Becoming a Berean
I was born, raised, educated, and immersed in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a place steeped in tradition. While serving as a Religious Education teacher in 1991, I had a crisis of faith. I started my search for the truth. I read my textbooks, Catholic publications, history books, and finally the Bible. Cut to the end, the Bible won.
After coming out of everything I had ever known into the new life as a regenerated follower of the Lord Jesus Christ (Kýrios Iēsoûs Christós) over the course of only a few weeks, I was blessed with the conviction that I was never going to just take someone's word for something again. That does not mean that I will not listen to or read the works of others, but (as I've stated many times on the pages of this blog), in the end, I am responsible for my personal beliefs. Over the years, my personal theology has grown and changed (and will continue to do so until my death).
The Bereans listened to Paul, but checked what he was teaching against the scripture (Acts 17:11).
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica,for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scripturesevery day to see if what Paul said was true. -Acts 17:11 (NIV)
Seeking God's Plan Not Our Version of It
The Lord has been patient with me during the past 28 years. I (eventually) came out of the RCC into loneliness of sorts (I initially tried to stay in the RCC, but knowing what I know, that didn't last long). I suddenly had no faith community. I quickly filled that void with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (I worked at a university at the time) and eventually found my way into an Assemblies of God community.
Lovely Christians, but as with all groups, I wasn't going to just adopt their doctrines sans scrutiny. After a little over a year, I decided to move on. Well, the rest of the story is over two decades long, so I will get back to the central point of this post.
If we are to going to understand God's plan and purpose for the ages, we must put aside the traditions of men. Some of these traditions are not as egregious as others. For example, I think it can be demonstrated that there were 5 crosses on Calvary and not the traditional 3. Doesn't make or break the faith, but if you hold to 3 you may run into critics who will accuse scripture of having mistakes or contradictions.
Truth Over Tradition (Hades, Gehenna, and Hell)
From my perspective, Christianity is hindered by the general adoption of Catholic mythology which is borrowed from Greek mythology. These taint our understanding of scripture and the plan and purpose of the ages. For example, when we read of those cast into out darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, or of those thrown into Gehenna, the "fiery hell" of mythology is assumed instead of a scriptural understanding.
We have covered Gehenna and Hades (both translated as "hell" in many translations) in previous posts, but just as a quick review, let's look one example of each and search the scriptures for context lest we end up in confusion.
But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court [Gk: Sanhedrim]. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell [Gk:Gehenna].
-Matt 5:22 (NIV)This verse is from the Sermon on the Mount; a passage some call the Magna Carta of the Church.
We also compare its use in just one example from Mark 9.
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell Gk:Gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
Setting aside the enormous problems created when we try to apply these to regenerated believers in this age, let's look at what the Lord is referencing (time, place, audience) and let scripture interpret scripture.
And they have gone forth, And looked on the carcases of the men Who are transgressing against me, For their worm dieth not, And their fire is not quenched, And they have been an abhorrence to all flesh!
If the "Sanhedrim" (Young's Literal Translation) isn't enough to let us know this is not the Body of Christ in this age, but rather points to Israel, the context of Isaiah 66 should inform us. This is after Israel has been restored to her land, her promises, and her kingdom. We also see that those thrown in "Gehenna" (the Valley of Hinnom, the "Valley of Slaughter" Jer 19:6) are "carcases." That is, these are real, physical, dead bodies. These is not ghosts thrown into a ghostly fire to be tortured by God.
Greek mythology and Catholic teaching on "hell" confuses us. When we see "Hades" or "Gehenna," tradition inserts "fiery eternal torture." We've just looked at Gehenna (as we have in a previous post in greater detail), now just one example of Hades. I've chosen the New Living Translation here as it is triply influenced by tradition.
Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
That is, "gates" don't attack, overpower, or conquer anything, but they can be stronger than a force coming against them. We wouldn't say "gates" could "conquer" anything as such.
So where does the Lord get this picture? The NIV, which is full of reference notes, rightly notes that the "gates of hell/hades" is "the realm of the dead," but it fails to cross-reference two key verses which clearly give us the meaning (NKJV).
Will they go down to the gates of Sheol? Shall we have rest together in the dust?”
I said, “In the prime of my life I shall go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the remainder of my years.”
This a picture of death (the return to dust). As we have consistently seen on the pages of this blog, pointing directly to scripture, "death" is the great enemy of man. Death is what needs to be overcome. Death is what Christ reversed in his burial (lack of decay) and resurrection and what we will destroy in our own resurrection!
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
-1 Cor 15:54-55
This is Paul's only use of "Hades" (hell) in his writings, and it refers to believers. His only other reference (in Acts 13) refers to the Lord conquering the grave (quoting from the Psalms). He never uses it of unbelievers.
Dump the Traditions of Men
We must get traditional ideas, born out of mythology, out of our thinking if we want to fully understand and rejoice in what Christ accomplished in his death, burial (lack of decay/corruption), and resurrection.
So let's look at Matthew 16:18 again in Young's Literal Translation (plus some original Greek) with Job and Isaiah and "the gates of Sheol" in mind:
`And I also say to thee, that thou art a [pebble], and upon this [boulder, Peter's confession of faith] I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Death will not hold those who profess alone the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior in the grave! When we are called, we will burst through death unto new, resurrection life! Death is the "final enemy" (1 Cor) and we look forward to that day when death shall be no more (Rev)!
A good parallel study concerning the traditions of men and the resurrection is our study of 2 Cor 5:8.
Link: The Most Misquoted Verse in Scripture