Does it make any difference to anyone (preachers included) that the concepts of the kingdom of heaven and eternal life have been so misconstrued over the centuries that we miss proclaiming the true life God wants for us today?
Look at me. I’m jumping up and down, waving my hands, trying to get everyone’s attention. But I think I’m invisible. Why?
Because of conditioning. Religion is about conditioning—saying something so many times that the repetition alone imprints the words on the brains of the elect.
The strategies of religion begin the conditioning as early as possible. Moses said, “If you teach them these things when they are children, when they are old, they will not depart from it.” And it’s true, at least for the 99% who don’t combine their study and worship with meditation, where God becomes the Teacher.
I wonder if seminaries aren’t as damaging to spiritual growth as anything out there. They don’t teach budding spiritual leaders how to sit and spend time with God. They give the illusion that the human theologies they teach are undeniably true. And without question, each seminary’s particular flavor of theology is always superior to any other.
Anyone who questions the tradition is a rebel, or worse, a heretic. But heresy is not bad. Just look at Jesus, John the Baptist, Jon Hus, Martin Luther, etc.
Heresy is defined as departing from what “the church” has taught. That’s it. Heresy is not departing from truth. It assumes “the church” has understood Jesus and the gospel (and the Law) without error. And if you challenge tradition, just ask Jon Hus what the “body of Christ” will do to you.
I believe heresy is the positive movement toward Truth.
Let me teach you a little heresy today. I’ve already covered the kingdom of heaven in my book – showing how understanding it in today’s terms changes many ways of understanding the parables and teachings of Jesus.
Eternal life is no different. In brief, in the Old Testament and New Testament words translated as “eternal” rarely if ever mean “without end.” They refer to an indefinite period of time that has a beginning and an end. King David’s reign was supposed to be “forever.” (It’s my theory that when Jerome converted Greek to Latin, he chose a word in Latin that altered the meaning from “indefinite” to “never-ending.”)
Bible translators recognized the discrepancy and began hedging on the “never-ending” meaning as new versions appeared after the King James Version. But I don’t think seminaries caught on. Let me show you how translators began explaining eternal life late in the 20th century.
The NIV commentary notes and the NKJV commentary notes are in agreement that the term “eternal life” had more meanings for writers of the Bible than we understand it today. This is what they say:
Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible-©1997, commentary for John 10:10 – “Life here refers to eternal life, God’s life. It speaks not only of endlessness, but of quality of life.”
(They haven’t converted their thinking completely. Most of their commentary about eternal life in other passages continues to point to a better quality of life after you’re dead. You can’t depart too far from tradition without losing sales.)
NRSV Study Bible commentary on Romans 6:23, p. 1890 – “Eleven out of forty-two times eternal life is presented as something to be attained (6:22; 2:7; Matt. 19:16, 29; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 18:18-30; John 12:25, 26; Gal. 6:8).”
In eleven places, NRSV commentators think eternal life is something you can achieve. This is clearly in opposition to many denominational theologies that say we can do nothing to earn eternal life. (References in other places to eternal life in the NRSV point to a core theology that eternal life is the afterlife. No one wants to be accused of diverting from tradition. We are well-conditioned by martyrdom.)
NIV Study Bibles-©1985, commentary on John 3:15, p. 1598 – says, “[eternal life is] an infinitely high quality of life in living fellowship with God—both now and forever.”
NIV, Commentary on Matt. 19:16, p. 1469 – …eternal life. [This is] the first use of this term in Matthew’s Gospel (see v. 29; 25:46). In John it occurs much more frequently, often taking the place of the term “kingdom of God (or heaven)” used in the Synoptics, which treat the following three expressions as synonymous: (1) eternal life (v.16; Mk10:17; Lk 18:18), (2) entering the kingdom of heaven (v.23; Mk 10:24; Lk 18:24) and (3) being saved (vv.26-26; Mk 10:24; Lk 18:26-27).
Did you get that? (1) eternal life, (2) the kingdom of heaven, and (3) being saved are the same thing. They are about life today—on earth.
One more example: The New American Bible, commentary on John 3:15, p. 149 – “Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.”
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Those who put forward afterlife rewards rather than abundance in life today and working for justice today have hijacked the meaning of all of these important theological words.
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The last verse of the story about the sheep and goats – who is going to become overcooked meatloaf and who isn’t – is what tends to dominate the fears of the faithful. Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Everlasting and eternal are the same word in Greek. As I said earlier, it means “an indefinite period of time.” It DOESN’T mean “never-ending.” Goats were loved by their shepherds as much as sheep. They are just a bigger pain in the butt. And they don’t receive the quality of life God wants for them…a life of joy, hope, kindness, faithfulness, patience, self-control, etc.
Old goats are hard to get along with. They think only of themselves. They consume, consume, consume. They butt heads with everyone.
Sheep are peaceful and calm. They hang together. They are not competitive.
One of these groups is happier than the other. Which do you think it is?
Eternal life means “the quality of life God wants and intends for you and I to have as we live on this earth…today.”
Any parable or teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of heaven or about eternal life that does not interpret it in the context of life today is of little value and will have no effect on bringing in the kingdom.
(I’m done flapping my arms, for now.)
+ + I STILL NEED YOUR HELP! + +
My new and short ebook, How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever will be released on Nov. 23! I would be honored if you would pre-order it NOW for 99 cents (for reasons explained in a previous post) and it will be delivered to your Kindle or ereader on the 23rd.
You can also pre-order it for any ereader at a site called Smashwords. Thanks.