“Each month Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) distribute millions of books, magazines, and pamphlets, in dozens of languages. Many of these are intended for non-Witnesses to try to convert them, but others are intended for Witnesses themselves.
One of the handbooks used by missionaries in the field is entitled Reasoning from the Scriptures. The book clearly centers around WTS (Watch Tower Society) theology, and this point is evident in part from the fact that some of the specific subjects treated in the book are identified as “Not a Bible teaching.”
The publication is intended to enable the average Witness going door-to-door to accomplish two purposes. First, it provides many Scripture references which seemingly support the WTS’s belief system. Second, it “arms” the JW with a variety of responses to statements and questions that are likely to surface in nearly any typical encounter with a non-Witness.
Some topics clearly have been selected because they concern beliefs peculiar to Witnesses. Others have been included because they are held by those of other faiths. This is especially true of Catholic doctrines. (A side note here: The Witnesses believe that all Christian denominations are demonic in origin, and they maintain Christianity as a whole went apostate—entirely abandoned the true faith—starting all the way back in the latter portion of the first century A.D. From their perspective, this alleged apostasy fulfills predictions in the New Testament. The main problem with this is that while the New Testament does speak of an apostasy, it refers to the falling away of large number of believers near the end times, not to the defection of the Church as an institution.)
Catholic doctrines discussed include apostolic succession; baptism as a sacrament bestowing grace; confession; holidays and holy days, such as Christmas, Easter, and St. Valentine’s Day; the use of images; Marian doctrines; the Mass; and purgatory. These alone constitute more than a tenth of the book and give an indication that the Witnesses see the Catholic Church as a main target.
Reasoning from the Scriptures begins with two how-to chapters, “Introductions for Use in the Field Ministry” and “How You Might Respond to Potential Conversation Stoppers.” The first gives suggested opening lines. “If the introductions you are now using seldom open the way for conversations, try some of these suggestions. When you do so, you will no doubt want to put them in your own words.”
Five openings are given under the heading “Bible/ God.” The first reads this way: “Hello. I’m making just a brief call to share an important message with you. Please note what it says here in the Bible. (Read Scripture, such as Revelation 21:3-4.) What do you think about that?”
Notice the hook: “an important message.” It works for the advertising industry; why not in this context? Then come the Bible verses, followed by questions. The missionaries don’t tell their listener what to think—at least not at this point. Instead, they elicit his views. Once he gives them, it’s awkward for him to back out of the conversation.
Notice also in this example and in many of the ones that follow, JWs typically ask prospective converts for their own opinion or feeling on a theological matter. The advantage this approach has for JWs is that virtually everyone has some kind of opinion on the subject matter presented, so this approach practically guarantees that JWs can successfully engage a person in a dialogue. Once the dialogue has been established, the JW is then on his way to potentially making a convert. Fortunately for the JW, the average person fails to realize that theological or religious truth does not depend on one’s mere opinion or feeling.
Another opening line under this section is this one: “We’re encouraging folks to read their Bible. The answers that it gives to important questions often surprise people. For example: . . . (Ps. 104:5; or Dan. 2:44; or some other).” Again, here the listener is told he’ll be let in on a secret. He reads the passages, is asked his opinion, and then the Witnesses steer the conversation their way.
The leads given under the heading “Employment/ Housing” are more down-to-earth: “We’ve been talking with your neighbors about what can be done to assure that there will be employment and housing for everyone. Do you believe that it is reasonable to expect that human governments will accomplish this? . . . But there is someone who knows how to solve these problems; that is mankind’s Creator (Is. 65:21-23).”
This example shows another typical approach for Witnesses: they often target universal concerns. Who, for instance, is not worried about the future? Or living in a world free from pollution, poverty, and crime? So the “opening” for Witnesses often begins by focusing on these universal concerns, then continues by establishing a certain rapport, and finally turns to conversation that is more specifically theological in nature.
When many people in the area say, “I have my own religion,” it is recommended the missionaries use this opening: “Good morning. We are visiting all the families on your block (or, in this area), and we find that most of them have their own religion. No doubt you do too. . . . But, regardless of our religion, we are affected by many of the same problems—high cost of living, crime, illness—is that not so? . . . Do you feel that there is any real solution to these things? . . . (2 Pet. 3:13; etc.).”
When many people say, “I’m busy,” this opening is used: “Hello. We’re visiting everyone in this neighborhood with an important message. No doubt you are a busy person, so I’ll be brief.” If the missionaries find themselves in a territory that is often worked by other JWs, they begin this way: “We’re making our weekly visit in the neighborhood, and we have something more to share with you about the wonderful things that God’s Kingdom will do for mankind.”
The second chapter of the Reasoning book instructs missionaries in how to “respond to potential conversation stoppers.” The reader is told that “not everyone is willing to listen, and we do not try to force them. But with discernment it is often possible to turn potential conversation stoppers into opportunities for further discussion.”
Missionaries are told not to memorize these lines, but to master them and put them in their own words. The key is sincerity. If the person who answers the door says, “I’m not interested,” the JW is to follow up with this: “May I ask, Do you mean that you are not interested in the Bible, or is it religion in general that does not interest you? I ask that because we have met many who at one time were religious but no longer go to church because they see much hypocrisy in the churches (or, they feel that religion is just another money-making business; or, they do not approve of religion’s involvement in politics; etc.). The Bible does not approve of such practices either and it provides the only basis on which we can look to the future with confidence.” Six other responses to the “I’m not interested” line are given.
Keep in mind that the JW has been well-trained and is well-versed in the “prepackaged” responses he has been taught. This fact adds to the appearance of the JW’s credibility and even his biblical “knowledge.” The reality, however, is that a given Witness has merely become adept at repeating select Bible verses and responses which he uses time and time again.
“Not Interested in Witnesses”
If the person is more specific still and says, “I’m not interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the missionaries give this kind of response: “Many folks tell us that. Have you ever wondered why people like me volunteer to make these calls even though we know that the majority of householders may not welcome us? (Give the gist of Matt. 25:31-33, explaining that a separating of people of all nations is taking place and that their response to the Kingdom message is an important factor in this. Or state the gist of Ezekiel 9:1-11, explaining that, on the basis of people’s reaction to the Kingdom message, everyone is being ‘marked’ either for preservation through the great tribulation or for destruction by God.)”
Here you see peeping out one of the Witnesses’ peculiar doctrines—they don’t believe in hell. They think the unsaved are annihilated and simply cease to exist. Only the saved will live eternally. If the person at the door says, “I have my own religion,” he should be asked, “Would you mind telling me, Does your religion teach that the time will come when people who love what is right will live on earth forever? … That is an appealing thought, isn’t it? … It is right here in the Bible (Ps. 37:29; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21:4).”
Notice again the approach: the Witness ultimately gets to a theological matter by means of an attraction to the emotions or one’s opinions (“That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?”) and not to revealed religious truth.
Also, this belief that the majority of believers will reside on a paradise Earth is another doctrine peculiar to the Witnesses. They think the saved will live forever on a regenerated Earth sometime in the future, after the wicked have been destroyed by Jehovah God at the Battle of Armageddon. But the “hook” they use is not peculiar to them.
Fundamentalists, though their theology is vastly better than that of the JWs, use a similar technique. On one hand, JWs argue to the truth of their position by asking, “That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?” Many people will conclude, “Yes, it is, and therefore it must be true”—illogical, perhaps, but that’s how many people think.
On the other hand, Fundamentalists will ask, “Wouldn’t you like an absolute assurance of salvation?” “Who wouldn’t?” is the reply, and, having given that reply, many people will find themselves accepting the Fundamentalists’ notion that one can have an absolute assurance of salvation (a doctrine that arises from their belief that all one needs to do to be saved is to “accept” Jesus as one’s “personal Lord and Savior”).
If the person answering the door says, “I am already well acquainted with your work” (a polite way of saying, “Get lost”), the missionaries should say: “I am very glad to hear that. Do you have a close relative or friend that is a Witness? . . . May I ask, Do you believe what we teach from the Bible, namely, that we are living in ‘the last days,’ that soon God is going to destroy the wicked, and that this earth will become a paradise in which people can live forever in perfect health among neighbors who really love one another?” Notice that once again the Witness has managed to turn around the conversation with this response and thus at least “plant seeds” in the mind of the person at the door.
The above examples show how JWs typically work when they come knocking at your door. It is evident from the Reasoning book that they are prepared for virtually every kind of response they may face. But while their “gospel” is false and their presentation is carefully prepackaged, Catholics should at least take note of the JWs’ willingness to promote what they believe. This is perhaps one lesson we can learn from them.”
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.
“The “centering prayer” movement is a relatively new phenomenon in the Church, but it has become remarkably widespread. In some areas of the U.S., for example, you will find centering prayer meetings almost as common as rosary prayer groups or Bible studies.
Notwithstanding its acceptance in some quarters, however, at its core it is incompatible with Catholic teaching for at least three reasons, among others we could consider.
First, centering prayer has as a constitutive element a monistic view of God in relation to man. Monism is the belief that there is no essential distinction between the creature and the creator.
Fr. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk who helped found the centering prayer movement in the 1970s, gives us what could be considered a textbook definition of monism when he describes in his own words what he calls “the spiritual journey.”
In this video, Fr. Keating says the essence of the spiritual life can be summed up in these three steps:
“The realization… that there is an Other, capital O.”
“To try to become the Other, still capital O.”
“The realization that there is no Other. You and the Other are one… always have been, always will be. You just think that you aren’t.”
The central problem with this “third step” can hardly be overstated. It is monism, plain and simple. Fr. Keating is not speaking of theosis, of Christians being made “partakers of the divine nature” through union with Jesus Christ, as we find revealed in 2 Peter 1:3-4. He is talking about the realization that there is no individual at all. There is only “the Other,” or God.
Now, some will object that in the first two steps, Fr. Keating acknowledges that “there is an Other” distinct from the self. And he will often present similar words in varying contexts. In fact, in what has become his manifesto on centering prayer, Open Heart, Open Mind, Fr. Keating provides:
“God and our true self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true self are the same thing.”
Notice the seeming contradiction? Just as in his video, Fr. Keating will seemingly declare plainly that there is an “Other” that is not us, but he will then say there “is no other” at all. Seems contradictory, but it’s really not. As long as we have not attained full union with God, there will be a “false self” that “thinks” it is distinct. But when we do fully attain union, all thought of self or anything other than the Absolute Being who is beyond any and all labels or “names” will be annihilated. All that remains will be the truth of the absolute “One.”
Vatican Council I rejected Fr. Keating’s monistic view, declaring in Session Three, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter 1, par. 2:
“Since He is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, He must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in Himself and from Himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides Himself which either exists or can be imagined.”
The council then declared infallibly in canon 3 of On God the Creator of all Things:
“If anyone says that the substance or essence of God and that of all things are one and the same: let him be anathema.”
Moreover, in canon 5:
“If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God… let him be anathema.”
The idea that the self and God are the same thing should eliminate centering prayer as an option for Catholics. But there is a second reason why centering prayer is incompatible with Catholic teaching: it says that the ultimate goal of the spiritual life is the “realization” that we are God.
In his book Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Keating tells us, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from him” (33). This is false.
A scrupulous person, for example, may think he is separated from God and not be. More importantly, Sacred Scripture makes it quite clear what separates us from God. Isaiah tells us that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2; see also Psalm 66:18; I John 1:8-9, etc.) The Catechism concurs:
“God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end (1037).”
“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell” (1033).”
Sin separates us from God—nothing else. But Fr. Keating says we are really never separated from God to begin with; we only “think we are.” Thus, the spiritual life is not a matter of conversion in order to become something you are not, namely, a saint in union with God. Rather, it is simply to “realize” what you always have been and always will be: God.
And this leads us to the third essential problem with centering prayer: it is outside of Catholic orthopraxy. In fact, centering prayer is not really prayer at all.
For Fr. Keating, prayer is a “journey to the true self”—the realization that we are God. And the key for this realization to occur is for the Christian to empty himself of all rational activity. He must make his mind an absolute void.
In Open Mind, Open Heart, we discover the essence of this “prayer”:
“If you are aware of no thoughts, you are aware of something and that is a thought. If at that point you can lose the awareness that you are aware of no thoughts, you will move into pure consciousness. In that state there is no consciousness of self. . . . This is what divine union is. There is no reflection of self. . . . So long as you feel united with God, it cannot be full union. So long as there is a thought, it is not full union (73-74).”
This emptying of all thought even includes thoughts of God, the word of God, and the mysteries of our redemption. Good or evil, beautiful or ugly, all thoughts must go. There is a saying in the centering prayer movement that says “ten thousand thoughts represent ten thousand opportunities to return to God,” because thought is believed to separate us from God.
A question you might be asking: “How could Christianity get mixed up with something like this?” The answer can be found just three paragraphs down from the above section of Fr. Keating’s book:
“Centering prayer is an exercise in letting go. That is all it is. It lays aside every thought. One touch of divine love enables you to take all the pleasures of the world and throw them in the wastebasket. Reflecting on spiritual communications diminishes them. The Diamond Sutra says it all: “Try to develop a mind that does not cling to anything.””
The Diamond Sutra is Buddhist, folks. The goals of centering prayer—no intellectual activity . . . no concepts . . . no words—are Buddhist. Far from the traditional Catholic understanding of prayer as a heart-to-heart dialogue or communication of the creature with his Creator, centering prayer is focused inward, with the goal of eliminating all thoughts or even thoughts of thoughts until one reaches a state where the mind is an absolute void and there is no knowledge of self or thought at all.
The Catechism expressly declares of this type of “prayer” to be erroneous:
“In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer. Some people view prayer . . . as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void (2726).”
The Catholic Christian faith is a religion of the word. To advocate movement away from the word is to advocate movement away from the Word made flesh. This is antithetical to true Catholic Christian prayer. Even though she was a great mystic, St. Teresa of Avila emphasized the essential role of the word of God and the mind in prayer: “For it to be prayer at all, the mind must take part in it” (Interior Castle, Part I, i). Pope St. John Paul II, in a homily of November 1, 1982, added:
“[St. Teresa’s teaching] is valid even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the gospel and which in practice tend to set Christ aside in the preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity. Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6).”
The intellect and will are essential to man’s nature. We can no more detach ourselves from them than we can detach ourselves from being human. Indeed, apart from the functioning of the human intellect and will, there can be no love. And we all know Jesus gave us the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
How radically different is authentic contemplative prayer from the mindless “centering prayer.” The Catechism, in paragraphs 2709-2719, says it all for Catholics. I will cite just two paragraphs here:
“Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. . . . Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him (cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 104).
Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith. . . . It participates in the “Yes” of the Son . . . and the Fiat of God’s lowly handmaid (2715-16).””
Her father arranged for her to marry but her fiancé died before the wedding. After having been betrothed to her fiancé, Macrina did not believe it was appropriate to marry another man, but saw Christ as her eternal bridegroom. Instead, she devoted herself to her religion, becoming a nun.
When all her siblings had grown, including Sts Basil the Great & St Gregory Nazianzus, and left the parental home, Saint Macrina convinced her mother, Saint Emilia, to leave the world, to set their slaves free, and to settle in a women’s monastery. Several of their servants followed their example. Having taken monastic vows, they lived together as one family, they prayed together, they worked together, they possessed everything in common, and in this manner of life nothing distinguished one from another.
After the death of her mother, Saint Macrina guided the sisters of the monastery. She enjoyed the deep respect of all who knew her. Strictness towards herself and temperance in everything were characteristic of the saint all her life. She slept on boards and had no possessions. Saint Macrina was granted the gift of wonderworking. There was an instance (told by the sisters of the monastery to Saint Gregory of Nyssa after the death of Saint Macrina), when she healed a girl of an eye-affliction. Through the prayers of the saint, there was no shortage of wheat at her monastery in times of famine.
Macrina had a profound influence upon her brothers and her mother with her adherence to an ascetic ideal. Her brother Gregory of Nyssa wrote a work entitled Life of Macrina in which he describes her sanctity throughout her life. Macrina lived a chaste and humble life, devoting her time to prayer and the spiritual education of her younger brother, Peter. Gregory presents her as one who consciously rejected all Classical education, choosing instead devoted study of Scripture and other sacred writings.
In 379, Macrina died at her family’s estate in Pontus, which with the help of her younger brother Peter she had turned into a monastery and convent. Gregory of Nyssa composed a “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” (peri psyches kai anastaseos), entitled ta Makrinia (P.G. XLVI, 12 sq.), to commemorate Macrina, in which Gregory purports to describe the conversation he had with Macrina on her deathbed, in a literary form modelled on Plato’s Phaedo. Even on her deathbed, Macrina continued to live a life of sanctity, as she refused a bed, and instead chose to lie on the ground.
Saint Macrina is significant in that her brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, was able to set standards for being a holy Early Christian woman. He believed that virginity reflected the “radiant purity of God.”
Universalists, including Hosea Ballou and J. W. Hanson, claim Macrina as a Universalist in her teachings, citing works which they believe demonstrate Macrina’s belief that the wicked would all eventually confess Christ.
Troparion — Tone 8
The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother, / For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. / By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away, / But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. / Therefore your spirit, O Holy Mother Macrina, rejoices with the Angels!
“Today is the feast day of Macrina (330-379), older sister and theological/spiritual mentor of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most formative theologians and leaders of the early Church. Both of these great theologians pointed to their sister as their mentor in the faith. She was the theologian behind the theologians. Another brother, Peter of Sebaste, also became a bishop and saint.
In his book, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Gregory recounts a dialogue with Macrina in which he asks his sister and teacher a series of questions about the nature of the soul and the resurrection and related things. It might be that Gregory uses Macrina as a literary device to convey his own thoughts similar to the way Plato sometimes uses Socrates in his dialogues. Or maybe this really conveys things he learned directly from Macrina. In any event his respect for her is clear. Towards the end of On the Soul and the Resurrection, Macrina says this:
“To evaluate the way a person has lived, the judge would need to examine all these factors: how he endured suffering, dishonor, disease, old age, maturity, youth, wealth, and poverty; how through each of these situations he ran the course of the life allotted to him either well or badly; and whether he became able to receive many good things or many evil things in a long lifetime or did not reach even the beginning of either good or evil, ceasing to live when his mind was not yet fully developed. But when God brings our nature back to the first state of man by the resurrection, it would be pointless to mention such matters and to suppose that the power of God is hindered from this goal by such obstructions.
He has one goal: when the whole fullness of our nature has been perfected in each man, some straightway even in this life purified from evil, others healed hereafter through fire for the appropriate length of time, and others ignorant of the experience equally of good and of evil in the life here, God intends to set before everyone the participation of the good things in Him, which the Scripture says eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor thought attained.
This is nothing else, according to my judgment, but to be in God Himself; for the good which is beyond hearing, sight, and heart would be that very thing which surpasses everything. But the difference between a life of virtue and a life of wickedness will appear hereafter chiefly in allowing us to participate earlier or later in the blessedness which we hope for. The duration of the healing process will undoubtedly be in proportion to the measure of evil which has entered each person. This process of healing the soul would consist of cleansing it from evil. This cannot be accomplished without pain, as we have discussed previously.”
– On the Soul and the Resurrection, pp. 115-116
Note that Macrina and Gregory are not soft on the reality of death and judgment – this cannot accomplished without pain. We will be judged.There is reason to bear in mind the “Time of Scrutiny” (Sirach 18:20). There is still good reason to take our own piety with utmost seriousness and to invite others to participate now in “the blessedness which we hope for.”
They do seem, however, to understand The Judgment as having more to do with purgation and healing than final eternal punishment and torture. It is unclear whether or not they believed it is possible that some souls might hold out eternally against blessedness. But, they seem convinced that God, in His relentless love, will never give up on anyone – even beyond death and forever.
This hopeful universalism is quite different from an “all-y, all-y in come free” complacent universalism. Macrina anad Gregory are not alone in expressing some version of this. One could add Isaac the Syrian (7th century), Maximos the Confessor (7th century), Frederick Denison Maurice (19th century), C. S. Lewis (20th century), Karl Barth (20th century), Hans Urs von Balthasar (20th century), and many others…”
“We are talking about universalism, a doctrine that was considered to be a heresy, that is a heresy, something that was condemned in 543 by the church because it teaches that we can know with certainty that every single human being or possibly every creature, including the devil himself, will be saved. It goes all the way back to the ecclesial writer origin of the third century, with his defense of what he called “Apocatastasis,” or universal reconciliation, reconstituting or restoration to God. This idea that all things will be all in God, everyone shall be saved. And so many of these Universalists, you see them pop up throughout church history and there’s a few prominent ones today. I talked about David Bentley Hart in the previous episode, he wrote this book, “That All Shall Be Saved.” He’s an Eastern Orthodox Theologian, there is even some Catholic theologians that lean towards this view, even though they really shouldn’t.
Among evangelicals, probably the most famous evangelical to argue about this is Robin Parry, I believe that’s his real name. He wrote under a pen name, George McDonald, for the longest time because he has a controversial view and he chose to write under a pen name. But Robin Parry I believe is his real name and he shows up in a great anthology put out by Zondervan. If you want to learn more about how people disagree about particular doctrines, which is more common you see in the Protestant world than in the Catholic world, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Counterpoint or Multiple Views series. I have a few of them in my office and they’re great for me to see the different views people have on specific issues and be able to see people’s arguments and counter arguments very quickly and efficiently.
So for example, I’m working on a Trent tracks right now called, “Hell Be Damned,” and it’s about arguments against hell. We’ve covered that a little bit here on the podcast and we’ll cover more of it today because Universalism is a response to the doctrine of hell, the idea that people might be separated from God for all eternity and endure eternal conscious torment because of that. So Zondervan has a really great series on all different kinds of issues, on biblical inspiration, interpretation, moral issues, theological issues. And for example, there is… And Catholics get on the game too. There is an anthology, I’m looking around my office to see if I can find it. I know it’s here. It’s on the role of faith and works. And Michael Barber, friend of the apostolic, great guy, great Catholic scripture scholar, is in that anthology on the role of faith and works and he puts forward the Catholic view about how works integrates with faith along with Protestants who defend the traditional sola fide by faith alone view and some Protestants who take the really radical view that your works have nothing to do with your salvation.
There are Protestants who believe that once you’re saved, you could become an atheistic serial killer and you couldn’t lose your salvation. Now, you may not get a bunch of rewards when you get to heaven. Your tickets to redeem at the heavenly gift shop are going to be pretty zero, but you still won’t be in hell and you’ll still have eternal life with God. So that is one that boggles the mind that I’ve actually covered in length in my book, “The Case for Catholicism,” available through Ignatius Press if you want to check that out.
So when people ask me, “Trent, what do you think about once saved, always saved or eternal security?” I say to them, “What do you mean by that? Because there’s two different ways of looking at it.” You could have, like in my debate with James White back in 2017, the view that you can’t lose your salvation but if you, a Christian, become an atheistic serial killer and never repent, that only proves you weren’t saved in the first place, which I think has a bunch of logical holes in it when you really start to think about it, nobody could ever really know that they’re saved. I don’t understand that view and I think that comes out well and my debate with James White. But then the other view is like what Charles Stanley and I think Robert Wilkins is another person who defends this view among Protestants. They say, “Yeah, once you’re saved, can’t ever be undone,” which really doesn’t make sense to me when you look at what the Bible teaches about the possibility of losing salvation.
I bring that up because it’s great to see in this series and one of them is actually on hell. And so this one has annihilationism, well, has a traditional view of hell that many Protestants and Catholics share, eternal separation from God that a person is aware of. Other views, it has the annihilationist view, the view that I discussed with Randal Rauser several months ago, that hell is real, people go there. It’s forever, but only in the sense that the damned are destroyed in hell.
Then the other view would be Universalism, that would be the idea that, well, some people go to hell, but you don’t stay there forever. We talked about that in the previous episode. I love one of the contributors to that anthology, John Stott, who’s an Annihilationist says that Universalism represents the triumph of hope over exegesis. That you really, really want something good to be true that just flies in the face of all the biblical evidence thrown at you, as well as for Catholics the magisterial evidence where the church teaches, it’s very clear, that hell exists and it is eternal and people who die in a state of mortal sin go there. So where do you go from there with Universalism?
Well, there’s this other view and that would be Hopeful Universalism. What is that? Hopeful Universalism espoused by Bishop Barron, though it draws its roots mostly from Hans Urs von Balthasar’s two books he wrote in the late 1980s that were eventually compiled together into one book that’s called, “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved.” So what do Bishop Barron and von Balthasar believe about Hopeful Universalism and how do we contrast that with regular Universalism that the church condemns? So I’ll fill you in a bit more about von Balthasar then I’ll let Bishop Barron explain it in his own words from a video he posted several years ago.
So basically von Balthasar was a Swiss Theologian and he had a lot of interaction with Protestant Theologians like Carl Bart, who denied some fundamental aspects of Christian belief. And von Balthasar didn’t go that far, but he tried to find a compromise or a halfway ground, especially in understanding the relationship between salvation and hell and whether universal salvation was possible. He’s held in very high standing among Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict the 16th. He was elevated to being a Cardinal, but he died two days before receiving his red hat.
Now some people say, I mean, what does that mean he died two days before getting his red hat? Some people say, “Well, that’s so he couldn’t spread his heretical beliefs as a Cardinal.” Well, if there really were heretical beliefs, I have a hard time thinking Pope Saint John Paul II would have elevated him to being a Prince of the Church if that were the case. Rather, Fr. Hugh Barbour, the chaplain here at Catholic Answers, offers a funny commentary on that, that Hans Urs von Balthasar died just a few days before Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who started the SSPX schism. Not, the schism has been lifted, but the society of Saint Pius the 10th, he illegally consecrated several bishops without the permission of the Pope. And he was planning on doing this and what Fr. Hugh said is that Hans Urs von Balthasar apparently prayed that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre would die before he would engage in a schismatic act, like ordaining bishops without the Pope’s approval.
And so it could just be a kind of divine irony that God says, “You prayed that Archbishop Lefebvre would go to heaven before he would do this. Mr. von Balthasar, maybe you would like to go to heaven instead.” And so he died a few days before that happened.
So the point of von Balthasar’s position is that hell is a real possibility for people. In fact, I’m going to let Bishop Barron explain Carl Bart’s Universalism and then von Balthasar’s Hopeful Universalism and then I’ll extract more of the differences between the two.
Now come up to the 20th century, the great Protestant Theologian, Carl Bart, one of the most influential of the modern theologians. He stakes out a position, not all that dissimilar from Origins or Rob Bell’s. It’s pretty much a Universalist position that in the cross of Jesus, all people are saved and the church’s job is to announce this good news to the world. Now, one of his colleagues, a fellow Swiss and a friend of his was Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Catholic theologian. Balthasar took in a good deal of the Bartian spirit, I think reacted against this Augustinian and Thomistic rather dark view on hell. Balthasar said this, “We may reasonably hope that all people will be saved.” You see, what he’s doing is he’s pulling back from Bart and Origin and from a complete Apocatastasis position that we know all people will be saved. No, no, we don’t know that. But we may reasonably hope that all people will be saved. Why? Because of the dramatic thing that God did through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
So to pull this back, to make sure we understand here what Bishop Barron and von Balthasar are saying, you go back to the words of von Balthasar, he does not say everybody’s definitely going to heaven. In his book, he writes, “We stand completely and utterly under judgment and have no right, nor is it possible for us to peer in advance at the Judge’s cards,” i.e., God’s verdict, which is really something that he does per se, but we do through our own freely chosen actions. Whether we choose to spend eternity with God or not. But here’s the thing, if Universalism were true, all of the Judge’s cards, the verdicts of people’s eternal destinies, it would all be the same basically. At the very least, would either be you’re going to haven now or going to haven later after you get purified in hell. That is not what von Balthasar is saying that everybody’s going.
But what he and Bishop Barron seem to be saying, here’s what von Balthasar, how he puts it, “Love hopes all things. It cannot do otherwise than to hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such unlimited hope is, from the Christian standpoint, not only permitted but commanded.”
And this is how Bishop Barron puts it, he doesn’t go as far as von Balthasar in many respects, this is how he puts it, or at least that’s the FAQ on his website, “Bishop Barron is convinced we have a reasonable hope that all will be saved, but the first step in assessing and critiquing an argument is to understand the terms as its proponent is using them. It’s important to know how he’s using those two words in this context. First, he means reasonable in the sense that we have good reasons to ground our hope, namely the cross and resurrection of Jesus and his divine mercy. Bishop Barron isn’t making any sort of probabilistic judgment as if to say reasonable means, very likely, or quite probable. Second, we should recognize hope to mean a deep desire and longing tied to love for the salvation of all people, but without knowing all will be saved, thinking all we saved or even expecting all will be saved.”
So there is a sense in which I wholeheartedly agree with von Balthasar and Bishop Barron. There is a sense in which we all should, but the key here to make that agreement is making a distinction between two things, it’s very important for you to take away from the discussion of Hopeful Universalism. There is a difference between hoping that anyone will be saved and hoping that everyone will be saved. So it makes sense, everyone should agree with this. I think even someone who thinks that most people are going to hell. The church has a wide variety of views about how many people end up in hell, that hasn’t been clearly defined. It has been clearly defined that there is a hell, it is eternal, but what percentage of the human family will be there? The church hasn’t explicitly said. There has been a tradition what Bishop Barron first tune his video, is the dark view of Thomas and Augustan, that the majority of human beings will end up in hell.
But here’s the funny thing when you think about that, well, it’s actually not funny hell is not a funny thing. Here’s the interesting thing when you think about that, it could be true. Both of these statements could be true that the majority of human beings are in hell and the majority of human beings are not in hell based on the time you make that statement. Because it could be the case, when Augustan was writing or St. Thomas Aquinas was writing, that the vast majority of human beings rejected God, or the world was still shrouded in pagan darkness and they never came to know God regardless of how God revealed himself, even if it wasn’t through the gospel, but it was through nature and through conscience. It could even be the case today, that maybe up to this point, a large percentage or the majority of human beings are damned.
But we have to remember what if the human race continues for another 1,000 years, or 10,000 years, or 30,000 years? We’d not only populate new planets, we’d populate new dimensions. We can travel to parallel universes within what God has created. Who knows what could happen in 10,000 years? You never know. But it could be the case that by that point, let’s say the gospel, we see a surge in Evangelism and a new Renaissance in the church. It could be the case further down in the future that so many people are saved and go to heaven it actually counterbalances this dark age the church dealt with for its first few thousand years of its existence. So I don’t know, I’m always trying to think of the big picture with these things. So sometimes it’s helpful to move our perspective up and remember us in the present, it’s a very, very, very tiny perspective for us to be in.
Now, what do I think though, of Hopeful Universalism as Bishop Barron espouses it and von Balthasar espouses it? Well, I would say I’m not a big fan of the term reasonable hope because even though it’s defined in the FAQ, on Word on Fire website, that’s not really how most people take the term to me. I know it’s how Bishop Barron does, and that’s fine. But if I say, “I have a reasonable hope that I’m going to pass my class,” usually take that to me and I’ve got at least a 50% shot, even a 30% shot. I’ve got something significant, but that’s not what he’s saying about hell. And that’s not what von Balthasar is saying. Well, I don’t know. von Balthasar is pretty strong. He quotes Edith Stein as saying that it’s infinitely improbable that someone would end up in hell. And Bishop Barron says he’s not going to go that far.
So I think a better term to use is not a reasonable hope all men will be saved, but a rational hope all men will be saved. For example, if I buy a lottery ticket, I don’t have a reasonable hope that I’m going to win the lottery. There is a small, tiny, tiny outside chance I could win. I don’t say I have a reasonable hope I’m going to win, but I have a rational hope I’m going to win because I have a ticket and it’s within the realm of possibility. If I said, if I was at home, “Do you think you’re going to win the lottery?” And I said, “Well, I didn’t buy a ticket, but the winning ticket might magically appear on my coffee stand out of thin air. I’m hoping for that,” that would not be a rational hope. That would be an irrational hope.
So I think, to be more charitable to Bishop Barron’s position, to make it more defensible, you could say, “All right, one could have a rational hope that it’s not irrational to believe that God would make it the case that everyone went to heaven.” I don’t think von Balthasar and Bishop Barron would say that the people who go to hell will be purified and end up in heaven. The von Balthasarian position rather is that no one ever ends up dying in a state of mortal sin and so no one ever ends up in hell. Now, when I hear that to me, I say, “Well that sounds incredibly unlikely,” but once again, it’s just the same as me saying, “I could win the lottery.” Yeah, that’s incredibly unlikely, but given that we desire the salvation of all people and if we love all people, is it okay for us to hope for an incredibly unlikely outcome that is for the good of all human beings?
I would say yes provided that we’re not hoping for something that’s impossible. So that’s the trick here. When it comes to Hopeful Universalism, if the church teaches not only that hell exists and that it’s eternal, but that certain individuals are in hell or that the church teaches, it is impossible for it to be the case all people are going to go to heaven. Then we couldn’t have Hopeful Universalism is a viable belief system or a permitted theological opinion any more than you could hope that it turns out original sin was all just a dream and it never really happened, and I wake up and it turns out Patrick Duffy on Dallas was actually alive and the whole thing was a dream. All you TV aficionados, you’ll know what I mean with that terrible retcon on Dallas. You know, Patrick Duffy wakes up like it was all a dream. No, we can’t hope for that because original sin did happen. We have to deal with the consequences of it.
So what does the church teach on this matter? Does the church teach there are individuals in hell and so it’s impossible, even on the remote, crazy outside chance, 10 million to one, it’s impossible for all human beings to have ended up in heaven? Well, Avery Cardinal Dulles, who is a very Orthodox thinker, somebody that I trust, he says, “This Dare We Hope position of Balthasar seems to me to be Orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive.” So minatory would be that they’re a warning. It’s kind of like when Jonah went to the Nineveh and said, “In three more days, four more days or whatever, 40 days Nineveh shall be destroyed.” But Nineveh ended up not being destroyed. So the prophecy was really more of a warning that if you don’t listen to me, this is what’s going to happen.
So the defenders of the von Balthasarian position would say that Matthew 25, when Jesus is talking about people going to hell, being in hell, that the gate is wide to destruction, the road to life is narrow. That these are warnings rather than predictions. Now you might say, “Well, how can you believe that? That’s got a contradict with what the church teaches because Jesus clearly teaches here in scripture that there are people going to be in hell. It’s just the plain meaning of the passage.” Well, here’s the thing. What we believe as Catholics does not derive directly from what we consider to be the plain meaning of a biblical passage. For example, the church has no official teaching on what hell is like, but Jesus certainly does teach in scripture, he uses analogies or descriptions to talk about hell being a place of fire, being a place where the worms die not. But the church doesn’t have an official position on whether hell is constituted with literal fire or not. The church doesn’t weigh in on it.
That maybe something that’s affirmed in scripture, but just because scripture says something, we always have to go about interpreting it too. And when it comes to interpreting scripture, the church gives us guidance on being able to interpret, especially guardrails of scripture cannot say this, like Jesus is not God. It can say this, Jesus is God, fully man, fully God. And then there are other areas where there can be multiple interpretations of something where the church has not officially weighed in on it, such as the meanings of certain parables or passages. There’s a lot of things in scripture have multiple meanings to them.
Even when Jesus said, which I think is one of the clearest arguments that somebody is in hell in Matthew 26, 24 Jesus said of Judas, “It’s better for him to never been born.” To me, what I take that as just the intuitive reading of that passage is that Judas was lost. He was lost, he is condemned and it’s better for him to have never been born because if he were born, even if he sinned grievously, he would still end up in heaven, but the church doesn’t have an official position on either that passage or the fate of Judas himself.
And there is a possibility, I’ve read some biblical scholarship on this, that when Jesus says, “It would be better for him to have never been born,” he’s using a Hebrew Semitism, an expression or hyperbolic way of speaking saying if you betray the son of man, that’s a terrible thing for you to do. You’re going to be facing a lot of fires of purgatory for what you’re doing here. It’s really, really bad. Just like it would be better for them to have had a millstone tied around their neck than to have caused one these little ones to stumble. Now, as I said, I think that is a minority interpretation of what the passage probably means. But for me, when I look to see what scripture says, I want to go back and see what does the church teach on that. Because 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “The church is the pillar and foundation of truth.”
So in order to answer the question, if von Balthasar and Hopeful Universalism is a permitted theological opinion we’d have to see, has the church ever definitively taught, has it ever taught that there are individuals in hell? Or that universal salvation is an impossibility? And I’ve gone to the citations and I haven’t found them. There’s one from the First Lateran Council that says that, “Jesus will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and the elect, all of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear. So as to receive according to their desserts, whether these be good or bad.” This profession of faith from the First Lateran Council, I would say, it could only allude to maybe the possibility there are definitely people at that time who were in hell. It doesn’t state it explicitly.
The fact that it uses language like there are the reprobate and the elect, and you know the damned or the saved basically, these are two classes of people or sets, but one of the sets could be empty. It’d be like if I was a teacher and I told my class, “Listen to me, tomorrow when we all come to school the punctual will be given their rewards and the truant, i.e. the people who don’t show up, will be punished.” But it could be the case there are no people in the truant class. Now I personally, I don’t think that. I think that even if this is a permitted theological opinion, it’s not one that I endorse because I still think there’s a heavy amount of evidence against it. I think it’s fine, once again, to hope for the salvation of anybody. Even Judas, we should pray that any person, that’s why we always pray for someone who dies. We don’t say, “We know…”
Some people say, “Well, the church prays for the salvation of everyone.” Yeah, in a sense. We always pray for the dead because we don’t have infallible knowledge what the state of their soul is, so we pray for anybody even if they died, apparently, totally unrepentant. The fact is God delights in repentance, he does not delight in the death of the wicked and we’re not privy to that. So we say, “Well, Lord help him. Lord help me at the hour of my death,” and we pray for that. We would want people pray for that for us, we pray for that for others. But once again, hoping for the salvation of anyone is not the same thing as hoping for the salvation of everyone. You definitely should hope for anybody’s salvation, but everyone, that seems to be a very, very distant remote possibility for me. Even if this is a permitted theological opinion.
Now other evidence would be Benedict the 12th, set in the 14th century, “Furthermore, we define that,” which is evidence of infallible teaching, “According to the general plan of God, the souls of those dying in actual mortal sin descend to hell soon after death.” And the defender of the von Balthasarian view could say “Right, but it could be the case that no one ever dies in mortal sin.” Once again, I think that’s unlikely, but we don’t have an explicit teaching from the church saying that there definitely are people who die in mortal sin and go to hell.
So just to summarize, when I look at the magisterial teaching, what we see from the Pope’s and magisterial documents from ecumenical councils, I agree with Avery Cardinal Dulles that the position Bishop Barron holds, it does not contradict what the church teaches because the church has never definitively taught that any particular person, even Judas, is in hell. And so for me, I would take that to show that this Hopeful Universalism he espouses would be a permitted theological opinion. And the church allows for lots of those. For example, let’s take predestination and free will. The church says in paragraph 600 of the catechism, “You got to believe God has a plan for us. He predestine people to salvation,” but we’re not puppets. We can freely choose to reject God’s plan. Predestination and free will, you got to believe in both, but how do they work together?
The church has an answer that question, you can hold the Thomists view of that predestination, the Molinists view of predestination or maybe your own view as long as it holds to the bare minimum standards of what we believe about predestination and free will. So when it comes to hell, you have to believe in the bare minimum that hell exists. It’s a real possibility and it is eternal in nature. It’s not a path to heaven, it’s not a path to annihilation. But aside from that, you could hold the von Balthasar position, as Bishop Barron does, it doesn’t contradict any church teaching. But just because you can hold something, it doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
And as a separate question as they note on the FAQ that there’s a difference between a view being Orthodox and it being prudent. I mean, you can believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. The church doesn’t have a teaching on the age of the earth. I don’t think that you should because that contradicts all the scientific evidence we have. Much the same way, I’m very concerned about the von Balthasar position of Hopeful Universalism, I just don’t see what benefit it holds. I don’t see how it benefits us in Evangelism if we hold out this possibility that all people can be saved.
That’s not the same thing as saying the possibility of non-Christians being saved. I don’t think that hurts Evangelism because if someone believed, if you never heard who Jesus was and you were automatically going to hell because you were born in the wrong century, I think a lot of people would give up their belief in a good God if God would damn someone because that person happened to be born in the wrong time and place, not because the person ever rejected God’s offer of salvation. Even if it was presented to him or her under a very basic, minimal terms such as through nature and through conscience. But this view, I don’t see how it’s that helpful. Some people may say, “Well, it shows God’s love that he’ll go to any length to save us, and he loves us,” and I don’t doubt that. It’s good to show God desires the salvation of anyone, as I’ve mentioned earlier.
But it seems to subtly reinforce the view that it would be unloving of God for him to allow somebody to go to hell. God will be perfectly loving if he offered salvation and there are people who spend eternity with God and people who do not do that. Hell does not contradict the love of God, something we’ll probably have to explore in a future lecture.
So to summarize, I think that the view is a permissible one to hold. It hasn’t been contradicted by the official teaching of the church, but I think the probability of it being true is extremely low. So it’s not one that I want to bank on, I have serious prudential aversions to holding or promoting this view. And that’s something that we, as Catholics, can reasonably disagree about. But people have asked me what do I think about this, that is what I think.”
“Is everyone definitely going to heaven? Are we all mistaken about hell? I will break down universalism and examines the biblical arguments that are used in support of this heresy.
‘YOU get eternal life with God! And, YOU get eternal life with God. And, YOU, etc.” Wrong., not everybody gets eternal life with God. That would be Oprah if she was preaching universalism.
[Universalism exists] because one of the critiques of Hell, if you recall last time when I had Randall Rouser on the show, we looked at one critique of Hell, which says that, “Yes, Hell exists, but it’s not permanent and the damned are destroyed there.” That would be annihilationism. Another view of Hell is that Hell exists, but it’s more like purgatory. Hell is something where people are purified and so eventually all of the damned, at some point after death, will eventually embrace God, love God, they’ll repent of their sins and then have eternal life with God.
So, universalism is the view that all people or possibly all creatures, which may include the demons and even the devil himself, will be saved. And this is a view that you can find going far back in church history. It’s not a common one, it’s an extreme minority view in church history. You can find a few church fathers or a few ecclesial writers endorsing this view, but it’s a very small minority view. It probably goes back as far as the ecclesial writer Origen in the third century. He espoused a doctrine called apocatastasis.
So, apocatastasis means restoration, reconstitution, and it was his view that all human beings would eventually be drawn to God and all things will be reconciled to God and no one would be in Hell. People dispute a little bit over what Origen meant, because some people accused Origen of saying that even the devil would be redeemed and he would be in Heaven, I think Origen actually denied that view. But regardless of what happened, several centuries later in the sixth century, the church condemned Origen’s views and they condemned the doctrine of universalism, I think around the year 543 AD. Now, they condemned the specific view that we can know with certainty that all people will be saved. There are other variants of universalism that he will put forward, like hopeful universalism that are different in many key respects, like what Bishop Barron proposes and we’re going to talk about later here in the podcast.
So first, let’s start with the doctrine of universalism, classical universalism, that says we know for certain all people will be saved. And then we’ll move to what is called Von Balthasarian hopeful universalism, or the universalism that Bishop Barron promotes, which is based on the writings of the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.
So, to go to classic universalism, there’s a recent book that just came out that I was reading through by an author that, I guess I grudgingly enjoy him. He’s an Eastern Orthodox theologian named David Bentley Hart, and he has a very eclectic writing career. The guy is legitimately smart. Like when I read through books, I normally can read through a book and I can get everything the author is saying, but one insight that Hart is very well read, is that he has an incredible vocabulary.
I mean, he had a personal library of something like 20,000 books that he eventually donated to charity or donated to university, but the guy is really well read. So, when I read through his stuff, the vocabulary he uses, every other page, I’m looking up words and normally I don’t have to do that. I think I have a decent command of vocabulary, a verbose vocabulary, if you will, but Hart will just say things that I’m like, “Okay, where is this coming from?”
Or the other thing that he does, this is the thing where it makes it grudging for me, that I like him because he’s smart. I think he puts forward decent ideas. In some areas he’s better than others, I think some of his arguments against atheism are great. He’s actually a great defender of the doctrine of divine simplicity, the idea that God is not divided into parts, but God is just infinite being itself. But there’s other things that he argues for that I think he’s comparatively weak on. He’s a big defender of socialism. I’ve critiqued him on our online magazine and he gets critiqued in my book I’m co-authoring with Catherine Bacolic called Why Catholics Can’t Be Socialist. He’s not Catholic, but he’s still espouses a Christian view saying that Christianity and socialism, Christians ought to be socialists, and so I take him to task for that in my book, though I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Hart taking me to task. I mean I might, but I would love a response from him, to this book.
Well, the book he wrote is called, let’s see here, That All Shall Be Saved, Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation. There’s a great review of it on the Gospel Coalition website, this is a Protestant website, by Michael McClymond, and McClymond actually has written a really big treatment of the history of universalism in the church. And he comes down on the view that it’s a minority doctrine held by only a few fathers in the church, and that it’s a destructive doctrine and that it promotes, I think, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. This idea that if everyone is saved, then it really cheapens the offer of salvation, the offer of grace that God gives us.
So, McClymond reviews Hart’s book, and I love, though, what he says about Hart’s rhetoric, because one thing that’s distinctive about David Bentley Hart is his rhetoric that he uses. So, he has a wide vocabulary, but he also knows the right words to tear people apart. So, this is what McClymond says. “One cannot consider Hart’s arguments for Christian universalism apart from the ethos and pathos of his prose. Willis Jenkins speaks of Hart’s adjectival petulance, while Douglas Pharaoh calls him, ‘an intellectual pugilist who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.’ For better and for worse, Hart’s verbal pyrotechnics are as obvious as a bomb blast in a reading room. In That All Shall Be Saved, he claims that his intellectual opponents and their views are viciously vindictive, exquisitely malicious, specious reasoning, inherently incredible, morally obtuse, ostentatiously absurd, extravagant absurdities, an intoxicating atmosphere of corroborating nonsense.”
And that’s actually just a collection of insults from the first 20 pages of the book. He has all kinds of things he likes to throw at people as he goes on. And so what I want to do in this episode, though, I’m not going to go through Hart’s book bit-by-bit, I just want to use it.
That’s an introduction to the topic, because there’s really two different kinds of arguments that Universalists use. One, they’ll say, is that Hell is inherently unjust and so they’ll make philosophical arguments saying it would be unjust for someone, for God to allow someone to choose Hell or to be consigned to Hell for all eternity. And so I might address that in a future podcast, just focused on the philosophical arguments related to Hell. Instead, in this episode, I want to focus more on the biblical data, the data from divine revelation to say, “What has God told us about this?”
Because you might be thinking, “Well look, Jesus warned us about Hell. He said that people can go to Hell. The, you know, the gate is wide to destruction and narrow for those who find life. How can you get more obvious than that?” Well, universalists take a look at scripture and they do two things. One, they argue that the references to Hell are only temporary references. So, when Jesus uses adjectives like eternal, the Greek word ionian … This is similar to, you know, my discussion with Randall rouser on annihilationism. They’re talking about how it’s a punishment in the age to come, not one that necessarily lasts for an eternal duration.
But the problem I have with this, and I mentioned in my previous critique of the annihilationist, is that in Matthew 25:46, in Matthew 25, Jesus makes a parallel judgment of the sheep and the goats, the sheep that follow him, that feed the poor, clothe the naked, that follow Jesus’ teachings, they have eternal life with God. And so they have an eternal reward, they have eternal life. But then there’s a parallel with the goats who reject Jesus, who refuse to follow his commands, and they go into ionian colossan, eternal punishment.
And so ultimately though, if it’s not really eternal punishment, if it’s just life in the age to come and punishment in the age to come, then the sheep and the goats kind of end up in the same place. Because the goats, no matter how bad that purifying process is that they go through in Hell, when you compare it to the eternal, infinite happiness that awaits them in Heaven, it’s not going to be really any big deal at all. So, there’s a severe lack of justice in that result, and it doesn’t make sense of the biblical warnings that Christ gives for Hell. So, most Universalists, they try to argue Hell is just a purifying state and that all people will end up in Heaven, but that doesn’t make sense of the descriptions we have from Hell.
Now, if that were their only argument, then it would be a pretty weak position for them to run through. But the positive evidence that universalists offer is, they’ll pick Bible passages where it talks about how God desires the salvation of all people and that all people will be reconciled to God, and they’ll say, “Okay, well that shows that God is going to save all people. God wants all people to be saved.” 1st Timothy 2:4, “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
So that’s true. God wants all people to be saved. But just because God wants something, it doesn’t follow that’s going to happen. God wants me to not ever commit a sin in my life. Now, that makes sense, right? Does God want Trent Horn to sin? No, he doesn’t want me to sin. In fact, Jesus says, “Be perfect like your Heavenly father is perfect.” God wants me, from this moment going forward, to not commit a sin. Am I going to commit a sin? You bet I’m going to. In fact, James 3:2 says that we all stumble in small ways. So, there are many things that God wants, and that represents his perfect will for us, but he understands that we are not puppets on a string, we are not marionettes. And so, there are things God wants for us, but we can choose to not go along with his plan.
And one of those things is that God wants all people to be saved and the only thing that would keep that from happening is the free choice that God has given to his creatures. So what that means is, for example, for angels, angels are forever cut off from God because their decision to rebel against God before the creation of the world is fixed for all eternity. The catechism in paragraph 393 says this. It says, “It is the irrevocable character of their choice,” the angels who rebelled against God, “and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”
One of my arguments for why I believe Hell is eternal is that the damned make it eternal by continually sinning and rejecting God. They just double down on their sins and continue to wallow in them and routinely choose them over God for all eternity. And you probably know people like this who are stubborn, who are malicious, that even when they’re offered mercy and grace, they turn it down and they double down on their own sins and they find almost a sick kind of pleasure in their own sins and in their own stubbornness. And I think that that’s what Hell is, that Hell, it has a lock, but the lock is on the inside. That people choose to not unlock it, that if you took someone out of Hell and place them into Heaven, they would curse God and march right back into Hell and consider it to be better.
In fact, and to be sympathetic to David Bentley Hart, there is an Eastern view on what Hell is. I don’t believe it is compatible with the Catholic view of Hell, because if you look in the catechism in paragraphs, it’s between, I think it’s like 1035, 1033 through 1035, it says that the chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God. And so Hell, you’ll get everything you wanted in life, you’ll get yourself and you’ll be cut off from everything that is completely good in life, which is God.
A common view in Eastern Orthodox theology though of Hell, which I find really intriguing, I actually really want to believe it, but it seems to contradict what the church teaches about Hell being a separation from God. Many Eastern theologians have said that Hell is just the reaction that the damned have to God’s presence, that God’s holiness, for example, that when God’s holiness is received by different people, it is experienced in different ways. So, those who are saints in Heaven, the canonized, so the saints in Heaven who are freed from sin, they experience God as infinite bliss and it’s wonderful. The saved who are in purgatory, who are being purified of their sins, they experience God as possibly a painful kind of cleansing environment, that they see they’re moving towards the good, but it’s not a pleasant road going along the way. For them, the experience of God is kind of like the experience of going to the dentist, to use an analogy that’s helpful with children to explain what purgatory is like.
But the damned, what makes Hell Hellish is they experience God and it is just awful for them. They are in torment because they hate that goodness since they love themselves. Have you ever seen a narcissist? Somebody who is just in love with themselves, they’re always bragging about themselves. When they’re among a group of people and they’re with somebody who is objectively better than them, someone who is smarter, funnier, better looking, more accomplished, they’re always trying to one up that person and they can’t, and it just drives them crazy. And so, they don’t want to be a part of that. They don’t want to have to deal with that, it’s irritating to them. And so if that was magnified infinite fold in Hell for people to experience God, then it’s almost like there’s a kind of justice that in the afterlife everybody gets God and your temperament, how you’re fixed at death, whether your soul was fixed, oriented towards God or away God, will determine how you receive him for all eternity.
Now, just to repeat, that’s the Eastern view of Hell. I find it intriguing, but I do not think that it is compatible with the Catholic view, because the catechism in paragraph 1035 makes it very clear that Hell is eternal separation from God. Not that you receive God, but it’s just a horrible feeling because you’re not well disposed to receive him because you don’t desire that. The sin you cling to recoils at the love of God.
So, going back to Universalists, they’ll quote Bible passages like this. 1st Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” So, the Universalist says, “Okay, because of Adam, we all, every human being ended up in sin, and because of Christ, every human being will end up in Heaven.” That is not what Paul is saying here. He uses the phrase, in Christ, is a phrase that’s very specific to Pauline theology, and it refers to the saved. It refers to people who have the grace of God, who are united to Christ through baptism. It doesn’t refer to all human beings. So yes, “For as in Adam,” we all come from Adam because of biological generation, “all die,” all have original sin. So also, “In Christ,” those who are in Christ, “shall all be made alive.” All of those who are in Christ, not all human beings whatsoever.
This also explains what Paul writes in Romans 5:18. He says, “ASs one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” So the Universalist will say, “Oh, see here, it’s saying through Adam, one man’s trespass, all were condemned. And to have the symmetry through one man’s act of righteousness, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, this leads to acquittal and life for all men.” But once again, Paul is not saying that all human beings will be saved through Christ, in virtue that Christ has just died on the cross and so automatically all human beings will be saved.
He’s talking about life for all of those who are in Christ, and we know that in Romans 5:18, to sort of summarize, Romans 5:18, “One man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” It would be easy to read universalism out of that passage, but that’s not what Paul is talking about because we have to go back one verse. Remember, watch out for proof texts. You got to look at the context. A proof text without context is nothing but a pretext. I think that was the Protestant exigent D A Carson, who once said that.
In Romans 5:17 Paul says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will.” and here’s the key part, “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” So, Paul says that before Romans 5:18 and he says it’s not every human being, it’s those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. Just because something is a free gift doesn’t mean that you have to receive it. I get free gifts and free offers in the mail all the time. “Free credit card offer, here you go.” Guess what? I’m not going to receive it because I don’t want that. Now, the free offer, the free gift of God? I will cooperate with God’s grace to receive that because I see that that offers the greatest thing I could ever have. Eternal life.
Okay, so let’s summarize where we’re at. We’ve been talking about universalism. That is the view that all people, possibly all creatures will go to Heaven and that Hell is a way that they are purified and that’s how they get to Heaven. But as we see, there’s no biblical evidence for this view, and it’s contradicted by the Bible’s teachings that Hell is something that’s really bad. Hell is not a stopping point on the way to Heaven, Hell is something that you don’t want to end up to. Hell is a place of death.
That’s why the annihilationist view makes more sense than the universalist view. The annihilationist will say, “Yeah, Hell is a place where you’re lost.” Because think about when Jesus talks about the lost, “I’ve come to save the lost, come for those who are lost.” If universalism were true, then the people who go to Hell, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. They’re delayed, they’re going to be purified in Hell, and then eventually they’re going to spend an infinite amount of time with God in Heaven. So, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. The annihilationist view makes more sense because they would say the damned are lost because they are destroyed in Hell.
Now, I disagree with them because it seems clear that the descriptions of Hell are that it is a never ending place of torment for those who were separated from God, and that the eternal separation the damned endure is not one where they go out of existence and so they’re apart from God for all eternity. Like if I delete an email, I don’t say it’s eternally deleted, it’s just it’s deleted, it’s gone. No, there’s this kind of enduring separation that takes place. And so it contradicts what we have from the biblical data, what we have from the teachings of the church that Hell is a real reality, that it’s not purgative, that not everyone’s going to have … And universalism was condemned in the sixth century. You cannot hold the view as a Catholic that you know for certain all people are going to Heaven.
Now, that brings us to Bishop Barron and so I’m going to have to tease out the end of this podcast here, but don’t worry. We’re going to continue this discussion in part two episode of this week, where I want to give enough time and treatment to this topic. I guess I thought I could cover both of these in one episode, but that’s fine, we’ve got flexibility here.
So, now we’ve seen what universalism is. You can’t believe that, the view that it’s definite all people are going to go to Heaven. But what about another view? What about a view we might call hopeful universalism? That’s the view where we’re saying, “Well, we don’t know for certain all people are going to Heaven, but is it possible that no one will be lost? Is it possible that no one will end up in Hell? That Hell exists? It’s eternal, but it’s empty. No human beings end up there. Is it possible and something we should hope for that all human beings will end up in Heaven?” That would be the view called hopeful universalism espoused by the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and it’s more popularly espoused today by Bishop Robert Barron. So, that view is not the same as universalism. It is not the same.
And so there’s two questions I would ask of that view. One, is it an Orthodox view, is it a view that a faithful Catholic can hold? Does it contradict church teaching? And two, is it a prudent view? Is it a view that we ought to hold? Is it a good idea? Those are two different views, but I want to make sure I give that view the best treatment in my next article.”
Love, Lord, give me the grace to worthy of Your reward at my judgment, particular, and universal(final, last),
-The Awesome Judgement — icon of the Second Coming. From Christ a river ﬂows forth: it is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the saints are. At its lower end, the same river is ﬁery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant are depicted.
“The prolific author and Eastern orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has just released a new book that covers a very old topic: Universalism, or the belief that all creatures will definitely be saved. In his new book That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, Hart argues that eventually all people (which may include fallen angels, though Hart doesn’t explicitly come out and say it) will spend eternity with God in heaven. That’s because an eternal hell is supposedly so unjust that if it were an essential part of Christian doctrine it would be (in Hart’s words) “proof that Christianity should be dismissed as a self-evidently morally obtuse and logically incoherent faith.” (As an aside, my colleague Karlo Broussard has done some great work showing hell is not unjust.)
The possibility that hell is empty is not a twenty-first century novelty. In the third century, the ecclesial writer Origen argued for apokatastasis, or a “restoration” that would unite all things, including unrepentant sinners, to God. This would seem to rule out the possibility that anyone would spend an eternity in hell, though modern commenters are divided over the implications of Origen’s theology on this question. According to Bible scholar Richard Bauckham:
“Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated. . . . Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation . . . though these few included some major theologians of the early church.”
The Catholic Church condemned universalism at the regional council of Orange in 543 AD, though a few theologians still held out hope for all creatures to be saved. This uniformity of thought began to change, however, with the rise of denominations like the Universalist Church of America (which exists today under the name Unitarian Universalism).
Most Christian universalists like Hart agree that hell is real and even believe that some or many people will go there. But from their perspective hell is a temporary “purgatory-like” condition and the Bible’s references to it being “eternal” only mean hell is a temporary punishment that the damned face in “the age to come” because the Greek word for eternity (aionion) can also mean “age” (Hart even refers to hell as “the purifying flames of the Age to come”).
As I’ve shown in my engagements with others who dispute the eternal aspect of hell, the endless nature of hell is quite obvious from the biblical texts. Given the strength of the Catholic Church’s case, universalists can’t just claim that the punishments of hell might not be permanent. To be convincing, they need to show positive evidence that all people will eventually be saved. When it comes to providing positive evidence, universalists usually cite biblical passages that, from their perspective, describe God effecting the salvation of every single person.
Hart seems puzzled, though, that these passages were not given more attention by theologians throughout the Church’s history, noting “how odd it is that for at least fifteen centuries such passages have been all but lost behind a veil as thin as the one that can be woven from those three or four deeply ambiguous verses that seem (and only seem) to threaten eternal torments for the wicked.”
But perhaps that’s because these passages don’t teach that everyone will be saved. Instead, they express the hope that anyone can be saved.
In 1 Timothy 2:4, for example, St. Paul says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” But God also desires that we not sin, and yet we still do. God desires the good for all of his creatures, but because he has also given human beings and angels the gift of free will, it follows that God will allow us to enjoy or suffer the consequence of this good gift, even if it means eternal separation from him.
Although Hart admits he doesn’t like “reducing biblical theology to concentrated distillates (prooftexts)” he proceeds to do just that by listing nearly a dozen verses, including their original Greek and Hart’s own rendering of them from his own strange, overly-literal translation of the Bible. Unfortunately, his translation doesn’t offer much in terms of exegesis or understanding of these crucial texts.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive,” but this doesn’t mean that through Christ all people shall be brought to eternal life. What it means is that all who are “in Christ” (a phrase Paul often uses for the saved or elect) shall be brought to eternal life. This logic also explains Romans 5:18, wherein Paul says, “As one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”
This refers to life for all believers, or those who are in Christ. We know this because in the previous verse Paul says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” This is talking about the salvation of all believers, not the salvation of all people. Jesus himself says that he will “draw all men to himself” (John 12:32), but that doesn’t mean that people can’t reject him even after being so drawn. In this passage Jesus also foreshadows his own crucifixion, which may mean that all people will have their sins atoned for on the cross but the grace that Christ accrues for them may not be applied to their souls if they choose to reject it.
In other words, Christ draws all men to Himself and He died for every single person, offering them the gift of eternal life. But each person still has a choice, and some people will tragically refuse to accept Christ’s mercy and salvation. That is why the Church prays for the soul of anyone who has perished: because God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
If Hart’s universalism is true, then those who reject the gospel would cease to be “the lost” Jesus came to save (Luke 19:10) and become instead “the delayed,” who just have to wait a little longer for the heavenly rewards they rejected in life.
The evangelist who foolishly thinks universalism will make it easier to preach the gospel will see that without the “bad news” the “good news” isn’t taken seriously. On this view, Christianity becomes a faith that seeks to merely make “heaven on earth,” and by that point it’s nothing more than secular humanism playing dress-up on Sundays.
Contrary to Hart’s assertion, it is not the presence of hell that makes Christianity a “morally obtuse and logically incoherent faith”— it is its absence.”
“The sect known as Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) began with Charles Taze Russell in the 1870’s. Russell was raised a Presbyterian, then joined the Congregational church, and was finally influenced by Adventist teachings. By his own admission, he had a hard time accepting the existence of hell. He sought out the Bible, and as his “studies” continued, he systematically began to reject the major doctrines of historic Christianity. In 1879 he started publishing a magazine to promote his beliefs. This magazine was the precursor to today’s Watchtower (WT) magazine.
In this section we will examine ten topics relating to Russell, the JWs, and their parent organization, the Watchtower Society (WTS). We will show that the beliefs of JWs are unscriptural, and that both Russell and the WTS are completely unreliable as spiritual guides.
Is the Watch Tower Society Reliable?
In 1910 Russell wrote, “If anyone lays the Scripture Studies [short for a seven-volume WTS publication entitled Studies in the Scriptures, hereafter abbreviated as Studies] aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood the Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he will be in the light at the end of two years.” (WT Reprints, 9-15-1910, 4685). The WTS claims to be God’s inspired prophet (WT, 4-1-1972, 197)—and yet its prophecies have repeatedly proven to be false.
Among other things, the WTS falsely predicted the following:
1889: “The ‘battle of the great day of God almighty’ (Rev. 16:14) which will end in AD 1914 . . . ” (Studies, Vol. 2, 1908 edition, 101).
1891: “With the end of AD 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown from prophecy” (Studies, Vol. 3, 153).
1894: “The end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble” (WT Reprints, 1-1-1894, 1605 and 1677).
1916: “The six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th day, the 1000 years of Christ’s reign began in 1873” (Studies, Vol. 2, p. 2 of foreword).
1918: “Therefore, we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful prophets of old” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 89).
1923: “1925 is definitely settled by the scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge” (WT, 4-1-1923, 106).
1925: “The year of 1925 is here. . . . Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year” (WT, 1-1-1925, 3).
1939: “The disaster of Armageddon is just ahead” (Salvation, 361).
1941: “Armageddon is surely near . . . soon . . . within a few years” (Children, 10).
1946: “Armageddon . . . should come sometime before 1972” (They Have Found a Faith, 44).
1968: “The end of the six thousand years of man’s history in the fall of 1975 is not tentative, but is accepted as a certain date” (WT, 1-1-1968, 271).
Besides false prophecies, the WTS has misled its members through countless changes in doctrine and practice:
The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT, 7-1879, 7-8). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT, 6-1-1952, 338). The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT 8-1-1965, 479). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT 6-1-1988, 31).
“There could be nothing against our consciences in going into the army” (WT, 4-15-1903, 120). Due to conscience, Jehovah’s Witnesses must refuse military service (WT, 2-1-1951, 73).
“We may as well join in with the civilized world in celebrating the grand event [Christmas] . . . ” (WT Reprints, 12-1-1904, 3468). “Christmas and its music are not from Jehovah . . . What is their source? . . . Satan the devil” (WT, 12-15-1983, 7).
“Everyone in America should take pleasure in displaying the American flag” (WT Reprints, 5-15-1917, 6068). The flag is “an idolatrous symbol” (Awake!, 9-8-71, 14).
A much longer list of such contradictions and doctrinal twists by the WTS could be formed, but this suffices to remove any reason one might have to believe that “It is through the columns of The Watchtower that Jehovah provides direction and constant scriptural counsel to his people” (WT, 5-1-1964, 277).
Can You Trust the New World Translation?
The New World Translation (NWT), the JWs’ own Bible version, was created between 1950 and 1961 in several parts, beginning with New Testament (NT). The translation was made by an “anonymous” committee, which transliterated and altered passages that were problematic for earlier JWs. The text of the NWT is more of a transliteration to fit theological presumptions than it is a true translation. This can be seen in key verses that the WTS changed in order to fit its doctrines.
To undermine the divinity of Christ in John 1:1, the NWT reads “the word was a god.” Non-JW Greek scholars call this “a shocking mistranslation” and “evidence of abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar.” Furthermore, Col. 1:15-17 has been changed to “by means of him all [other] things were created.” If the text were left as the original Greek reads, it would clearly state that Jesus created all things. However, the WTS cannot afford to say that anyone but Jehovah created all things, so it inserted the word “other” four times into the text.
The 1950, 1961, and 1970 editions of the NWT said that Jesus was to be worshipped (Heb. 1:6), but the WTS changed the NWT so that later editions would support its doctrines. The translators now decided to render the Greek word for “worship” (proskuneo) as “do obeisance” every time it is applied to Jesus, but as “worship” when modifying Jehovah. If the translators were consistent, then Jesus would be given the worship due to God in Matthew 14:33, 28:9, 28:17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; and Hebrews 1:6.
At the time of the Last Supper, there were over three dozen Aramaic words to say “this means,” “represents,” or “signifies,” but Jesus used none of them in his statement, “This is my body.” Since the WTS denies the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, they have taken the liberty to change our Lord’s words to “This means my body” in Matthew 26:26.
The NWT also translates the Greek word kurios (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” dozens of times in the NT, despite the fact that the word “Jehovah” is never used by any NT author. It should also be asked why the NWT does not translate kurios as “Jehovah” in Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Philippians 2:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, and Revelation 22:21. If it did translate kurios consistently, then Jesus would be Jehovah!
Is “Jehovah” God’s Name?
In Reasoning from the Scriptures the WTS teaches that “Jehovah” is the proper pronunciation of God’s name, and so “Everyone who calls on the name of [Jehovah] will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). They continue, “Many scholars favor the spelling ‘Yahweh,’ but it is uncertain and there is not agreement among them. On the other hand, ‘Jehovah’ is the form of the name that is most readily recognized, because it has been used in English for centuries” (p. 195).
However, the JWs’ own Aid to Bible Understanding says, “The first recorded use of this form [Jehovah] dates from the 13th century C.E. [after Christ]. . . . Hebrew scholars generally favor ‘Yahweh’ as the most likely pronunciation” (pp. 884-885).
New Testament Greek always uses the word “Lord,” and never “Jehovah,” even in quotes from the Old Testament (OT). Encyclopedia Judaica, Webster’s Encyclopedia, Jewish Encyclopedia,Encyclopedia Britannica, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia and countless others agree that the title “Jehovah” is erroneous and was never used by the Jews.
Do Humans Possess an Immortal Soul?
Another mistake made by JWs is their denial of the immortality of the soul. The Bible mentions the soul approximately 200 times, and it can be seen to have very different meanings according to the context of each passage. This tract will simply demonstrate that the soul is immortal according to Scripture.
Perhaps the strongest contradiction of the WTS doctrine is seen in Christ’s descent to Hades. In 1 Peter 3:19, the apostle tells his audience how Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison.” If the dead were aware of nothing, then his preaching would have been futile. In the OT, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the condition of the dead, “Sheol underneath has become agitated at you in order to meet you on coming in . . . all of them speak up and say. . . . Those seeing you will gaze even at you, saying . . . ” (Isa. 14:9-11). These verses indicate clearly that the dead are conscious, and the NT tells the same story. To be absent from the body is not to be unconscious, but rather it enables one to be home with the Lord, according to Paul (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). The body is just a tent, or tabernacle that does not last (2 Cor. 5:1-4; 2 Pet. 1:13), while man cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). In fact, the souls live past the death of the bodies, since John “saw . . . the souls of those slaughtered . . . and they cried with a loud voice, saying . . . and they were told . . . ” (Rev. 6:9-11). Because the soul does not die with the flesh, those in heaven are able to offer our prayers to God (Rev. 5:8), and live in happiness (Rev. 14:13).
Is Hell Real or Not?
The WTS also maintains that everlasting punishment is a myth and a lie invented by Satan. Hell is merely mankind’s common grave, and is definitely not a fiery torture, according to them.
According to Scripture, if one is in hell, “he shall be tormented with fire and sulfur . . . the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and day and night they have no rest” (Rev. 14:11). This is an “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Jesus tells his listeners of Lazarus and the rich man, where the rich man dies, and is “existing in torment . . . he sees . . . calls out . . . ‘I am in anguish in this blazing fire’” (Luke 16:19-31). As a further illustration, Jesus stated that hell is likened to Gehenna. This “Valley of Hinnom” was located southeast of Jerusalem, and was used as a garbage dump where trash and waste were continuously burned day and night in a large fire. Jesus informs the listeners that hell is like this, “where the maggot does not die, and fire is not put out” (Mark 9:42-48). It is the place where the wicked are sent, and from this “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8) will come “weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). Now if hell were “a place of rest in hope” as the WTS teaches, then it is odd that Jesus would choose such contradictory illustrations to convey this.
Some core beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) were examined in our tract entitled Five Questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this “sequel” tract, we will examine some additional beliefs and teachings of the Watchtower Society (WTS), the parent organization of the JWs.
Are Jesus and Michael the Archangel Really the Same Person?
One of the most peculiar of the WTS’s teachings is their assertion that Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel. If the JW has difficulty explaining any particular doctrine, it will be this one. Even JWs will admit that if one were to have walked up to any of the apostles or disciples of Christ and asked them who Jesus was, they would not have said, “Well, he’s Michael the Archangel!” Not only was the very idea unheard of before Charles Taze Russell (the founder of the WTS), but the Bible explicitly rejects the possibility of it.
For example, the author of Hebrews states, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my son? . . . Let all the angels of God worship him. . . . to which of the angels has he ever said ‘Sit at my right hand . . . ’” (Heb. 1). Here, the author of Hebrews separates Jesus from angels, and commands the angels to worship him (cf. Rev. 5:13-14,14:6-7). The obvious problem is this: archangels are creatures, but the Bible forbids any creature to worship another creature. Thus, either the Bible is in error by commanding the angels to worship an archangel, or Jesus is uncreated and cannot be an archangel. Since this gave the JWs a tremendous problem, they even had to change their own Bible translation, called the New World Translation (NWT), to eliminate the references to worshipping Christ.
Jesus: Creature or Creator?
The doctrine that most clearly sets the WTS apart from Christianity is its denial of the divinity of Christ. JWs maintain that Jesus is actually a creature—a highly exalted one—but not God himself. Scripturally, the evidence is not in their favor.
John 1:1 states unequivocally, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse gave the JWs tremendous difficulty, and so in their own NWT they render the end of this verse as, “And the word was a god.” One great difficulty with this translation is how it contradicts passages such as Deuteronomy 32:39, which says, “I alone, am God and there are no gods together with me.” Further contradictions can be seen in Exodus 20:3, “Have no other gods besides me,” and Isaiah 43:10, “Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after me.”
In John 20:28 Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” In the original Greek it literally reads, “The Lord of me and the God of me.” It would be nothing short of blasphemy for Jesus not to rebuke Thomas if he was wrong. Jesus instead accepts Thomas’s profession of his identity as God.
The Bible indicates that God alone created the universe (Is. 44:24), and “he that constructed all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). However, Jesus created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10). This passage by itself proves that Jesus is God, since an Old Testament reference to God (Ps. 102:26-28) is now given to him.
In John 8:58, Jesus takes the name of God, “I AM” (Ex. 3:15-18), and applies it to himself. Only God may use this title without blaspheming (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11), and the punishment for someone other than God to use the sacred “I AM” is stoning (Lev. 24:16). Thus, in verse 59, Jesus’ audience picked up stones to kill him, because they correctly understood his use of “I AM” as his claim to being God and hence thought he was guilty of blasphemy. This verse also proved to be difficult for the JWs to combat, and so they changed “I AM” to “I have been.” The Greek here is ego eimi, which any first-semester Greek student can tell you means “I am.”
JWs maintain that only Jehovah God may be prayed to. But Stephen prayed to Jesus in Acts 7:59, and so one must conclude that Jesus is God. Otherwise, Stephen blasphemed while filled with the Holy Spirit (7:55).
The WTS would have their followers believe that Jehovah and Jesus are necessarily different beings, though the Bible tells another story. Jesus is called Mighty God in Isaiah 9:6, and in the very next chapter the same title is given to Jehovah in verse 21. Other shared titles include: King of Kings (compare with Rev. 17:14), Lord of Lords (Deut. 10:17; Rev. 17:14), the only Savior (Is. 43:10-11; Acts 4:12), the First and the Last (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 22:13), the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13-16), Rock (Isa. 8:14; 1 Pet. 2:7-8), and Shepherd (Ps. 23:1; Heb. 13:20-21).
Jesus and Jehovah have much more in common than titles, though. They are both worshipped by angels (Heb. 1:6, Neh. 9:6). They are both unchanging (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6). They both created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10, Neh. 9:6) and are all-knowing (John 21:17, 1 John 3:20). Both give eternal life (John 10:28, 1 John 5:11), and judge the world (John 5:22, Ps. 96:13). To them every knee will bend and every tongue confess (Phil. 2:9-11, Is. 45:23).
Is the Holy Spirit a Force or God?
Since the WTS insists that the Trinity is unbiblical and false, they relegate the Holy Spirit to the role of God’s impersonal active force which compels believers to do his will. In fact, they compare the Holy Spirit (which they render as “holy spirit”) to electricity.
The Bible begs to differ, though. There are numerous verses in the New Testament which clearly demonstrate both the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. For example, in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” In Acts 10:19-20, this “impersonal force” considers himself to be a person. John 16 supports this idea by referring to the Holy Spirit as a “he” 10 times in the same chapter. First Corinthians 12:11 states that the Holy Spirit “wills,” which is an irrefutable attribute of personhood, as is the capacity to love we see demonstrated by the Spirit in Romans 15:30. Scripture also states that the Holy Spirit can: be lied to (Acts 5:3), speak (Acts 10:19-20), hear (John 16:13-15), know the future (Acts 21:11), testify (John 15:26), teach (John 14:26), reprove (John 16:8-11), pray and intercede (Rom. 8:26), guide (John 16:13), call (Acts 13:2), be grieved (Eph. 4:30), feel hurt (Isa. 63:10), be outraged (Heb. 10:29), desire (Gal. 5:17) and be blasphemed (Mark 3:29). Only a person is capable of these.
These examples demonstrate sufficiently that the Holy Spirit is a personal being, and so now one must demonstrate that he is God. Acts 5:1-4 teaches that a lie to the Holy Spirit is a lie to God himself. Isaiah 44:24 insists that God alone created the heavens and the earth, but Job 33:4 and Psalms 104:30 explains that the Holy Spirit created them. Only God is everlasting, and this is likewise an attribute Scripture gives the Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14). There is but one Lord (Eph. 4:5), and one Creator (Mal. 2:10), yet both the Father and the Spirit claim they are him (Matt. 11:25 and 2 Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 8:6 and Ps. 104:30). Only the Catholic understanding of the Trinity reconciles these passages.
Is There a Bodily Resurrection of Christ?
According to the WTS, “The man Jesus is dead, forever dead” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 5, 454). “We deny that he was raised in the flesh, and challenge any statement to that effect as being unscriptural” (Studies, Vol. 7, 57). Jesus’ fleshly body “was disposed of by Jehovah God, dissolved into its constitutive elements or atoms” (The Watchtower, 9-1-1953, 518). “In order to convince Thomas of who he was, he used a body with wound holes” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 145). He was raised as an invisible spirit creature, with no physical body (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 214-215).
However, according to Scripture, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Jesus makes clear, even before death, that it is his body that will be raised up. He promises to raise up the temple once it is destroyed. “He was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). After he had risen, he gives the same testimony, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; feel me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you behold that I have” (Luke 24:39, 41). Jesus insists that Thomas place his finger into his wounded side, so as to prove that he had indeed risen from the dead (John 20:27). Ask the JW to show you a Scripture verse which backs up the WTS’s assertion about God disposing of Jesus’ body. He can’t, because there isn’t one.
Is Heaven Just for the “Anointed Class”?
The WTS teaches that only the anointed 144,000 seen in Revelation 7 will enter heaven (the “anointed class”), while the remainder that are not annihilated (the “other sheep”) will live forever on earth in paradise. However, the Bible poses some irreconcilable difficulties with this idea.
If Revelation 7 is to be taken literally, there would only be 144,000 Jewish male virgins taken from a square-shaped earth that are now in heaven worshipping a sheep. This would mean that Peter (not a virgin), the Blessed Mother (not a male), and Charles Taze Russell (not a Jew) could not be in heaven. Reading one number literally while taking the rest of a book symbolically is not sound exegesis. Beyond this, we see in Revelation 14 that the 144,000 stand before the 24 elders from Revelation 4:4.
This at least brings the grand total to 144,024 people. But the Scriptures indicate that there are still more to come. Revelation 7:9 speaks of a countless multitude before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev. 14:2-3). Still in the book of Revelation, we read that all those with their name in the book of life are in heaven (Rev. 21:27), while all whose names are not in the book of life are thrown into the pool of fire (Rev. 20:15). There is no third “earthly” class. Jesus reiterates this, and never speaks of two flocks.
The WTS maintains that no one that lived before Christ will ever enter heaven. “The apostle Paul in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews names a long list of faithful men who died before the crucifixion of the Lord. . . . These can never be a part of the heavenly class” (Millions Now Living, p. 89).
Matthew 8:11-12 provides severe difficulties for this idea, since Jesus proclaims, “many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside.” No verse could be clearer in declaring that the patriarchs are in heaven. The following verses all demonstrate that Christians go to heaven: 2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 3:1; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:4.”
The use of force, punishment, threat and fear are necessary for the keeping of order and the maintenance of right laws in action. But in a healthy state of affairs, much the greater part in the strength of authority is moral. Men obey because they think they ought to obey; because they feel that the authority which governs them has a right to do so. As moral authority weakens, those who exercise authority tend to fall back upon physical restraint, punishment, and the irrational fear of consequences as a method of administration. That is what happened towards the end of the Middle Ages. Force alone was used against heresy in every form, and not only against heresy but even against grumblings at the powers of the clergy. . . . Everywhere attacked and losing [their] moral sanctions, the officers of the Church fell back with increasing severity and frequency upon restraint by fear. This evil, the association of violence and horrible punishment with the maintenance of orthodoxy, grew rapidly throughout the end of the decline; and nothing did more to provoke the violent outburst to follow, in which the unity of Christendom was broken asunder.26
Jan Hus was a Czech priest who served as rector of Charles University in Prague at the turn of the fifteenth century. Actual Protestantism was still more than a hundred years off, but Hus, who lived and died a Catholic, gradually became interested in the writings of John Wycliffe. Clergy mortality from the Black Death had been especially high in England, and Wycliffe, the master of Balliol College, had seen all the worst men in Oxfordshire rise to the Catholic episcopate. His simmering fury over the whole thing began expressing itself in books that eventually reached Bohemia.
Unlike his teacher, Hus did not respond to the scandals by attacking the dogma of transubstantiation (which, after all, does depend on a validly ordained priesthood). But he did begin to share Wycliffe’s Donatist beliefs that the Catholic clergy had relinquished all its prerogatives through sin and simony.
The Church ought to sell off the entirety of her property and make the whole clergy take a vow of abject poverty. Indulgences and the like must be banned, and the Bible must become Christianity’s sole guidebook. In 1377, Hus published his ideas, which quickly earned the condemnation of Pope Gregory XI. A few years later, Innocent VII censured Hus and forbade any further broadsides against the clergy. By 1409, Hus’s sympathetic archbishop was forced to stop protecting him. Another new pope was elected, antipope Alexander V, and Hus decided to appeal to him directly, offering to explain his teachings in person. He was rebuffed. In 1412, his followers burned the papal bulls that had been issued against Hus. Three of them were taken and beheaded. King Wenceslaus of Bohemia tried to intervene and almost got into hot water himself with Gregory XII.
Finally, Jan Hus was sent to trial. Yet another antipope, John XXIII, chose a committee of bishops to adjudicate the matter. Hus’s condemnation took place on June 5, 1415. He was held for another seventy-three days and then burned alive, the same punishment Wycliffe underwent some twenty years earlier. Before being consigned to the flames, he prayed the Jesus Prayer and forgave his enemies. He was undoubtedly a heretic — as some in our times have become through shock and dismay — but when he said that indulgences had become a colossal fraud, that the monasteries were rotten with idleness and sexual sin, and that the bishops, for the most part, were in it for the money, Jan Hus told the God’s honest truth.
…The killing of Hus, in other words, resulted from a perfect storm of all three of our fourteenth-century catastrophes. (Great Western Schism/Avignon Papacy/Babylonian Captivity, Black Death, & Hundred Years’ War)
(The editor highly recommends reading the posts “Sin (Parts 1-4)” as a preface.)
….Spiritual goods merited by the saints are stored up with God as in a treasury (treasury of merit). These treasures, under certain circumstances, can be applied to the needs of other Church members still on earth — and the pope, as successor of Peter, holds the keys. What kinds of needs are we talking about? The need, for instance, to have the sufferings brought about by our own sins and follies lessened.
…an indulgence can be granted only to a living, baptized Christian believer. It’s of no use for keeping someone out of hell, for that issue is settled only by graces earned by Christ Himself applied directly to the believing soul in baptism. Post-baptismal sin, too, is absolved not by an indulgence but by confession. The indulgences offered by the Church were (and still are) useful for mitigating troubles in time — temporal chastisement here on earth during the struggle for sanctification and, if necessary, in the purging that comes to a saved soul immediately after death.
…the idea that an indulgence obtained by a living believer might, on his own authority, be transferred to a third party (a deceased loved one in purgatory, for example) was a theory sometimes entertained but never actually taught by the Church. Pope Leo X, again, certainly understood all this — but he also knew that these fine distinctions, during those troubled times, were well over the heads of the Catholic masses.
Even so, he sent out his authorized sellers. Johann Tetzel, for example, was a German Dominican friar engaged to preach the great indulgence of 1517, a campaign undertaken (ostensibly) to help finance the construction of the largest church building on earth, the new St. Peter’s going up in Rome. Tetzel had been at this kind of work for some time already, having been commissioned by Pope Leo (while he was still Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici) to boost the Jubilee Indulgence more than a decade earlier. He had achieved great results. Tetzel was valued as a rousing street preacher, somebody who could “fill a hat” like practically no one else — but his technique was highly suspect. Later charges that he preached “indulgence” in our modern sense are slanderous, anachronistic nonsense. Indulgentia (a Latin word that may be rendered as “a kindness going forward”) was not, as so many Protestants have charged, a bribe offered to God by the impenitent, so that He might “go easy” or “look the other way” during the commission of future sins. And Tetzel probably did not use the silly advertising jingle so often associated with his name: “As soon as the coin in the coffer clinks, the soul from purgatory springs!” But he definitely promoted the same idea in subtler language. “The assertion,” as Catholic historian Ludwig von Pastor writes,
“that he put forward indulgences as being not only a remission of the temporal punishment of sin, but as a remission of its guilt, is as unfounded as is that other accusation against him, that he sold the forgiveness of sin for money, without even any mention of contrition and confession, or that, for payment, he absolved from sins which might be committed in the future. . . . About indulgences for the living, Tetzel always taught pure doctrine. . . . The case was very different, however, with indulgences for the dead. About these there is no doubt that Tetzel did, according to what he considered his authoritative instructions, proclaim as Christian doctrine that nothing but an offering of money was required to gain the indulgence for the dead, without there being any question of contrition or confession. He also taught, in accordance with the opinion then held, that an indulgence could be applied to any given soul with unfailing effect. Starting from this assumption, there is no doubt that his doctrine was virtually that of the well-known drastic proverb.”24
When Tetzel arrived at Wittenberg in Saxony, word of his message reached Martin Luther, who was an important teacher of theology at the Catholic university there. The ordinary people who attended the rallies, Luther claimed (and there’s no real reason to disbelieve him), came away from Tetzel’s preaching convinced that they could free their loved ones from purgatory purely for a price. Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Brandenburg, to protest. And here’s where things got dicey. Tetzel had received his license to preach in the pope’s name via this selfsame archbishop of Brandenburg, who had, as it happens, arranged with Leo in advance to send him about half the money raised, for the construction project in Rome — and to keep the other half himself to pay off the deep debts he incurred while obtaining his appointment to the archbishopric. This the ordinary people did not know. And Albert himself, once he received the letter, went after Luther, the whistle-blower.
Luther probably didn’t know about this bad shepherd’s abuse either; there’s no specific mention of it, at any rate, in the Ninety-Five Theses, which focus almost entirely on theology. We know about it today, however, and it highlights like nothing else one of the major reasons the clergy were so resistant to reform during these crucial years. They were convinced that the Church needed the money to continue. The popes had, for decades, given their sanction to similar transactions quite openly, and in exchange for a fee. Even secular rulers had a hand in perpetuating the festering mess because large indulgence rallies like Tetzel’s generated money for local economies like a big football championship — merchants, innkeepers, and the like, and burgomasters, city councilmen, and so forth often received a cut from “civic-minded” groups. The whole thing stank like a garbage dump.
Luther wasn’t the only one who cried foul about the theology. His later opponent Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, sent to reclaim Luther for the Faith in 1518, had been protesting the same irresponsible preaching for years — and Cajetan definitely did know where the money went: “Preachers,” he said,
“speak in the name of the Church only so long as they proclaim the doctrine of Christ and His Church; but if, for purposes of their own, they teach that about which they know nothing, and which is only their own imagination, they must not be accepted as mouthpieces of the Church. No one must be surprised if such as these fall into error.”25
To put it bluntly, an indulgence preacher who kept it simple (“As soon as the coin in the coffer clinks . . .”) ginned up cash a lot faster than a careful theologian, and so Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show was suffered to continue.
None of this should, of course, be taken as a defense for Martin Luther’s later revolution. The apostles established a Church with “one Lord, one Faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), which no man is justified in sundering, no matter how many Judases stain her offices or how infuriating their offenses. Benedict Arnold, in other words, is no less a traitor if America really did have crimes of her own to atone for and abuses (such as slavery) as yet unreformed.
But not just any old stick is good enough to beat Martin Luther with; and the abuse he overreacted to was no less an abuse because his own later crimes were also great. It does not seem to have occurred to Pope Leo, after all, that he might easily have paid off St. Peter’s to the glory of God by liquidating his own luxuries and those of his equally profligate Curia. That same Leo once said (if the legend is true), “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.”
24 Ludwig von Pastor, The History of the Popes, from the Close of the Middle Ages, ed. Ralph Francis Kerr (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1908), 7.
25 Ibid., 7.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine