would make that meaning clear, had the authors meant punishment-torture for the punisher’s gratification, but they are not used here. Clearly the translators of the KJV and others (knowingly or not) by choosing to translate this word as torment, obscure the real meaning and thus boost the agenda of some to ensure that the readers would fear everlasting torture and obey the church rather.

So now we have the first part of the second section of this text which supports the notion that God’s fire of purification is a continued testing for purity, supported by two well-known symbols, theion and basanos, which clearly shows a completely different picture than the one which Dante painted in his “Inferno”, where hell is a place of eternal torture at the hands of Satan and his demons. Or the picture that evangelicals and charismatic fundamentalists love to paint of an angry God, casting all who didn’t follow their particular interpretation of scripture into a physical lake of molten lava where they will be tortured forever. (A horrifying example of this is actually deemed a Christian classic! Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God)

Forever

However, the section of scripture does not end here. It goes on to say “forever and ever”. Without any further investigating it is clearly not possible to have forever and then more after that. It’s either forever or it’s not. Forever is forever. So this is not a technical statement of duration, since it’s just wrong to say “forever and ever” and thus impossible. To speak like this in the literary sense is of course possible, but is this what is happening here? And if it is, do we have any indication why this “forever” is emphasised in this way? The word in question is aion (Strong’s G #165 αἰών) and there is again significant dogmatic interpretation in the meanings that Strong’s provides. Firstly aion is supposedly from an obsolete primary noun “(apparently meaning continued duration), thus ‘ever’”. This in itself is a problem, since the exact meaning of an obsolete word can only be determined if there is sufficient or at least some usage to define the meaning. There doesn’t seem to be any usage, at least not in scripture, so let’s not pursue the red herring. Vines’ explanation of why this should be considered forever, borders on the ridiculous.2 The usage by Jesus’ disciples of “the end of the world” (KJV), which literally is “the end of the aion” and translated “end of the age” in the NIV, is one example where an aion is expressly said to have an end. The same is in Matt 28:19-20 as is the case seven times in the New Testament.  A great deal of study has been done on this matter, and the conclusion is unavoidable. Aion is an age with a beginning and an end, although the duration may not be known at a particular point in time. There are some scholars however that maintain that the meaning must be understood in the context of our understanding of God’s eternal plans and purposes. How, I beg to know, did this notion of aion meaning “eternal” take hold, if it is foreign to the Greek and Hebrew languages, at least at the time of the writing of all the books of scripture as well as in the writings of Homer, Plato and other classic Greek authors? The answer is not difficult to find: Out of the Latin Vulgate (a translation of the Hebrew and Greek into Latin) a very clever man named Augustine of Hippo came up with the notion of “eternal damnation” almost 400 years after Christ. Jerome added to this belief and eventually Emperor Justinian, the ruler of the East Roman Empire, saw to it that all schools and teachings contrary to his views (including eternal damnation), those in favour a universal salvation and in general not in keeping with the dogma of the church, were shut down, burned, drowned and forbidden. The Roman Catholic church saw to it that only the priests were allowed to read and study the Latin translation of the scriptures and so the dogma that favoured the practises of the church was firmly established in the minds and hearts of the mainstream of the Christian world. If was a wonderful tool to drive the fearful masses to confession, penitence and supported all the abuses of the time in a wonderfully profitable way. The reformation did allow those outside of the Roman Catholic priesthood to read the scriptures for themselves again, although Gutenberg’s printing press probably contributed more to this than many theologians would like to admit, at least in the western and Roman Catholic controlled world. Many translators then also translated the scriptures without the church agenda of mass control by the priests, but due the rise of the British Empire, the Church of England’s version of the bible was promoted to such an extent that many to this day mistakenly believe in the “infallable King James Version”.

The fact of the matter is that for the first 300 years after Christ by far the most Christians believed what the scriptures were teaching: That ages (aion) come to an end, that the work of Christ includes all of creation and that Christ will not fail in His salvation of all mankind and the scripture declares is his will (that all will be saved).

Lake of Fire

Lastly the question must be asked: Is the lake of fire a real fire or is it a figure of speech? So many TV preachers and others have threatened people with this, frightful movies have been made and books written about the burning hell, without this question ever being honestly evaluated.

Is it a physical fire? Well, then surely it will be of no consequence throwing a spiritual being like Satan into it, so this can be safely ruled out, especially since the scripture says it has been prepared for the devil and his angels. Also, if people where thrown alive into a molten pool of fire, like lava for instance, their lives would be over in a flash, so it would not be torment day and night. This is, however, a stance taken by annihilists, that say that evil people, instead of death and evil itself, will be destroyed completely in the end.  I have not found compelling evidence for this stance in scripture, unless one inserts a certain dogmatic bias to support this stance, but it’s not a ridiculous notion entirely. For me, it does seem to conflict with the revealed nature of Yahweh and Yeshua though.

Is it a spiritual fire? What is a spiritual fire? Is it not physically hot, but does it still burn the flesh? Or does it burn the soul or spirit? Does it burn at all? If it doesn’t burn, then it’s not a fire. It seems highly improbably that a spiritual fire exists and that this is what is meant here.

It is then symbolic and representing something else? This is the only viable option left and I have already indicated how fire is representative of God throughout scripture. The notion that the mass of humanity is a sea is also supported elsewhere in Revelation. Even the physical oceans themselves are a cleansing mechanism for the garbage for the earth, so it makes sense to use this symbol of how God deals with human deprivation by calling it a lake. This is where the interpretation of scripture is called for, since it clearly is not literal, especially since the whole book of Revelation is a book of symbols.

Finally, the group that is cast in the lake of fire in Rev 21:8 is outside of the city in Rev 21:24-27 and are not allowed to enter the city (which is again clearly a symbolic city). Then in Rev 22:14-15 there is an opportunity for entering into the city and again the same definition for who will have to stay outside.  This confirms the many parables that Jesus told his disciples where the unbelieving, those not ready or those mistreating their fellow man, were sent outside into the very unpleasant darkness, while the others were welcomed to the feast of the Lamb.

So considering the information we have available, it would be much more responsible and truthful to translate Rev 20:10 as follows:
And the diabolical one, the devil, that deceived them was thrown into God’s proverbial lake of purifying fire, where the beast and the false prophet are already, and they shall be tested there for purity, like gold is tested with a touch-stone, day and night for ages of the ages.”

What do you think?  If this is indeed as I have laid it out above, then we will have to rethink a whole lot of our theology, our view of the goodness of God the Father, what Jesus actually came to do and how we, as humans, fit into the big picture.

To me the image of my loving Father is strongly reinforced by this and his kindness is even greater than I had previously thought.

Please don’t just take my word for it.  Be Berean! Check it out for yourself!

Some more reading to help you along:
a. http://www.tentmaker.org/books/EternalDeath.html
b. http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/
c
http://home.online.nl/spamfree/ShepherdsVoice/index.html?page=tormented_with_fire_and_brimstone.htm
d. http://home.online.nl/spamfree/Lake/index.html (A work in progress, only for those who are really keen!)

References:

1 Webster’s Dictionary: Basanite /Bas´a·nite/ (?), n. [L. basanites lapis, Gr. βάσανος the touchstone: cf. F. basanite.] (Min.) Lydian stone, or black jasper, a variety of siliceous or flinty slate, of a grayish or bluish black color. It is employed to test the purity of gold, the amount of alloy being indicated by the color left on the stone when rubbed by the metal.

Vines Expository Dictionary: AGE: The phrases containing this word should not be rendered literally, but consistently with its sense of indefinite duration. Thus eis ton aiona does not mean “unto the age” but “for ever” (see, e.g., Heb. 5:6). The Greeks contrasted that which came to an end with that which was expressed by this phrase, which shows that they conceived of it as expressing interminable duration.

Is the trinity doctrine neccessary to understand God and the Bible?

Andre Oosthuizen posted this statement on his Facebook wall recently:

“Despite their orthodox confession of the Trinity, Christians are, in their practical life, almost ‘mere monotheists.’ We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”
– theologian Karl Rahner

Well, I have slowly started changing my mind about many things in the last year or more and I’m thinking he may just be correct.

Why?

Well, for one, most of the trinity doctrine is founded in the specific English or other non-Hebrew/non-Greek translations of the scriptures. Even Latin doesn’t cut it when one needs to go to specifics.

Firstly, trinity is not taught in the scriptures. It is an interpretation and deduction. All agree on that (except maybe a few irrational or otherwise strange people as far as I have been able to determine). Wikipedia has a nice summary for those wishing to read up on it.

Secondly, we should never create something as a method of explanation that is more complex than necessary. (Occam’s Razor).

So the question to ask is this: Which part of section of scripture absolutely requires that we create the notion of a trinity? And if there is indeed such an occurrence, has the original (or as close as we can get to the original) been studied and verified as being correctly understood and translated? One such example is John 1:1 which ends with “and the Word was God”, which is taken by many as meaning that the Word and God are the same thing. What it actually means is that, in the same way as we would say “and Roland was human”, so the “the Word was God (the Word was god in substance)”, not that the Word was the same as Yahweh, the Father or that the Father and the Son are the same being.

I have not been able to find any scripture that requires the belief in a trinity, and neither have I found anyone else that has shown this conclusively.

Many people simply argue that they know this (trinity) to be true (by faith?) and that they have an “inner witness” or something else that tells them this is, so when they see scriptures that may be understood in the context of the trinity, they consider that proof thereof. This is of course circular reasoning and leads nowhere. I don’t even entertain this kind of nonsense any more, since it’s inevitably leads nowhere.

The trinity doctrine does however complicate matters immensely, especially since it removes the Father and the Son so far from man’s reality, that they become distant, unattainable and mystic. I believe it is also responsible for the idea that man is triune, ie that we are body, soul and spirit. This has always been foreign except very recently and adds to the confusion. So there are some that think that out spirits are “saved”, our souls – well, they are bound to carnality – and our bodies will rot away anyway so lets just focus on the spiritual matters. Nothing can we further from the truth. And so on and so forth.

If the trinity is removed from the equation, things become much simpler, and even so scripture. It all hinges on finding that elusive proof in scripture, that part that cannot be understood or explained in any other way than having a trinity.

I have also noted that most of the trinitarian dogma is based in presupposition, that is, we assume that God is a Trinity and thus go out and find scripture that supports this.  That is quite ridiculous in my opinion!  Let’s rather read the scriptures and study them to find what they say as best we can and then construct our models of understanding based on our findings.

Some notes on the use of the apparent plural “let us make man in our image” in Gen 1:26.  This is from an American scholar living in Israel, who is fluent in English, Modern Hebrew, and Biblical Hebrew and is a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar and Semitic language expert

Please continue to provide your constructive input on this matter in order that we may better understand the scriptures.