Heaven and Hell: by Bart Ehrman, An Extended Review

What happens after we die? Is there a “heaven?” Is there a “hell?” If so, what does either of these look like?

The historical development of these ideas is the subject of Bart Ehrman’s Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. Bart Ehrman is perhaps the world’s best known critic of evangelical Christian faith, having grown up in the evangelical world until he deconverted out of it in graduate school. His New York Times best selling Misquoting Jesus has made him one of most widely read biblical scholars in our day at the popular level, sought after by the media almost every time a major story arises within Christianity.

With such a title, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife really peaked my interest. As you will read in this review, I really got into it and made dozens of notes. For over the past few years during the COVID pandemic, I have known of several friends who died of the disease, some of whom were at a relatively young age. I, myself, had a close brush with death about four years ago, after an automobile slammed into my bicycle on a busy road, throwing me back into the driver’s windshield. Thankfully, the only major injury I had was a concussion, that knocked me out cold for about an hour. The paramedics told me that I could have easily died, if the driver had hit me at a higher rate of speed. So, the topic of the afterlife is pretty pertinent to me, a lot more urgent than when I was a teenager, when I thought I was invulnerable to death.


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2022 English Bible Translations Update!!

Time for another English Bible translations update!!

I did one of these back in 2020, but some fairly big news stories warrants another installment for this year. First, some might have heard that BibleGateway.com has removed the Passion Translation from its website. I found the following meme on Brent Niedergall’s biblical studies blog that made me chuckle, based on the Star Wars theme:

 

The Passion Translation Controversy

What was all of the fuss about? Well, the Passion Translation, advertises itself as “a modern, easy-to-read Bible translation that unlocks the passion of God’s heart and expresses his fiery love—merging emotion and life-changing truth.

Well, a number of Bible scholars and pastors think otherwise. The Passion Translation has been popular among a number of charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, written by a missionary who has faithfully served for the Gospel in Latin America for many years, Brian Simmons, who claims to utilize the original languages, Hebrew and Greek, and … wait for it … Aramaic, to produce the English text. While we can commend the good natured intent, the problem with the “Aramaic” part is that relatively little of our ancient original sources for the Bible are actually found in Aramaic. It makes one wonder what the publisher means by “Aramaic.”

As a paraphrase, the Passion Translation has a lot of interesting ways of freshening up the text. But as British pastor/teacher Andrew Wilson puts it, the problem is that the Passion Translation is marketed as a translation, when it really should be called a paraphrase. The promotional materials claim: “Recent biblical scholarship has begun tracing many of Jesus’ teachings back to an original Aramaic source. Some even argue the original Greek manuscripts were translations of even more original Aramaic sources.”  Wilson contacted Australian theologian, Michael Bird, who was cited as an authoritative source for this claim, and Wilson’s way of telling it is quite colorful:

‘I actually followed this up with Mike Bird, and his response was short and to the point; I won’t quote it, but it was effectively Australian for “I don’t think this person is correct.”’

YouTube apologist and pastor Mike Winger did a whole slew of videos, interacting with scholars who found all sorts of issues with the Passion translation (Craig Blomberg, Douglas Moo, Alex Hewitson and Brad Bitner, Tremper Longman, Darrell Bock,  Mike Winger’s one hour summary). If you have any charismatic friends who absolutely love the Passion Translation, you might want to send them a few of these Mike Winger YouTube videos.

The New Revised Version… Updated Edition (NRSVue)

Probably the bigger news this year concerns the recent update to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) for 2021/2022, marketed as NRSVue, or NRSV Updated Edition. The NRSV is the endorsed Bible of the National Council of Churches, and the NRSV is pretty much the standard in mainline circles and in academia.

The older NRSV comes from a completely reworked version of the 20th century mainline standard translation, the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which was put together starting in the late 1940s with the New Testament, followed by the finished Old Testament being published in 1952 (some did not like the RSV then). After World War II, the National Council of Churches was known as the American wing of the World Council of Churches, resulting from a renewed emphasis in the ecumenical movement and world evangelization, after military servicemen were scattered all across the world, fighting in World War II. Since then, the National Council of Churches (NCC) appears to have drifted to the left theologically, as conservative evangelical churches kept their distance from the NCC. Along with that was skepticism among many evangelicals towards the NCC standard bearer Bible, the RSV….. despite the fact that one of my favorite professors in seminary loved the late 1980s edition of the RSV.

By the late 1980s, it was felt that the RSV was getting a bit “long in the tooth,” so the NCC bagged it. Interestingly, the conservative evangelical book publisher, Crossway, picked up the copyright of that old RSV, made some changes more suitable for conservative readers, and released a new Bible, the English Standard Version (ESV). While the venerable King James Version (KJV) and the New International Version (NIV) still remain the most popular Bible translation for conservative evangelical Christians, support for the ESV appears to be gaining more and more as the years go by.

The NCC decided to go with a different approach and came out with the NRSV in 1989, which became controversial for its use of “gender-neutral language.” In partnership with the Society of Biblical Literature, the NRSV Updated Edition (NRSVue) was finished in late 2021. A massive 10,000 substantial edits were made to the original NRSV, with 20,000 minor revisions, many of them described in this paper put out by the publisher. The NRSVue is destined to become the mainline standard Bible translation, superseding the previous NRSV. Here is a short sample of some of the changes:

  • changes “slave woman” to “enslaved woman” (Galatians)
  • changes “wise men” to “magi” (Gospel of Matthew)
  • changes “demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics” to “people possessed by demons or having epilepsy or afflicted with paralysis” (Gospel of Matthew)
  • adding capitalization to Jewish High Holy Days
  • changes “servant-girl” to “female servant” (Mark 14:69)

Do not let the reference to “mainline” scare you immediately, as the NRSVue is really one of the most competent translations available (… although there is a catch, as I will note in a moment). In my Bible reading, I like to compare popular evangelical Bible translations, like the ones I love, such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the New International Version (NIV), and the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) with the NRSV, … and now the NRSVue. In many ways the NRSV/NRSVue actually offers a more word-for-word sense of what the text is saying, in some cases. I frequently use the Harper Collins Study Bible, which uses the NRSV, to see if the NRSV will keep some of the other translations honest.

Nevertheless, the catch with the NRSVue is there is still an interpretive bias that peeks through every now and then, which tends to be progressive, appealing to its more liberal National Council of Churches constituents. More and more progressive elements have made their way into the new NRSVue. For example, The Institute on Religion and Democracy posted a pretty scathing review of the new NRSVue.

The most controversial example comes from the Updated Edition’s revision of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, men who engage in illicit sexthieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

The highlighted phrase “men who engage in illicit sex” is more ambiguous, as compared to the same phrase found in something like the Christian Standard Bible (CSB): “males who have sex with males.” The CSB rules out all sexual relationships between males, whereas the NRSVue leaves a door open. Is it therefore possible for men to have non-illicit sex with one another, and that still be okay in the Apostle Paul’s mind? On the other hand, other passages in the new NRSVue that deal with the same topic are more traditional, like Romans 1:27:

… and in the same way also the males, giving up natural intercourse with females, were consumed with their passionate desires for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Go figure.

As YouTube apologist and Bible reviewer Tim Frisch points out, the NRSVue has plusses and minuses with it.

On the flip side, in another important area, the NRSVue is using recent insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls, more so than other modern translations, to give us a more and more accurate Old Testament. So that is a good feature.

It is also important to note that a number of the biblical scholars working on the NRSVue project are simply well-regarded scholars, who may or may not be persons of Christian faith, though most are professing Christians.

The Legacy Standard Bible…. Updated?

One final note to add to this 2022 Bible translations update: The so-called Legacy Standard Bible, that came out over the last couple of years, got a revision recently. For those unfamiliar with the Legacy Standard Bible (LSB), you mind be interested to know that this translation was done by seminary professors at the Master Seminary, the seminary associated with Southern California pastor John MacArthur. Tim Frisch highlights some of the changes.

For you American readers of Veracity out there, I hope you have great Fourth of July weekend!!

 

UPDATE: July 7, 2022

Mark Ward put out a video on the NRSVue controversial readings just a few days after I published this post. This is excellent and sober analysis:


Were Adam and Eve Vegetarians?

Did God forbid Adam and Eve to include hamburger in their diet?

Many vegetarians and vegans would agree with that. But an even broader group of Christians today believe that Adam and Eve’s restricted diet demonstrates that there was no animal death before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. Young Earth Creationists, whether they be vegetarians themselves or not, claim that in God’s good Creation there would be no animal suffering or death. This all changed once Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace. It was not until the time of Noah and the Great Flood that humans were finally allowed to expand their diet to include the eating of meat.

But Adam and Eve were not the only ones required to have such a restricted diet. Visitors at the Creation Museum in Kentucky have at times taken a photo of a sign that asks, “What did dinosaurs eat?” Unlike what you see in all of those Jurassic Park movies, T-Rex would not have been a carnivorous, meat-eater. Instead, he would have feasted primarily on perhaps flowering plants.

 

No Animal Death and Suffering Before the Fall: Rationale for Adam and Eve’s Vegetarianism?

There are many arguments advanced by Young Earth Creationism, but this argument about “no animal death before the Fall,” which leads to the corollary belief that Adam and Eve were vegetarians, is probably the strongest argument in favor of a Young Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible.

After all, it really is hard for many to imagine how God could create the animal world, and then allow for animal death and suffering to exist, and still call such a creation “good.” It is reasonable to conclude that God’s good plan for the redemption of humanity would also include a solution for the suffering experienced in the created world of the animals.  As the Apostle Paul tells us:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Romans 8:19-22 ESV).

The argument is summarized by Ken Ham, the President of Answers in Genesis, on a rainy Kentucky day by a graveyard:

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A Complementarian Vision? : Kevin DeYoung on Men and Women in the Church

How are men and women to relate to one another, in the church and in the family?

When we read the Bible, we find various statements about men and women that seem to be at odds with one another. Galatians 3:28 sees no distinction between male and female, whereas 1 Timothy 2:12 seems to place a restriction on women that men do not have, when serving in the church. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 has Paul saying that husbands and wife share mutual rights with one another, whereas Ephesians 5:22-33 suggests some type of priority husbands have in relation to their wives, in terms of who submits to whom.

What is a biblically faithful Christian to do with this?  Select a certain group of texts has having priority over others, thus having a “canon within the canon” approach to Scripture, …. or find a way of integrating the whole of the Scriptural material?

A debate rages among evangelical Christians as to how to resolve the tensions that various Scriptural passages like these present to us. On the one side are the egalitarians, who sense a profound embarrassment over anything in the Bible that appears to be misogynistic, and thus emphasize the equality between men and women. For egalitarians, the liberating message of Jesus for women takes center stage. On the other side are the complementarians, who recognize gender equality, but who refuse to shy away from those passages that might suggest otherwise. Complementarians instead see such difficult passages as offering clues into the complementary relationship between male and female. Instead of embarrassment, complementarians see a beauty being expressed in the gender complementarity of the Bible.

It is important to say at the outset that Christians of good faith, can and indeed do disagree on these matters. Nevertheless, the positions we do take on how male and female relate to one another do have an impact on both marriages and the structure of a local church, and in how we think about gender more generally.

 

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Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Lucy Peppiatt on Men, Women…and Family?

For the vast majority of secular-minded people in the West today, any traditional Christian perspective on women is considered strange or weird, at best, or misogynistic or inherently oppressive, at its worst.

In many respects, church history does not have the most stellar record when it comes to dealing with the abuse and degradation of women. Far too often, women have been treated as second-class citizens in the Christian movement. On the other hand, it also could be argued that the Christian faith has been the primary catalyst affirming the value and contributions of women, a reality that most sophisticated Westerners today simply take for granted. Christianity has led to the most vital protections for women, and the most uplifting force supporting women, more than any other movement in world history. While this issue has an impact on how Christian churches and marriages function, it also has an impact on Christian apologetics, and how nonbelievers hear the Gospel message. So, the question stands: Which narrative best represents the message of the Bible for women? One of abuse and degradation, or one of affirmation and honor?

Despite recent advances for women, a most pressing concern in our postmodern world is the decline of the traditional family. The joy of having a mother and a father, who stay together until the death of one of them, is a vanishing characteristic throughout much of Western culture. Living in blended families has become more of the norm, rather than the exception. The definition of marriage keeps changing. The number of Americans who live alone keeps rising every year.  Yet in the words of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Sandra Glahn, for men and women, “we need one another.”  A rediscovery of Scripture’s vision for women, and how they relate to men, and vice-versa, must also address a theology of the family, which is in considerable crisis today in the West.

Christians today are divided over understanding what the Bible teaches regarding how men and women are to relate with one another in the church and the home. We need to have better good faith conversations among professing believers, as to how best work through what we find in God’s Word, and act in obedience accordingly. Scripture teaches that men and women are both created equally in the image of God, and yet are distinct from one another. Nevertheless, egalitarian Christians emphasize the former, and complementarian Christians emphasize the latter. For readers unfamiliar with this topic, I would suggest starting your journey into this topic with this introductory Veracity blog post, linked here, from 2019.

 

Two Books in the Complementarian/Egalitarian Conversation

This year, I endeavored to read two books in this conversation, one by a complementarian, Kevin DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church. The other book, the focus of this review, was authored by Lucy Peppiatt, a theologian and Principal at the Westminister Theological Center, in the U.K. She has written an insightful set of expositions of Scripture, along the lines of an egalitarian theological framework, in her Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. A charismatic evangelical, Lucy Peppiatt lectures in systematic theology, and serves as a lay minister in the Church of England. Many readers sympathetic to an egalitarian point of view have recommended Lucy Peppiatt to me, as representing perhaps the most mature, balanced argument defending this perspective currently in print.1

The intended audience for Peppiatt’s work is targeted towards those thoughtful Christians who hold to a traditional, complementarian view, what she calls a “heirarchialist” view, who are willing to consider a change in perspective regarding the teaching of Scripture. However, the book is also for egalitarians nervous as to whether or not the Bible actually teaches egalitarianism. For several disputed passages, the issue comes down to whether a distinctive teaching is prescriptive for all times and all places, versus being descriptive,  possessing a set of instructions for a particular first century, cultural setting. Unfortunately, a more sacramentalist approach, which looks for concrete ways for regarding men and women as fully equal within the sight of God, and yet relating to one another in the church and in the family in non-interchangeable ways, is not sufficiently interacted with in Peppiatt’s work. To put it briefly, Lucy Peppiatt succeeds in admirable ways to make her case for what she calls a “mutualistic” view of relations between men and women, while still coming up short in certain specific and crucial areas.
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