Chan starts chapter two with various views people have come up with of hell over the centuries. He mentions everything from Origen to AC/DC. His points is,
“But if the truth is what we are after, we need to stick with what Jesus actually said. We also need to try to understand Jesus’ statements in the context of the world He lived in. We need to enter Jesus’ world, His first century world, His first-century Jewish world, if we are going to figure out what He meant when He spoke of hell.” (p.49)
There are a few things I really appreciate about those three sentences and a couple of problems that I have with what they imply in the broader context of the book. First, Chan is right…we do have to take Jesus seriously. The problem is, taking Jesus seriously and coming to the right conclusion don’t necessarily happen all at once. In other words, there are many people who have taken Jesus and context very seriously and studied it diligently and who have come to differing conclusions on these matters. So coming to the right conclusion does need to come through taking Jesus and context seriously but we must be aware that even that can have limitations.
So Chan goes into a cursory review of a few early Jewish writings: Enoch, Baruch, 4 Ezra to name a few). There are several problem with this. First, Chan assumes that if you review what Jews contemporary with Jesus were writing about hell was the common conception of hell at that time. That is not necessarily the case. He didn’t go into what these writings were and the problems inherent with dealing with and interpreting them. These books are what is called Pseudepigraph. That means that they are written by someone claiming to be or posing as someone from the past. That means that they author is not even putting their name on it and is fictitiously naming it after someone else. That is a problem. Second, these books were written in a highly symbolic manner with lots of big imagery and imagination. To say that what these books say about hell was THE VIEW of Jesus’ day is not necessarily accurate. So the big problem here is that C&S assume that if someone was written by a Jew around the first century that whatever it says about hell must have been the view of the day. I just can’t go along with that. It doesn’t mean it is impossible I just think they should have been more careful with that. Last, these books are not inspired. What Chan is trying to show here is that Jesus was bucking the trend of the day to say hell was a place of judgment but that is what the view of the day was and he didn’t argue with it.
Next C&S take on the Rob Bell quote about Gehenna being a garbage dump (p. 56ff) in verses like Matthew 23:15. He lays out basically the same argument I made here on this blog in my review of Love Wins to show Bell used some poor exegesis there. So I won’t go into that here. Overall I don’t think this chapter really accomplished answering the question of whether hell changed or we did. It started out posing the question but then never answered it, ever. So I am not sure how this chapter made it out from the editor in this kind of shape. It really needed about five less pages on 4 Enoch and Baruch and about five more pages answer the question they started out with. So has hell changed or have we? Chapter two sure doesn’t give an answer to that question.