The Intellectual Vacuity of Edward Feser – Part 1

Edward Feser is a Thomist philosopher and ardent (and by ardent I mean he really gets his knickers in a knot thinking of God saving all people!) damnationist. David Bentley Hart, the brilliant Orthodox philosopher and theologian has taken him to task several times, but Feser remains unrepentant.  He is of the Thomist opinion that repentance after death is impossible, and seeing his intransigence when approached with facts, I wonder if he is trying to be the poster boy for Aquinas’s theory of the impenitence of the damned. Hart has already sufficiently answered Feser’s claims. I am not trying to do so, but rather, after reading his posts, I feel the urge to respond with my own facts. Quite frankly, his obdurate dishonesty and willful ignorance in the face of facts has my blood boiling. Especially since men like him are deceiving those who trust in the false narrative that has been created by bad Bible translations and ignorant teachers.

Feser claims that the Early Fathers en masse did not believe in Universal Salvation, along with the Sacred Scriptures.  This claim is both bizarre and laughable if you have done any study of the Scriptures and the Fathers. In a recent post online, Feser takes issue with David Bentley Hart and all Universalists in general:

The earlier parts of the Old Testament are famously obscure at best on the topic of the afterlife. But some later passages clearly imply that the wicked are punished forever:

The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isaiah 33:14, RSV)

And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:24)

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)

Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; fire and worms he will give to their flesh; they shall weep in pain for ever. (Judith 16:17)

The Lord will laugh them to scorn. After this they will become dishonored corpses, and an outrage among the dead for ever; because he will dash them speechless to the ground, and shake them from the foundations; they will be left utterly dry and barren, and they will suffer anguish, and the memory of them will perish. (Wisdom 4:19-20)

No, Mr. Feser, what is clear is that you have not done your homework on the Scriptures.  You are using dreadfully mistranslated verses which are not true to the original manuscripts. For instance, the word translated “everlasting” in the OT has no such meaning.  It is the Hebrew word “olam.”

First, the Hebrew word is olam. The word itself simply means “long duration,” “antiquity,” “futurity,” “until the end of a period of time.” That period of time is determined by the context. Sometimes it is the length of a man’s life, sometimes it is an age, and sometimes it is a dispensation. 

The second thing to keep in mind is that there are two Hebrew forms of olam. The first form is le-olam, which means “unto an age.” And the second form is ad-olam, which means “until an age.” However, neither of these forms carry the English meaning of “forever.” Although it has been translated that way in English, the Hebrew does not carry the concept of eternity as the English word “forever” does. 

The third thing to keep in mind is that the word olam, le-olam, or ad-olam, sometimes means only up “to the end of a man’s life.” For example, it is used of someone’s lifetime (Ex. 14:13), of a slave’s life (Ex. 21:6; Lev. 25:46; Deut. 15:17), of Samuel’s life (I Sam. 1:22; 2:35), of the lifetimes of David and Jonathan (I Sam. 20:23), and of David’s lifetime (I Sam. 27:12; 28:2; I Chr. 28:4). While the English reads forever, obviously from the context it does not mean “forever” in the sense of eternity, but only up to the end of the person’s life. [1] 

Therefore, the correct interpretation of Isaiah 33:14 should read:  The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us can dwell with age-lasting burnings?

The apologia to which Feser subscribes is to simply make a statement and then offer no substantive facts with which he can back up his assertions. For instance, in multiple postings he declares that the majoriy of the early fathers and bishops of the church believed in eternal damnation.  This ignores the facts.  It ignores the fact of four of six theological schools in Christendom teaching Apokatastasis up until the time that the thug emperor, Justinian, closed them down. It ignores that Augustine admitted that there were “a great many”  who believed in and taught it in his day.

Feser also displays a  profound ignorance of the events in the Bible. I would wager good money that he, like so many other Christians, believes that when Jesus was talking about Gehenna, He was speaking of hell. No, Jesus was speaking in the common parlance of the day, of the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. That is what Gehenna means and that is how it was understood in the first century when Christ spoke of it. It is where Isaiaih 66: 24 was fulfilled. It is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the dumping of the corpses of the wicked onto the unquenchable fires where the worms (maggots) ate them.

Infernalists like Feser think that when Jesus spoke about Gehenna, He was warning about the end of the world. They have created a eschatological system in which the next thing to happen is the final thing:  Jesus returns, judges and damns forever, and that’s all folks. But properly interpreted scripture will not allow for this:

Matthew 24:3  And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?

In the KJV, Douay-Rheims, and other horrible mistranslations of the Bible [2], this verse says “end of the world.” But the word “aion,” translated “world” does not allow for this.  Matthew 23-25 is a long passage in which Jesus warns the Pharisees of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  This event is the end of the age, the age of the Old Covenant of promise. The New Covenant is fully inaugurated as national Israel is set aside permanently, being thrown out of the vineyard of  God (Matthew 21: 33-46).

All the warnings in the Bible by Christ of a coming judgment are about the destruction of Jerusalem and the fiery chastening which the wicked, including those Jews listening to Jesus right then, will suffer in the next age – NOT for eternity. The Bible does not address eternity in any language. It is the record of the fall of man, his restoration, and the destruction of the Old Covenant and the people of the Old Covenant. Appeals to an eternal, burning hell of torment come from a complete misunderstanding of the warnings in Scripture.

Feser also indulges himself in presuppositional interpretation wherein he makes certain Greek words have a different meaning.  Matthew 12: 37 says “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” This is one of many verses which do not mention eternity directly, but are brought forth by him as a proof that souls are damned eternally. The only problem is that the Greek once again does not lend itself to this understanding. The word translated “condemned” is katadikazō and means “found guilty.” Jesus is simply saying that when the Judgment begins in 70 AD, men will be found guilty of sin by the words they have spoken. Then they shall be entered into the furnace of fire (Matthew 13:42) to be purged of their sins. (1 Corinthians 3: 11-17). Feser and his ilk refer to the furnace as eternal hell, but again, they do so not only without warrant, but ignoring the interpretation of the kind of furnace it is. It is a smelting furnace, a place where fire is applied to bring out impurities and to create a pure product. 

Finally, in his absurd, ludicrous, and scripturally inaccurate post, Feser turns to the last chapters of Revelation to try to prove they teach eternal torment. But Revelation is about the destruction of Jerusalem, and there are “time-indicators” that absolutely destroy his claims:

Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

For Infernalists, this section is speaking about eternal tormenting hell. Once again they read into the text a set of presuppositions. If you take the events chronologically, something happens after this passage which throws everything out of order for them.

Revelation 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Verse 1 In Jewish Apocalyptic Language, “heaven and earth” are a reference to the Old Covenant kingdom passing away. As discussed earlier in the book, the reference is to the Temple in Jerusalem, the very heart of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is precisely what happened in 70 AD, prophesied by Christ when He spoke the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:1–9. The fig tree, national Israel, had borne no fruit. The owner of the vineyard gave it one more year to bear fruit, then it would be cut down. The added year ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, which according to Matthew 21:33–46, was the end of national Israel as the special husbandmen of the vineyard of God, the Kingdom on earth. Not understanding Jewish Apocalyptic Language, as Edward Feser apparently does not,  it was not too long before Greek and Roman Christians began seeing this as a prophecy of the destruction of the visible earth and the heavens above us.

Verse 2 Some important wording here is totally missed. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. What is this New Jerusalem? The verse itself tells us. It is the bride. Who is the bride of Christ but the New Covenant Church? God gives the Church in all Her beauty to bring salvation to the world. How can the Church come down to the world if this is the end of all things? The Church came down to the world in fullness on the day of Pentecost.

Verse 3 The tabernacle is the dwelling place of God among men. Everything is changing now with the end of the Old Covenant. There is a new Jerusalem, the Church, come down to be among men. Within each parish of the Church is a tabernacle where God dwells in the Eucharist. Everything Judaism had is found new in Christianity.

Verse 4 This could be one of those “Ah hah! Gotcha!” verses for those who believe this is speaking of the end of all things. In discussing verses six and seven, I will show you why this is impossible. Those who believe that this chapter is speaking of the eschatological end of all things will snidely ask, “No pain? No sorrow? Who are you kidding? Look around you!” At first, I was a bit stumped by this until I realized that this passage is speaking of the celestial view of reality and not this illusory life. For the Christian, there really is no pain or sorrow. We have been redeemed. Our 21st century lazy and self-indulgent lives have entirely missed what it means to be a Christian. This verse is speaking of the spiritual reality for the believer. Death no longer has dominion over us. Look at the joy of the martyrs as they die with hymns of praise on their lips. Truly suffering has no hold over them.

Verse 6 This verse has a time indicator showing that this passage cannot be the end of the world. At the end of all things, according to Infernalists, your eternal state is settled. Either you are in Christ, and thus not thirsty, or are separated from Him, and will be thirsting but will get nothing to drink forever. This is not what the verse says. It says those who are thirsting may come and drink freely. This cannot be a believer, since he already has rivers of water flowing from within, quenching his spiritual thirst. It can only mean the unbeliever who comes to recognize his thirst for the living water of Christ and appeals for a drink. This is the promise of the Gospel, which went out to all the world and made millions of converts. The message of God’s love made men and women thirst to experience that love. If this passage in Revelation is about the end of all things, this invitation is ridiculous because the wicked, according to Infernalist teaching, will never have their desire (thirst) for God satisfied.

Verse 7 Another time indicator showing this is about things that are yet to come. How does Jesus say “he that shall overcome (future tense) shall inherit all things” if this passage is about the end of the world, and the issue of inheriting eternal life or being disinherited is completely settled? If you think this is the end of the world, then there is no “shall inherit” because those who are in heaven with Christ have already inherited and those who you assume are in hell forever cannot inherit. The way Infernalists read Revelation 20, everything is finished, and you are either redeemed with Christ or damned in the eternal lake of fire, with no opportunity to overcome. Instead, here is an invitation open to all: overcome your passions, overcome the sin that binds you, and you shall inherit that which has been prepared for all my children from the beginning of all things. (These two time indicators utterly destroy Feser’s argument. It’s a shame that he isn’t as energetic about getting the scriptures correct as he is about defending the indefensible idea of a God who creates sentient beings for the sole purpose of tormenting them forever!)

Verse 8 Infernalists teach that this verse is speaking about casting sinners into an everlasting fire of hell. It is not. It is a warning to those who shall remain stubbornly attached to sin. They shall not only experience the first death, that of their physical bodies, but also the second death of being cast into the smelting furnace, described here as the lake of fire. Again, remember that we are speaking of symbolic language here. It is not a literal fire as described by the warped imaginations of some Western theologians. There is only one fire in the next life and in the ages of ages to come–the passionate fire of God’s love, which Early Fathers such as St. Isaac the Syrian spoke of. Our God is a consuming fire, and what is consumed is all that is His enemy–death, the grave, and all evil. We are not His enemies. We are all of us His children. Some have been, and many are to this day extremely sick with evil, but that does not make them not His children. It makes them sick and in need of bitter medicine to become well. We can either take it now, or take it later, which will be much, much more unpleasant. The choice is yours!

Reading the rest of chapter 21 verifies this. From verse ten on we see a description of the Church as the bride of Christ. We are given a description of how it appears as a celestial reality. And notice that the gates of it are never shut. The Gospel invitation remains open to all, even after death. The only restriction is that in this beautiful celestial city, no one may enter who is defiled with sin. This is the whole purpose of the fire of God’s love. It is to cleanse the impurities and bring the soul to repentance. This is the splendor of God’s love.

I will need to answer one more objection which I already can hear from those Infernalists who are determined to make this book a book of God’s eternal condemnation of sinners. It is from the closing chapter of Revelation.

Revelation 22:10 And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. 11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy
still. 12 And, behold, I come quickly; 89 and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

God insists to John that the wicked remain wicked and the just remain just. Infernalists will point to verse eleven as a proof text that there is no repentance after death. But in their zeal to damn souls, they cruise right by yet another crucial time indicator which shows a shift in the action. Here the action returns to earth away from visions of the heavenly city. Christ speaks to John in the here and now with instructions about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The time is at hand, coming quickly–not two thousand years or so down the road in some Rapturist fantasy concocted by a wee Scottish lassie who had dreams probably induced by too many pickle and ice cream sandwiches before bedtime. At hand. Quickly. These are important adjectives which show that the time for all this was about to happen. The focus of Christ has shifted back to what is about to happen to Jerusalem, not celestial realities of the future.

And what is about to happen to those in Jerusalem whose future is destruction? Christ says let the wicked remain wicked. They are going to reap the reward of their evil and there will be no turning from it. This is the true meaning of election. Jesus spoke about the Pharisees as having been blinded by God so that they might not see what He was teaching and be saved. He goes on to say that this is not from some dreadful decision of God made before the foundation of the world, but because this is what they have chosen and now God honors that choice and does not give them ears to hear and eyes to see. It is not about some plan of God to damn people out of the mystery of his will, but about the choices we make.

This is a fearful pronouncement that all should take to heart. Just like Pharaoh, there comes a time when God says, after you have refused and refused and refused to listen, “Okay. Have it your way. Reap what you have sown.” After the Crucifixion, national Israel was symbolically given one more year as the fig tree to repent, turn to Christ, and bear fruit. Not only did they utterly fail, but they also filled up the measure of their fathers who killed the prophets by persecuting to death Christ’s people. Now the full reward for their evil would be given, starting with their deaths in Jerusalem and their falling into the chastening hands of God. There would be no turning back. God now declares their hearts shall be hardened just as Pharaoh’s heart was. Behold I come quickly, Christ says, and to give every man in this wretched nation what they have earned according to their deeds.

The only mercy of this terrible proclamation is that God’s justice is not eternal conscious torment. As discussed before, in lex talionis, you are scourged in proportion to what you have done. Once your measure is filled up, justice is served.

There are two ways to read the Bible. One is to dig deep into the original Greek, to take the Bible as a concise whole, and to let scripture help us understand scripture. The other way is to approach it with a presupposed idea of what it is saying and then bend the verses to fit your understanding. This is what cultists have done throughout the centuries. Hellists do this, having been deceived by centuries of teachers who were taught wrong interpretations of the Greek and passed them on. The idea of an eternal, burning hell existed in pagan Greece philosophy four centuries before Christ. It worked its way into Judaism by the second century after Christ and then into the Roman consciousness.

Feser is no different. He may be a philosopher and reasonably intelligent, but when it comes to doing due diligence with the scriptures and Christian history, he is simply lazy. Worse than that, he ignores the facts in favor of an emotional appeal to vengeance.  This should be beneath him as a Christian, for Christ Himself was the One who told us to love our enemies.

It appears that like Tertullian, Feser would rather see them burn forever in agony so that vengeance might be his, and in the likeness of his hero, Thomas Aquinas, he can look over the paraparets of heaven into hell and rejoice at the torments of the damned. [3]

Now, Mr. Feser, yes, I have thrown down the gauntlet. Your challenge, if you have the stones to do so, is to answer me, not with bravado, name-calling, or “the church says…” but to tell me why I am wrong to follow proper and appropriate interpretations of the Hebrew and Greek instead of the horrid mistranslations which come from unskilled Latin translators who didn’t have a clue.

Your turn, sir.

[1] Fruchtenbaum, “How Long Is Forever?”  Para. 2.

[2] If you want a proper reading of the Scriptures, use Young’s Literal Translation. You can find it online at BlueLetterBible.com.

[3]  Aquinas said “In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. So that they may be urged the more to praise God. The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens to the damned.” [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article, “Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned?”] Anyone who gets their joy from watching the suffering of another is a sociopath, not a saint!

The Intellectual Vacuity of Edward Feser – Part 2

3 comments

  1. In typical “reluctant” style, you pull no punches!
    Thanks as always for posting your thoughtful reflections – I am in full agreement, except with perhaps the minor(?) issue of what seems to be a hint at “replacement” theology.
    Where I stand for now on this, I think “enlargement” is better than “replacement”: Israel is not replaced by the Church – but is enlarged to include the Gentiles grafted in (as Romans 11 and Ephesians 3 seems to teach, IMHO).

    Should you have time and interest – I would love your feedback on a recent post to my YouTube channel regarding Romans 11: Does it Teach Christian Universalism? (I am in the affirmative, as you might guess!)

    BTW – any projected dates yet for the publication of your book?

    Thanks and Blessings!
    Wayne Fair
    SovereignLove.org

    Like

  2. Well, I accept “replacement theory” at this time, but I am open to investigation and thinking about your “enlargement theory.” I’m always looking, always searching.

    Wonder if Ed Feser will rise to the challenge once he hears that have publicly dissed him. Probably not. I’ll just be another target at which he can throw theological feces.

    As for the book, I turned in the manuscript yesterday. Now I have the second stage, which is filling out questionaires on editing and marketing. I would be delighted if you and some of my Universalist friends would help me market this book. Wipf & Stock is looking at publication sometime around December if everything goes well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your reply – I would be delighted to help promote your book in any way I can (not that I have any very large circle of influence, but I would be happy to get the word out on YouTube and FakeBook, etc.)

      Like

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