Everyone Is Going To Hell (Except For Us!)

The Gutenberg Bible.

This one doesn’t need to be long and drawn out. If you want the “TL;DR” version, here you go:

Protestants believe “Sola Scriptura” — i.e., the Bible is the final authority. Sadly, though, some groups which claim to believe this are only too happy to condemn 99% of those who call themselves “Believers.”

It might behoove them to be sure that they know what the Bible actually says. A little common sense comes in handy, too.

While it’s certainly possible for a Church (capitalized on purpose) to be apostate, wouldn’t it be courteous to carefully consider your New Revelation(tm) before you proclaim it? To acknowledge that a lot of good, Godly men have gone before you, and that not all of them were retards?

Matthew Henry.

That’s the first rule. The second rule is harder.

Sorry, but if you’re going to insist that your New Revelation(tm) must be true (because God told you so), you need to know what the Bible actually says.

God will never, ever contradict something that He has already made clear in His Word. The problems are that the Bible wasn’t written in English and that translation is an imperfect science. (That’s the hard part.) (Sorry.)

Ergo, before you thunder your New Revelation(tm) from the housetops, you need to at least be able to check it against the original languages … primarily Hebrew (Old Testament) and Koine Greek (New Testament).

Consider alternate translations. Compare different renderings. Many modern English versions have footnotes just to point out alternatives, too. Read them.

One of the oldest manuscripts ever found,
P46, a portion of 2nd Corinthians.

I usually tell you what inspired one of these seemingly-random screeds. In this particular case, you can blame it on a visit from some Jehovah’s Witnesses who were eager to convert Sandy and me to their beliefs.

The Witnesses don’t accept the Deity of Christ. They think that Jesus was a “lesser,” created being, perhaps an archangel. Among plenty of other things, they also don’t believe in a literal Hell … and to polish off the boundless fun of being a Witness, they don’t celebrate holidays like Christmas. (No Santa!)

They have their own version of the Bible, the New World Translation. While it’s written in decent, understandable English, they deliberately distort the original Greek in some cases.

Nowhere is this more blatant than in their rendering of John 1:1 — “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” They translate that last phrase as “a god” (little “g”).I guess they had no choice. Everyone, including them, agrees that the “Word” in John chapter 1 refers to Jesus. If the Witnesses had let that verse stand as written, it would sorta poke holes in their “Jesus is not literally God” riff.

The Witnesses claim that there’s no definite article in there, so the Greek should be translated, “a god,” not “The God”.

The problem is, you won’t find a reputable Koine Greek scholar who will agree with them. I’m not a Greek scholar, but I know how to plod my way through it, and in fact, John worded it that way on purpose. He was actually emphasizing the divinity of Christ, rather than calling Him “a god.”

In that last phrase, “God” and “The Word” are swapped in order, so the definite article would be dropped. It doesn’t change the meaning. In fact, literally translated, that last phrase reads, “and God was the Word.” Not “a god,” not “deity,” but literally: God was the Word.

John expands on this a bit later (verse 1:14) when he says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus and the Father are one and the same.

If you ever have a chance to chat with a Witness, do some research first. Sadly, don’t expect to accomplish anything without a lot of prayer and preparation, because without the Holy Spirit moving, you’re not going to change their minds.

You see, they consider you apostate. They’re not in your living room for a discussion; they’ve come to show you The Truth(tm) and they are flatly not interested in your beliefs.

If you can’t be straightened out, they’ll leave and probably won’t have anything else to do with you. If they do return and if you keep arguing, the leadership of their church will eventually tell them to leave you alone.

The headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide is the final authority on all doctrine and interpretation, and no one is allowed to question it. You either accept it, or you’re apostate. If you’re a Witness and question it, you’ll either straighten up or they’ll kick you out.

The Witnesses aren’t very big on
stained glass like this, either.

Then we get to the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, especially as taught by some fundamentalist Churches of Christ. I once went round and round with such a COC pastor. He had dictionaries and commentaries … and was quite annoyed when I started sharing the literal Greek with him.

His argument was that one shouldn’t have to know Greek or Hebrew to understand the Bible. I absolutely agree with that. But there’s a world of difference between devotions, preparing a sermon or just reading for edification … and crafting that New Revelation(tm) that will condemn everyone but your small, “enlightened” group.

For the latter, yes, you do need to at least be able to plod through the Greek with a lexicon and some good commentaries.

You’ll discover that over the centuries, a bunch of good, Godly men, committed to the Truth, believed (and wrote) as they did for a reason. They weren’t just parroting the Party Line.

John Wesley.

Anyway. This pastor believed that baptism by immersion in water for the purpose of the remission (forgiveness) of sins is absolutely essential to salvation. Unless you’ve been dunked, you ain’t saved. Ergo, if there’s a drought, no one can be saved(!).

(Another COC pastor told me, many years ago, that even a “dunking” by a Baptist preacher wouldn’t do, because my mind wasn’t right when I went under the water(!).  That view isn’t held by all COC theologians, but it sure struck me at the time.)

A good fundamentalist COC pastor will quote 1 Peter 3:21: “… and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God … by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (NIV)

They’ll usually quote from Acts chapter 2 as well. In this account, Peter preaches and then the crowd asks, “what should we do?” Peter responds (Acts 2:38), “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?

The first response to this doesn’t require Hebrew, Greek, Español or any other furrin’ language. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself. There are a host of verses that make it clear that we are saved by faith, and faith alone.

In Acts 16, when specifically asked about salvation, Paul and Silas said this, too. Maybe you know the story: they were praying in prison when suddenly, an earthquake opened up doors. The jailer was about to kill himself, but Paul and Silas said, “hey, we’re still here!”

This is important: the Jailer asks, “what must I do to be saved?” (emphasis mine). That’s a specific question. Paul and Silas correctly answer, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved — you and your household.”

(The aforementioned COC pastor parsed that very carefully. First, the Apostles’ reply says, “and your household.” Had they believed? Second, the jailer was baptized immediately afterwards, wasn’t he?)

So … let’s dig a little deeper.

1 Peter 3:21 in the literal Greek uses the word “rhypou” for “dirt” or “filth” — “not the washing away of the filth (rhypou) of the body.”

This is a great example of how you can do research without being a Greek scholar. One of the most useful tricks is to search for every use of that word elsewhere in the Bible, to get an idea of how it’s translated in different places.

“Rhypou” is the noun; the adjective, “rhyparous,” is used in Revelations 22:11: “let him who is filthy remain filthy.” The root word does refer to filth and squalor, but at the time of Christ, was also used to describe moral filth — sin.

Therefore, an alternate rendering of that key phrase from 1 Peter 3:21 might be, “[baptism isn’t] … the putting away of the moral defilement of the natural man (Gk. “sarx”), but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”

Folks, water can’t save you. Only the blood of Christ can wash away sins.

An illustration of baptism
from the Roman catacombs.

So what about Acts 2:38? Let’s look at the Greek there, too. The key there is the little preposition “eis,” which is best translated, “in” or “into.” Peter uses it here: “repent and be baptized … into (eis) the remission of your sins.”

A little comparative study will show the same preposition being used in Matthew 10:41: “the one who receives a prophet in (eis) the name of a prophet …”

Here, the meaning is obvious: you’re receiving a prophet because he has the name of a prophet.

If you search and look at all uses of that word (it’ll take a while; it’s a very common preposition!), you’ll learn what it means. When Jesus steps into a boat, that doesn’t create the boat. It was already there.

Ergo, an alternative view of Acts 2:38, especially in view of all the other scriptures that clearly state that we are saved by faith alone, would be, “be baptized into (or “in”) the remission [that is accomplished by your belief].”

(The aforementioned COC pastor really didn’t like that one.)

Jeremiah the prophet.

Like I said, my recent experience with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (by no means my first, by the way) was the proximate cause of this little ditty. That encounter saddened me. The two ladies who came to our house were likable and friendly.

I had nothing against them, either, and didn’t want to be argumentative. Sandy and I offered refreshment and we talked for quite a while.

But sadly, when they left (and no, they haven’t been back), they left the literal translation of John 1:1 that I had printed out for them. Join me in praying for them.

Anyway. The point is that, if you’re going to condemn 99% of Christianity with your “new” understanding of the Scriptures … well, you might need to do a little more study. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:15, “ Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (NASB)

Soli Deo Gloria!