Allow the Scriptures to Interpret Itself
“Hermeneutics is the lost art of textual interpretation. ‘Lost,’ in the sense that when you start apply the principles to biblical texts, any clear meaning of the verses you once had, is lost forever.” – Brook Potter.
A few weeks ago, an internet theologian decided to engage me in a conversation about Hell. He explained that after months of heavy study, he concluded that Hell was a real place, and I was on the fast track to finding myself there. I applauded his efforts, and smiled at his concerns. I then asked him what had he found out about Hell, after studying the Hebrew and Greek words, ‘Sheol’, ‘Hades’, ‘Tartarus’ and ‘Gehenna’?
Sadly, although not unexpected, my internet theologian friend had never heard of these words. Instead he chose to question my motives for bringing up obscure Hebrew and Greek words to confuse the issue, when he clearly did not speak Hebrew or Greek. After a further comment about me being an Universalist and having sexual intercourse with mothers, he promptly blocked me and went off to spread his wisdom with the rest of the Facebook world.
I share this story to illustrate a principle of Biblical interpretation. What the internet theologian did not include in his “months of heavy study,” was a simple principle of allowing the Scriptures to interpret itself. The English word “hell” is a modern invention that first appeared in writings around the 14th century. Jesus never mentioned the word, as the English language had not evolved as yet, and would not be spoken until the Medieval Period, half a world away in England.
Born Again vs Born of God
So to understand what Jesus was speaking about, one needs to go back into the text and understand the words that were used in the time period, and then compare that word with other uses throughout Scripture to see if those other uses give any clear indication. On the subject of “Hell,” it is most difficult because there are four words, as I mentioned to the internet theologian, and many uses of these words have nothing to do with the afterlife.
With that principle in place, I want to examine an accusation that I’m often confronted with, in my teaching of Trinitarian Theology. This single misunderstanding has caused many Christians to falsely label Trinitarian Theology as being synonymous with Universalism. While many Universalists hold to Trinitarian Theology, not all Trinitarian theologians are Universalists.
The controversy surrounds a phrase that means one thing in American Evangelical circles, but has a different meaning in Scripture. The phrase I’m talking about is “Born Again”. To the Western Evangelical Church, everything hinges on being “Born Again”. In their understanding, the phrase encompasses regeneration, adoption and salvation, all in one phrase, that occurs when a person expresses faith in Jesus Christ. According to their understanding, “true” believers are “Born Again” believers.
There is only one problem. The Apostle John never used the phrase “Born Again” to describe believers. The Apostle John used a different term, that is used in Trinitarian Theology, it is the phrase “Born of God”!
1 John 5:1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is BORN OF GOD: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
To be clear, the Western Evangelical Church uses “Born Again” as synonymous with true believers, but the Apostle John uses the phrase “Born of God”. In the first epistle of John, the phrase “Born of God” is actually used five times to describe believers. Trinitarian theology continues in the tradition of the Apostle John and uses the phrase “Born of God” to refer to believers.
Now, someone would come back to me and say, this is semantics! Born Again or Born of God, it’s all the same thing, what does it matter? At which point I would remind them of the incident I had with the internet theologian, concerning his word study about “Hell.” If we don’t know how the phrase is used, how can we determine the meaning?
In part 2, we will examine the Scripture’s use of Born Again and Born of God in greater detail.
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