Where Do Our Beliefs Come From?

Any good Bible College will teach its students that our beliefs as Christians come from four things: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. However, there is a lot of argument about whether or not Scripture is inerrant, what the traditions of the church actually are and how much of a part reason and experience should play.

Let’s start by looking at Scripture and why I do not believe that the Bible is inerrant.

Firstly, the Bible is not and does not claim to be a scientific textbook. So when the Bible says that the sun stood still in Joshua 10:13, we don’t need to take this literally. Science has proven that the earth revolves around the sun. Therefore, it would make more sense that the earth stood still, but the writer didn’t know that. From his perspective, it was the sun that stopped moving.

The Bible also isn’t numerically correct at all times. In the King James Bible, Ahaziah was 22 years old when he became King according to 2 Kings 8:26 and 42 years old when he became King according to 2 Chronicles 22:2. Wherever this error came from, whether the original writers or people who made copies of the originals, or during the translation process from Hebrew and Greek to English, clearly both cannot be correct. Both Bible passages published in more recent years now give Ahaziah’s age as 22.

Numbers 25:9 records 24,000 people dying by plague and places responsibility for these slaughters on the Lord’s anger. When Paul quotes this very passage in 1 Corinthians 10:8-10 he changes the number to 23,000 and deliberately states that it was the destroying angel (or the Destroyer), not the Lord who destroyed the people. This is critically important toward building a healthy God concept by interpreting the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament. This also lends to the Bible being historically inaccurate at times.

Jeremiah writes a word of warning about other writers: “How can you say ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,’ when actually the lying pen of scribes has handled it falsely?” Jeremiah 8:8.

If the entire Bible were inerrant, why would Paul write: “To the married I give this comment (not I, but the Lord) … To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) … Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgement … ” 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12 & 25. Why did Paul ask Timothy to bring his coat and to try to get there before winter, 2 Timothy 4:13, 21? Was that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and if it was, then what spiritual relevance can it possibly have for us today? Paul was cold and needed his coat back. I’m glad he was human enough to write about it because it gives the Bible an authentically human feel.

Luke did a lot of research before writing the Gospel of Luke. “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,” Luke 1:3. Clearly the Gospel of Luke was not dictated by God.

Let’s compare the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection:

Matthew 28:2-3 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

Mark 16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

Luke 24:4 Suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.

John 20:11-12 Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

So we have: one angel according to Matthew, one man according to Mark, two men according to Luke and two angels according to John. Now, it could be that some people only saw one man or angel while others visibly witnessed two. It is also easily acceptable that they could not tell the difference between men and angels. But even if we believe that, it proves that we must put our thinking cap on when interpreting the Bible and not miss the forest for the trees. Does the number of men or angels matter? Probably not. The point of the story, and all four accounts agree about this, is that Jesus resurrected from the dead.

In fact, I had one lecturer who taught us that unanimous agreement about every detail of these accounts might be suspect because the writers all had different perspectives and agendas in their stories. If all accounts were exactly the same we might wonder if they conspired together to share the same details in order to unanimously claim that Jesus was alive. Having four different perspectives of the same event that draw the same conclusions, is actually more convincing. Here is an illustration:

Mary and Joe walked into a classroom. Mary noticed that the walls were painted a dark burgundy colour and there were some chips in the paint. The desks looked a little cramped and the carpet was very old. She guessed that there were about 30 people in the class and most of them were female. The lecturer at the front of the room looked like her grandfather and was delivering a lecture on global warming. Joe did a rough headcount of the pretty girls in the classroom: there were 12. He sat down next to a blonde and missed half the lecture, but he knows it had something to do with global warming. Both of these stories are true and correct from the witnesses perspective. Did they experience this classroom and lecture the same way? No. Their estimations of the female population in the room disagreed, but they generally agreed that the lecturer’s topic was global warming.

What about verses in Chronicles that tell us that other books which are not included in our Bibles, contain further details that they have left out, 2 Chronicles 9:29, 12:15, 13:22, etc? We have to remember that a group of human beings decided which books to include in the Bible based on what was available and commonly accepted among Christians at that time. There are many other books and letters that have been excluded from the Bible and there are some books included in Catholic Bibles that aren’t included in other Christian Bibles. We also need to take note of the fact that there are multiple copies of Greek New Testament texts. These copies have discrepancies that scholars then have to weigh up in order to decide which Greek word is the most likely fit. This is called “text criticism” and I wrote an essay on the topic when I studied Greek at Bible College.

Then, when the Bible is translated from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into English, it is always subjected to interpretation. Always. There is no such thing as a literal translation. Just to make my point clear, let me give you a very simple portion of a sentence in Greek and translate it as accurately as I can:

Transliteration: Legei autē ho Iesous
“Legei” means “he/she/it said”
“autē” in the dative form means “to her”
“ho Iesous” means “the Jesus”
Literal translation: He said to her the Jesus.
Most Biblical translations use: Jesus answered / Jesus said to her / Jesus replied.

Would you buy and read a Bible that used lengthy sentences like “He said to her the Jesus” instead of “Jesus answered?” Every time you read “Jesus answered,” or “Jesus said,” or “Jesus replied,” in English, there were probably other words there in Greek that were left untranslated. Meaning is translated instead of the exact words themselves and even the order of the words is drastically altered in English so that we don’t have to read ridiculous sentences that confuse us about who the subject is or that sound simply jarring to our ears if we translate them literally. This is one of the reasons there are so many different translations of the English Bible. No one translates literally and although they try to be as literal as possible according to their own standards, what they already believe about God and Christianity will always bias translations … including mine.

English, Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic; no book of the Bible is without human error. The Bible was put together by human beings who are imperfect and make mistakes.

But do not despair! The Bible tells us what we can count on when we are interpreting it:
2 Timothy 3:15-16 From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Most Christians agree that the Bible is inspired by God. As the prophets and scribes, the disciples and apostles penned their books and letters–or had other people do it for them–God was whispering his truth. As Peter writes, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” 2 Peter 1:21. As 300 leaders gathered at the Council of Nicea where the decision was made about which books to include in the Canon, God was present. As scholars gather and spend hours on end translating the Bible, God is with them.

What does it mean that the Bible is inspired or God breathed? I believe it means that the Holy Spirit, who is the very breath of God, influenced the assemblage of the Bible, especially the weaving together of the overarching story or metanarrative of the Bible. As 2 Timothy 3:15 confirms, Scripture was formed to give us wisdom regarding salvation. The metanarrative of the Bible is the story of the creation and recreation–including the salvation, restoration, justification, redemption, sanctification, etc.–of the known universe and its inhabitants.

The Bible also points to Jesus Christ as the living and active Word of God. The ultimate way that we know the Word of God–Jesus–is through the Bible. And we know the Father-God because the Son–Jesus–has revealed the Father. And we know the Spirit of God because He is the very breath of God that inspired the Scriptures to reveal the Son and Father. The Trinity is intimately connected to the Bible, (see the verses at the end of this section).

So while I say that I do not believe the Bible is inerrant, I do not want to downplay just how powerful this book actually is. Let’s face it, it is difficult to know God without knowing the Bible.
I hold Scripture in the highest regard as the most authoritative book on earth. It oozes the love of God. The pungent aroma of salvation is unmistakable. Even among oft misinterpreted statements of wrath and judgement the Bible is rich with mercy, grace, repentance and forgiveness.

I love the Bible and everything I have to say about my understanding of Christian-Universalism comes from my interpretation of the Bible in conjunction with excellent teachers like Santo Calarco and the numerous books I have read.

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God, He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Hebrews 1:1-3 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by Son, who he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Hebrews 4:12 For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Ephesians 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

Psalm 33:4 For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Isaiah 55:11 So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Hell in the Quran

I began reading through the Quran (Koran) for a Bible college project toward the end of last year and finished reading it in February 2015. I wanted to learn more about Islam and what it is that Muslims believe about God. The thing that intrigued me most about the Quran was Muhammed’s depiction of hell. The similarities between Islam’s understanding of hell and Western Christianity’s are quite striking.

Let me show you:

Is the expression “burn in hell” from the Bible? The exact phrase “burn in hell” never appears in the Bible, but it does appear in the Quran:

Quran 38:55-58 But the arrogant will have the worst return: they will burn, in Hell, an evil resting place – all this will be theirs; let them taste it – a scalding, dark, foul fluid, and other such torments.

Quran 56:92-96 But if he is one of those who rejected the truth and went astray, he will be welcomed with boiling water. He will burn in Hell. This is indeed the indubitable truth. So glorify the name of your Lord, the Supreme.

A lot of Christians describe hell as “eternal conscious torment.” I do not deny that the Bible connects hell to unquenchable fire, worms, salt, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and that the word eternal is also used in conjunction with hell. But I see all of these things as double-edged (both negative and positive). Fire burns off impurities (purifies), worms enrich soil, salt heals wounds, weeping and gnashing of teeth go hand-in-hand with repentance. As for the word eternal, my husband says that the fire and results of the fire are eternal, but once a person has come to repentance, the same experiences that were once perceived as hellish, now become heavenly i.e. what was once perceived as burning, torment, being eaten by worms etc., can be transformed into an experience of refinement, cleansing, enriching, and healing.

The hell of the Quran is way more specific in connecting hell to a torment that never ends and does not move from being a negative experience to being a positive one.

Quran 4:56 We shall send those who reject our revelations to the Fire. When their skins are burnt up, we shall replace them with new ones so that they may continue to taste the punishment. God is mighty and wise.

Quran 7:40-41 The gates of Heaven shall not be opened for those who rejected our signs and arrogantly spurned them; nor shall they enter Paradise until a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle. That is how we repay the evildoers – Hell shall be their bed, and over them will be coverings of fire – thus shall we reward the wrongdoers.

[The Bible directly contradicts this by declaring the gate of heaven never to be shut, Revelation 21:25-26. Also the “eye of a needle” reference in the Bible refers to the rich entering the Kingdom of heaven and says in the same passage “BUT with God all things are possible,” Matthew 19:24-26.]

Quran 18:29 & 53 For the wrongdoers we have prepared a fire which will cover them like a canopy, and if they beg for water, they will be given water as hot as molten lead, which will scald their faces: how dreadful a drink, and how evil a resting place! … (53) The guilty shall see the fire and realize that they are going to fall into it: they shall find no way of escape from it.

Quran 40:71-72 when, with iron collars and chains around their necks, they are dragged (72) into the boiling water and then are thrown into the Fire

Quran 43:74-77 As for the evil-doers, they shall endure forever the torment of Hell, from which there is no relief: they will remain there in utter despair. We have not wronged them; it was they who were the wrongdoers. They will cry, ‘Master, if only your Lord would put an end to us!’ But he [the angel] will answer, ‘No! You are here to stay.’

Quran 73:12-13 We have in store for them heavy fetters and a blazing fire, food that chokes and painful punishment.

Quran 85:10 Those who persecute the believing men and believing women, and then do not repent will surely suffer the punishment of Hell, and the torment of burning.

If you ask a Christian: “who goes to hell?” you will likely hear answers like: “unrepentant sinners,” “evildoers,” “non-believers.” Again, to be fair, the Bible does say: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Revelation 22:15. However, we have all done things on this list, whether it be telling lies, acts of sexually immorality or committing murder (Jesus equated hatred and murder). So we are either all “outside,” or this list is really just trying to tell us that certain people have not yet washed their robes in the blood of the lamb and are still identified as murderers etc. As soon as they wash their robes, they can come in as seen in the previous verse: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city [heaven],” Revelation 22:14.

Jesus called the Pharisees sons of hell. He also warned his own disciples (whether you want to call them Jewish or Christian) that they were in danger of the fire of hell because of how they behaved in their relationships, Mark 9. So hell is applicable to religious people, including me: a Christian “believer.” It seems to me that hell is for everyone at different times in their lives – both in this earth-age and the age to come.

Yet what the Quran says about who goes to hell sounds like the kind of thing a lot of Christians would say:

Quran 4:56 We shall send those who reject our revelations to the fire.

Quran 20:74 Indeed, he who comes to his Lord a sinner shall be consigned to Hell.

Quran 67:6-8 Those who are bent on blaspheming against their Lord will have the punishment of Hell: an evil destination. When they are cast into it, they will hear its roaring as it boils up, as though bursting with rage.

How many people go to hell? Everyone who is not a Christian? Not a believer? Not a Muslim? Most Christians I have asked say that the majority of human beings will go to hell. This means hell is a pretty full place right?

Quran 7:38 & 179 God will say, ‘Enter the fire and join the bands of jinn [like demons] and men that have gone before you.’ … (179) We created many of the jinn and mankind for Hell. They have hearts they do not understand with; they have eyes they do not see with; and they have ears they do not hear with. Such people are like cattle – no, they are even more misguided.

Quran 32:13 But My word shall come true: ‘I will fill Hell with jinn and men all together.’

Quran 38:85 I will fill up Hell with you [Satan] and every one of them who follows you.’

Quran 39:71 Those who rejected the truth will be led to Hell in throngs.

Christians who believe in hell as a place that cannot ever be exited seem to assume that they will be happy in heaven without all these other people, some of whom could be their mothers, fathers, siblings, children, favourite school teacher, neighbour etc. Perhaps we will forget those in hell. Once again this idea of forgetting is not found in the Bible, but is found in the Quran:

Quran 7:51 On that day we shall forget them, as they forgot their meeting of that day with us, for they denied our revelations.

Quran 32:14 We too will forget you – taste the chastisement of eternity for your evil deeds!’

Are the people in hell loved by God? This one is debated amongst Christians, even though the bible clearly says that God IS love and that we should love our enemies (and therefore so should he). Yet we seem to think it’ll be so easy, not only for those in heaven to forget those in hell, but for God to forget them and feel no more compassion or desire to save those in hell. The Quran testifies to the ease with which God rejects or hates those he sends to hell:

Quran 2:284 He will forgive whom He will and punish whom He pleases: He has power over all things.

Quran 28:68 Your Lord creates whatsoever He wills and chooses whomsoever He pleases. They have no choice.

Quran 30:45 He does not love those who reject the truth.

Quran 59:20 The people of the fire and the people of paradise are not equal.

What we believe about hell is a dangerous thing. Often we don’t see how much the society, including religions around us, shape our ideas. Did you know that of the 6,236 verses in the Quran approximately 500 speak about hell? That is about 8% of the entire book. Yet of the 23,145 verses in the Bible the word hell only appears in an average of 12-14 verses and a maximum of 54 in the KJV. This amounts to less than a quarter of a percent (0.25%) of the book in every single English translation of the Bible.

The Bible never once says that Jesus was sent to earth to save us from hell and yet most gospel presentations preach that this as the central point of the gospel. Salvation from hell. I don’t see this in the Bible. I see warnings about a hell that we all experience called the refiners fire.

Here is my favourite verse in the Quran:

Quran 3:23-24 Have you not seen those who received a portion of the Book [the Bible]? … they say “The fire will touch us only for a limited number of days.”

The Quran was written around 600 A.D. Look what else was written not that much earlier:

“There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments” Augustine, 354-430 A.D.

“For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body.” Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390 A.D.

“The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal, in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus’ Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God’s enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies.” Jerome, 340-420 A.D.

It seems to me that in actual fact, the Quran was written in part as a reaction against Universalist-Christians who preached hell as the refiner’s fire. Furthermore, the Quran has had an influence on Western Christianity’s understanding of hell and unfortunately a lot of Christians have gone the way of the Quran, believing in a hell of eternal conscious torment. Study the hell of the Bible. Study the Jewish concept of hell. Study the root words Sheol, Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna that are being translated to hell in our English bibles.

As much as I respect Islam and Muslims, I reject the hell of the Quran, just as much as I reject the hell of traditional Western Christianity today, and I pray for a day when Muslims and Christians alike will come to understand that the concept of hell as “eternal conscious torment,” would never even enter God’s mind:

Jeremiah 19:5 (& 7:31) “They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offering to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”