Monday, December 08, 2008

Ray's threat of hell...

In today's post at Ray Comfort's blog,

Ray wrote:

"...but I don’t think that people should become Christians because of a fear of Hell. Rather, they should come to Christ out of a fear of the God that can cast them into Hell.."

I've submitted the following response and I don't care if it gets posted there or not, it's worth adapting for our blog as well.

Ray, you cited Luke 12:4-5 to justify your position that we should fear God. While I'd normally point out that this is still an absurd doctrine of fear that isn't something I'd expect Christians to be proud of (and I will), you've attempted to avoid that response by claiming that there are two types of fear.

It's curious that you quoted 1 John 4:17, yet you didn't bother to note that it's verse 18 from which you draw the idea of fear as torment.

The text of verse 18 reads:

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love."

So, the question, Ray, is this:

What is your authority for claiming there are two different types of fear referenced in the passage in Luke?

The same word (English and Greek) for fear is used in both references (in Luke and 1 John). The passage you quoted from Luke also appears in Matthew (10:28) and relies on the same Greek word in that instance as well.

The 1 John passage doesn't say 'fear (phobos) can also mean torment (kolasis)' it says 'fear (phobos) involves torment (kolasis)'.

The author of 1 John isn't giving an alternate definition of fear, he's explaining that fear has/contains (a more accurate translation of the Greek 'echo') torment, intrinsically.

Or, more accurately, 'fear (phobos) does (instead of 'can also') mean torment (kolasis)'.

This is a subtle but significant point that will be important in a moment.

Now, I'm well aware that this word (fear/phobos) has several meanings, that's not my point. My point is that you're claiming that it means one thing in the first sentence and a different thing in the second sentence and you've provide no justification for that - nor have you offered a valid alternate definition (you appealed to some sort of 'common sense' fear).

Let's re-write Luke 12:4-5 substituting your definitions (or with the most valid definition to replace your 'common sense' pseudo-definition):

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid (tormented) of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear (be in awe of): Fear (be in awe of) Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear (be in awe of) Him!"

It's worth noting that this passage is attributed to Jesus and one would presume that you consider it to be an accurate Greek representation of what he originally said.

I find it patently absurd for you to claim that this passage, is referencing two different types of fear.

Firstly, there is no indication from 1 John 4:18 that there are two different types of fear, as you claim - that's simply an explanation that fear includes torment.

Secondly, you're implying that Jesus was such a poor thinker that he would construct a 'not this - but this' comparison with predicates that have entirely different meanings and, as if that wasn't enough, you're implying that he was so careless with his words that translators were forced to use the same word to mean two different things (despite other words being available), even though he surely must have realized that this would lead to centuries of confusion over what he meant.

The verse is clear - 'Don't fear those who can simply kill you, but fear Him who can kill you and punish you forever.'

This is a clear threat of hell.

It's clear in the Greek and in the English. Your appeal is a sophomoric apologetic that simply rationalizes your preferred softening with sophistry.

What's worse is that even with your softened re-rendering, the text is still simply a threat of hell - because that's the power that determines which personage one should fear.

There are only two reasons that I've been able to come up with for why you didn't simply say "Yes, we're supposed to fear God because he can send us to hell." (A position that, while I despise it, would have at least earned you some respect for honesty.)

1. You really don't have any firm understanding of what you're talking about.

2. You were afraid of facing the contradiction that arises when one verse tells you to love god, another tells you to fear god and a third says that there is no fear in love.


Now, as a quick end-of-post comment:

The simple truth is that the fire-and-brimstone preachers used to use this precise passage to support their message. After all, we have Jesus directly telling you to fear God because of what he can do to you after you're dead. Ray, I believe, knows this and he knows the distaste the general public has for fire-and-brimstone preachers, so he's twisting and turning like a twisty-turny-thing in order to convince someone - anyone - that he's not like those guys.

He doesn't think we should fear Hell, just the guy who can send us there - because he can send us there - but not really fear, in the sense of being terrified, but fear in the common-sense, 'healthy respect for'-fashion.


I therefore request that Fred Phelps of Shirley Phelps-Roper take a few minutes and call Ray to explain why his particular brand of exegesis isn't Biblical. It may be more pleasant to Ray, but that's only because he's desperately trying to soften the message.

Ya hear me, Shirley? I'm tired of beating on Ray, it's your turn!


  1. How DARE you hold the Bible to what it clearly says, you heretic!

    PS - Get Bob Price on the show, already!

  2. Yeah, I read Ray's post today and had a similar reaction. When I got to that section you quoted, I had to find a drink to sip out of ... so I could spew it out.
    I couldn't believe he actually said something like that with such a straight face (or whatever the cyber-equivalent of a "straight face" is).

    Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be Ray Comfort and see the world as he does... just for a minute. I envision his mind as being flooded with boxes he uses for his many compartmentalizations.

    Oh, and I second the Dr. Price comment. That man is amazing.

  3. "1. You really don't have any firm understanding of what you're talking about."

    I concur.

    Isn't reading Ray Comfort's blog just unnecessary self-inflicted torture? I guess you believe you can accomplish something arguing with him. Good luck with that.

    I had my fill of Ray Comfort long ago--we only live for so long and the less time I waste thinking about Ray Comfort the better.

  4. [Phelps]

    God hates Ray Comfort!

    Ray Comfort is going to burn in hell for all eternity!!

    And so are all you Ray Comfort Enablers!!!


  5. Your appeal is a sophomoric apologetic

    Does Ray have any other types of argument?

    In Russell's talk on being a successful evangelist for atheism, maybe he should've said to go comment on Ray's blog for a bit for practice. When you can successfully demolish Ray's arguments 90% of the time, you're ready to graduate to Kent Hovind level.

  6. This doesn't surprise me one bit. A couple of weeks ago, he was trying to explain how the first biblical contradictions you run across (if you read the bible from the beginning) "aren't really contradictions". He performed the same amazing mental gymnastics I've seen all literalists go through when confronted with what are clearly 2 creation stories, 2 flood stories, etc.

    To have him try to twist this simple sentence is pretty standard.

    What shouldn't surprise me is that your post didn't pass the moderation test. I've seen some pretty raucous things make it through his filter. I actually gave him some credit for that.

    On the other hand, this comment is probably much more dangerous to his preaching than most "show me evidence" posts. It actually takes him on in his home stadium, and thoroughly beats him.

    Sigh. Just when I thought there was one honest TV evangelist.

  7. No surprise, but he didn't post my response - so I'm glad I posted it here.

  8. Maddog, in my world religion's class I took a year or so ago, this was brought up, and most of the class tried desperately to make it make sense, but for every "reason" they made up, I always asked why the order of creation was different.

    All I got was either ignored outright, or ignored with an exasperated look. No one was able to explain it to me. Shucks.

  9. maddogdelta:
    If you enjoy these sorts of mental gymnastics, listen to Jason Gastrich's interview with Dan Barker. Intellectually, Gastrich is about on Comfort's level. He gets pwned by Barker, but doesn't realize it.

    If you look around online, you'll find his attempt to answer Barker's Easter challenge. IIRC he managed to reconcile all of the accounts of the resurrection, but only by making mincemeat of the Bible, e.g., by claiming that verse 17 in some chapter comes chronologically before verse 16.


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