Archive for March, 2011

I read recently of a hypothetical situation of a Christian man who witnessed his family brutally murdered and who, as a result, bitterly blamed God and turned away from Him, never to follow Him again.

The question posed was this: will such a person spend eternity in hell?  My first answer is to give a real example of someone who actually did experience deep pain, yet because his relationship with God ran deep, he praised God in the midst of an equally deep pain.

The man’s name was Job.  In addition, Joseph experienced almost unbearable shame and pain and was unjustly put into prison for probably at least a decade.  Yet he maintained his passion for God and didn’t blame Him but rather praised Him.

My second answer to the question posed is to examine numerous verses that warn believers against committing apostasy. 

The following comes from an excerpt in my upcoming revised commentary on the book of Revelation, as I discuss the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6):

12) Can a believer so harden his heart that he turns away from the Lord, commits apostasy and becomes like an unbeliever, forfeiting his place in the kingdom of God?  This has been an intense theological debate for centuries. 

13) Moreover, it is often clouded by deep emotional responses, rather than a patient examination of Scripture and an attempt to understand life from heaven’s perspective.

14) God will not reject His people: the NT makes this clear.  But can His own reject Him?  It would seem to be quite difficult — considering His grace — and yet from a human side perhaps it would be easy, if we allow ourselves to harden our own hearts. 

15) This is why passages such as Jesus’ own words from Mt. 7:21-24; 13:1-23 (cf. Prov. 4:23) are so critical. 

16) Heb. 3:12-4:2 likewise gives us an extremely strong exhortation to guard our hearts now, before difficult or extremely difficult things happen to us and we end up blaming God and turning away from Him.

17) Consider the following passages that warn believers against committing apostasy: Heb. 6:4-6; 3:12-4:2; Col. 1:22-23; 1 Tim. 1:18-19; 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:11-13; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). 

18) The historical context for the passage in Hebrews has to do with Jewish believers in Jesus Christ who were undergoing severe persecution from their non-believing Jewish kin.

19) These Jews were teaching that Jesus was inferior to Moses, the angels and that He was thus not God and therefore salvation was not through Him but through the keeping of the law. 

20) To “taste” was repeated twice in Heb. 6:4-6 and it was the same word used of Jesus in Heb. 2:9 of tasting death for all: it meant to experience something to the full. 

21) “Have been made” (v.4) is in the perfect tense in Greek, thus referring to their beginning and present state in Christ.  “Partakers” (v.4) is where we get koinonia from – a full fellowship!

22) The urgent appeal of the writer of Hebrews to his readers was to not reject Jesus in favor of avoiding persecution and going back to Judaism.  “Continuance,” writes F.F. Bruce, “is the test of reality.”[1]

23) Why would he bring such a sobering and severe warning to the readers of Hebrews if it were not possible for them to commit apostasy?  If a person has free will in making a decision for Christ, does he not continue to have free will in determining to continue on in that relationship?

24) Likewise, the believers in Sardis who have “soiled” their garments have done so willfully – purposefully giving themselves to the things of the world rather than the things of God.  By their deeds, they were not demonstrating a true walk with Jesus.

25) Indeed, James tells us that a Christian who professes faith in Christ ought to have evidence of that faith through his lifestyle (2:14-17).  Paul is in complete agreement with James (e.g. Phil. 2:12-13; Gal. 5:21-23).

26) Hence, the strong exhortation to “overcome” (v.5), where the word is in the present tense (meaning an ongoing basis).  The “white garments” would be a symbol of honor for all to see.

27) When a criminal’s name was removed from the civic register of an Asiatic town, he lost his citizenship.[2]  The word “erase” (v.5) is in the future tense, which would refer to the Day of Judgment.

28) James Moffatt writes, “For a name to be erased from the book of life (one’s deeds not corresponding, upon scrutiny, to one’s position; cf. 20:12) meant condemnation.”[3]

29) Our Lord is speaking to the church, but perhaps He is thinking of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46) and the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43), knowing some are believers and some are not.  In any case, His appeal (cf. v.6) is strong and full of grace and mercy. 

30) May all believers – by the grace of God – press on to know Him and walk with Him!


[1] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Revised Edition: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 144.

[2] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 113.

[3] James Moffatt, The Revelation of St. John the Divine in The Expositor’s Greek New Testament, vol. 5, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 346.


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I write this blog as a pastor, out of deep concern for the spiritual well-being of anyone who hears or reads God’s Word but who may not have much experience in understanding the great skill of people who take Scripture out of its context and thereby build false doctrines.

Those false doctrines always lead people astray from the truth of God’s Word — something God Himself is deeply concerned about (e.g. 1 Tim. 1:3; 4:6; Titus 1:9; 2:1; Jude 3; Rev. 2-3).

In yet another of Bell’s books, Love Wins, he makes this outrageous attack against God Himself and the clear teaching of His Word:

“Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way according to the person telling them the gospel, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever.

“A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would insure that they would have no escape from an endless future of agony.

“If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities.  If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.  If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted.  Let alone be good.

 “Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye.  Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?  That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it.  No one can. . . . That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable” (173–75).

The above quote is a masterpiece of a straw man (the technique of attempting to win an argument by setting up a false or misleading premise – especially of an opponent’s position).

Here, the opponent is really God himself, for Bell argues vehemently against Him and His Word.  He knows what Scripture declares throughout: that God is “slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (e.g. Ps. 103:8).

Moreover, God pled with backslidden, rebellious Israel and Judah through His prophet Jeremiah to repent of their sins before judgment came against them (Jer. 36:3).  The Holy Spirit is at work to convict all people of sin before judgment comes (John 16:7-11).

No one just suddenly goes to hell; indeed, God is daily at work to bring that person to Himself through repentance and faith in Jesus. 

And yes, people must come to faith in Jesus, for He is their only atoning, substitutionary and all-sufficient sacrifice for their sins – according to His own words (John 3:16-21; 8:24).                                                    

However, every person has free will and God will not force someone to Himself if they’re not willing – despite all of His efforts through Jesus to save them from an eternity in hell. 

To accuse God of being cruel, vicious, abusive and volatile is blasphemous and heretical.  It is calumny of the basest kind and renders Bell no better than the garden variety atheist.  

He is a modern-day pied piper, a false teacher extraordinaire:

           He’s some Pied Piper, that Rob Bell

           Gaining a larger following, leading many to hell

           But if you criticize him, you’ll be labeled hateful & intolerant

           Even while his books and Nooma videos make his bank account exorbitant

           Those cool black glasses and smooth voice make him compelling

           To a generation lacking in real biblical discernment, now falling

           Jesus and John warned that false apostles and teachers would come,

           Deceived and deceiving, but who would really pay attention? 

           Bell plays on people’s emotions and tickles their ears,

           But the Apostle Paul already warned us about men like him, ere 2,000 years

           Why the rush to read Bell when there are already so many accurate teachers

            Unless one is simply content to ignore the clarity of Scripture?

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For an outstanding review on the heresy of Rob Bell, an influential teacher: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/

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This is quite amazing; followers of Rob Bell ought to quickly and seriously consider his teachings…

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1)      Finally in our study on hell, we come to the Greek word Gehenna (Mark 9:43-48; cf. Mt. 10:28): This is the place of future punishment after the resurrection and judgment of unbelievers (we’ll study this in a moment from Rev. 20:11-15), where they will suffer eternally in spirit, soul and body

2)      In Mt. 10:28, the word “destroy” does not mean annihilation or extinction but great loss or ruin

3)      Jesus says it is eternal punishment as opposed to eternal life (Mt. 25:46) and is a place originally prepared for the devil and his angels, who will also suffer eternally (Mt. 25:41).

4)      God’s completed revelation of the eternal suffering of hell can be seen in Rev. 20:10-15.  We should note especially v.10 and how it informs vv.11-15, where the focus is on torment “day and night forever and ever.”

5)      The same Greek phrase translated “forever and ever” (v.10) is used in 1:18 to speak of our Lord’s eternity; in 4:9-10; 10:6; 15:7 of God’s eternity and in 11:15 of Jesus’ eternal reign.

6)      This stands in dramatic contrast to the eternal fullness of life described of His people – saved by grace through faith in Jesus – described in Rev. 21 (note especially vv.4-6).

7)      Someone may well argue that “forever and ever” comes before the new heavens and the new earth.  But that argument falls when we examine Rev. 20:11-15 and the words “dead” and “death.”

8)      The “dead” John speaks of in v.5 comes from the Greek word nekroun, or physically dead.  “The second death” comes from the Greek thanatos, which refers to a spiritual death.

9)      Now, if someone were to lean solely upon their own logic, they might come to the conclusion that spiritual death therefore means annihilation, but as we’ll shortly see, that is not the case.

10)  In v.13, “dead” again refers to the physically dead and “death and Hades” to the spiritually dead (describing people who have always been dead to God, spiritually, since they were never born-again.  Cf. Eph. 2:1-5).  The second use of “dead” in v.5 is also the physically dead.

11)  Thus, we can see that those who died physically apart from Christ were literally in Hades, as they were spiritually in Hades as well.  Combined, both aspects of their lives, clearly one and the same, are cast into the lake of fire.

12)  Thus, the lake of fire is now clearly seen and is part of the eternal state, something reinforced again in 21:8, where John gives the general category, “unbelieving” (modified, correctly, as “cowardly”) as well as a sampling: “abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars.”

13)  In this case, we must not miss the consistency of Scripture in making it clear to us that both Hades and Gehenna are eternal, real places, with real, eternal suffering. 

14)  Surely the written Word of God is plainly warning all who have ever read or heard this to make the most important decision a person can ever make: The need to have their sins removed in Christ!

15)  In addition, their fixed, real state is mentioned one more time near the end of John’s Revelation (as if to strongly emphasize, on the one hand, hell’s eternal reality, and perhaps to warn us against the temptation to modify its reality, on the other hand) in 22:15 (cf. 21:27).

16)  More on this subject needs to be mentioned, for the annihilationist has more verses to buttress his or her argument.  The first argument uses Jesus’ words from Mt. 5:23-26 to infer (logically) that after a person has suffered for a time, he or she will be released from such suffering.

17)  However, this is no exegesis at all, since our Lord here is speaking strictly of forgiveness to believers, first, and secondly, this passage says nothing here about hell. 

18)  The same holds true in Mt. 18:34; Luke 12:44-47 and Luke 21:33 (recall that we’ve already established that the lake of fire is part of the eternal state).

19)  No one could ever rejoice over a human being spending an eternity in hell, but that is and will always be the case in this age (e.g. Mt. 7:13-14), and it is never God’s fault. 

20)  We can never impugn the motives and justice of a God who never had to save humanity in the first place, let alone leave the presence of the Father to become sin in our place. 

21)  Indeed, God has done everything imaginable to prevent someone from going to hell. 

22)  We may not like the fact of its existence and the eternal torment of those there, but we should at least be humble enough to admit that our view of justice – informed as it is through perfect Scripture – is understood in the fallen state we’re in

23)  Human beings – created as eternal beings in God’s image and likeness – should logically all respond to God’s gracious gift of salvation. 

24)  But the sad truth is, those who reject this offer really want nothing to do with God (e.g. John 3:19), so in the end He gives them their wish

25)  And hating Him on earth, how could they possibly enjoy Him in heaven?  Let us close with about the only passage in Scripture appropriate at this point to close with by reading Rev. 19:1-9.

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People want to know if Hell is a literal place, or if it’s figurative.  If Hell is a literal place, people are also eager to know if it’s eternal, or temporary for the person who is in Hell.

There are few topics in Scripture which illicit more emotion than the subject of Hell.  If an individual is seeking truth over emotion, and sound principles of biblical interpretation over bias, truth can be arrived at.

For example, a critical mistake would be to say, “I just refuse to believe a loving God would send a person to Hell!”

But that predetermined bias already undercuts the need for objective analysis and study. If I were to say, “I refuse to believe the government would construct any road where it might be possible to accidentally drive off a cliff on that road,” my belief would not change the reality.

So, I urge the reader to put aside emotion and take a careful, honest look at the text itself in Scripture.

My one goal in this study is biblical accuracy; I write on this subject to help people to understand what the Bible teaches about Hell.

In this examination, I intend to demonstrate through careful exegesis (a word which calls for careful examination of a particular text in its literary, historical and cultural context) that the idea that a person ceases to exist (called annihilation) after he or she dies, or that a person ceases to exist once the new heavens and the new earth are established is un-biblical and illogical.

Is Hell Real?

1) The verses and passages below (in parentheses) teach that there will be a Last Judgment for all people who have rejected Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning, substitutional death on the cross to acquit us from all sin.

2) The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross was to take the wrath due to each individual for our sin upon Himself.  Scripture teaches that He did this because His love for us — and the love of God the Father for all people — seeks our eternal redemption.

3) However, what people do know implicitly is that while God is love (1 John 4:8), He is also holy, just and righteous.  As the Lord over all that exists, He is also Judge over all.  He created us in righteousness, to do what is right in His sight.


4) Sin has corrupted us, and it causes us to miss God’s holy, righteous standards in life, and even to openly rebel against Him and defy Him.  His love has compelled Him to do something about this plight of ours.

5) Thus, God the Son — Jesus — came to earth to demonstrate what living a righteous life looks like.

6) By living a sinless life in our place (facing enormous temptation to sin), by suffering in our place the punishment that was due to us, and through His resurrection, Jesus has provided the way for us to live eternally, free from sin’s enslavement.

7) Through faith in Him and all He’s done for us, we declare our devotion to Him and need for Him to live His life through us — through God the Holy Spirit — who then comes to live His life in and through us, daily helping us to become more like Jesus.

8) But the reality is that people do not want to submit to Jesus’ authority; they want to continue in their own sin.  They don’t want to be identified with Jesus; they’re ashamed of Him.

9) But of course, most rational people do want to live forever.  If there is a heaven, they want to spend eternity there.  But they want to do this on their own terms — not on God’s terms — even though heaven is His creation.

10) This attitude, however, demonstrates our sinful, arrogant condition!  If you invite me to live in your mansion and give me my own, separate wing, you have certain expectations for me.

11) For example, you expect me to never deface the property; you will not allow me to write graffiti on the walls, or allow my dog to defecate in the home, or sell drugs from the home, etc.

12) But if I turn and complain against you for your unreasonable rules and call you harsh and unreasonable, do I deserve to live in your mansion?


13) To make matters worse, let’s say I was homeless and out of a job; you saw that, and graciously invited me to stay in the mansion you built; you chose to provide me with the food I need, and you pay for the gas and electricity.

14) Nevertheless, I spurn your grace and mercy; I say wicked things about you to others, without your knowledge.  And yet, I want to take advantage of your kindness by continuing to live in your home.  What hypocrisy!

15) No human being can save himself from the corruption of sin; no human being can give himself eternal life; no human being can create heaven.  We all stand in need of God, who alone can give eternal life to us, forgiveness of our sins, and eternal redemption.

16) If we recognize these things, we live in awe of Him and of His love, mercy and grace to us; we will devote ourselves to Him and live to please Him, to know Him, and to make Him known to others.

17) But if we spurn all that Jesus has done for us and think there is some other way for us to get into His heaven, we’re telling Him that He was an absolute fool for dying on the cross.

18) If we reject Jesus’ words that He alone is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one can enter heaven and know God apart from Him (John 14:6; 17:3), we’re telling Him that we want nothing to do with Him, and we’ll find our own way to heaven, thank you very much!

19) It’s then that we’ve forfeited God’s grace and mercy, found in Christ.  It’s then that we’ve told God that we do not believe that we’re sinners, and we do not believe He will then have to judge us for our sins.

20) And this is where the subject of Hell comes into the picture.  All punishment for sinners when they die (chronologically, this is before the end of the age, when all people outside of Christ will come before the great white throne judgment of God — Rev. 20:11-15) is immediate consignment in Hades (cf. Mt. 11:20-24; cf. Mt. 8:11-12).

21) Hades is the temporary dwelling place of the spirits of all dead who reject Jesus as Lord and Savior.

22) It is a literal place with unspeakable torment, so dire that it can only be described metaphorically in three ways in the above passage (although these may indeed not be metaphors but reality).


23) We should note from Mt. 8:11-12 the contrast with eternal feasting and enjoyment of the righteous with “outer darkness” (a metaphor for indescribable emptiness and loneliness).

24) Is Jesus speaking metaphorically in Mt. 8:11-12?  Here is where the historical and cultural context of His teaching is vital to understand: Jesus is simply using what is called Hebraism — a Jewish figure of speech — to portray the reality of something far too unpleasant to go into much detail in.

25) However, the original listener would be able to understand and appreciate exactly what He meant.

26) “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” describes not one who has ceased to exist (the doctrine of some concerning hell) but rather one who has eternal sorrow and despair over his or her eternal fixity.

27) In Mt. 11:20-24, we note Jesus’ warning that to go to Hades is “intolerable.”  Why is it intolerable?  Because there will be both emotional and physical torment (cf. Luke 16:14, 19-31).

28) Luke 16: 19-31 is a parable, and New Testament scholars rightly warn against building doctrines from parables.  However, the details of this particular parable are striking in the way they parallel Matthew’s passages on Hades.

29) Note from Luke 16 that there is sorrow from the rich man over his condition but not over his nature (v.24).  Note also the contrast between comfort and agony (v.25).

30) In Luke 16:26, we also see the permanence of the rich man’s condition.  And in vv.27-31, there is no concern for true righteousness — only selfish pragmatism.

31) The very fact that Jesus teaches on Hell — and giving dire warnings about its reality — tells us that God is intentional and serious about not wanting anyone to spend eternity in hell (e.g. John 3:16-17; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).  This is a declaration to us of His grace, love and mercy.

32) Moreover, the teaching of all four gospels tells us that Jesus did everything He could to prevent someone from spending an eternity in hell: God the Son was willingly sacrificed on a cross made by the very men He created – and experienced to the fullest the sin of every human being that ever lived, lives or will live (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:21).


33) What we’ve seen from Scripture thus far is that God sends no one to Hell; men send themselves to hell by rejecting our Lord’s sacrifice and offer of forgiveness and eternal life.

34) Some men argue that they will not serve a God who only gives two eternal choices – heaven or hell – and therefore believe that God is somehow an egomaniac.  However, our very first point above disproves this claim.

35) Moreover, some hold that it is unjust for God to allow someone to experience eternal punishment in hell.

36) But this is an emotional argument devoid of a biblical understanding of justice: All sin is heinous in God’s sight and a most grievous offense against Him.  His wrath is directed not against sinners, but sin itself (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 5:9; Col. 3:6).

37) Leon Morris writes of God’s wrath that

It is neither personal vindictiveness nor an impersonal process of retribution that works itself out in the course of history.  It is rather the response of [God’s] holiness to persistent and impenitent wickedness.[1]

38) And Thomas Oden points out that in pagan religions, people offer sacrifices to try and change a god’s attitude from wrath to friendship.

39) Not so with God, however: God takes the initiative “to change the broken relationship with humanity.  The picture of a human being placating an angry deity is not characteristic of New Testament teaching.”[2]

40) In fact, no human being could ever satisfy God’s holy and righteous demand for the punishment of all sin.  And that is the reason for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ; to become Man in our place, live a perfect, sinless life in our stead and substitute Himself to redeem us from eternal damnation (Mark 10:45; Rom. 3:23-25).

41) Wayne Grudem correctly asks what God would be like if He didn’t hate sin; if that were the case,

He would then be a God who either delighted in sin or at least was not troubled by it.  Such a God would not be worthy of our worship, for sin is hateful and it is worthy of being hated.  Sin ought not to be.  It is in fact a virtue to hate evil and sin (cf. Hab. 1:9; Zech. 8:17), and we rightly imitate this attribute of God when we feel hatred against great evil, injustice, and sin.[3]

42) Similarly, what if we, or a judge, shrugged our shoulders at someone who flagrantly violated the speed limit, drove in and out of traffic at speeds of more than 90 miles per hour and then struck and killed an innocent passenger?

43) Suppose we – or an entire government – shrugged our shoulders at human trafficking?  What would we really be if we were indifferent at human injustice?  By indifference, are we not somehow culpable of the sin – especially if we had the means to stop it?

44) A just God cannot and will not overlook sin; His justice demands a price be paid.  And He has determined that the only just punishment is an eternity spent apart from Him in hell – a place of agony because of His absence.

45) In fact, the most egregious injustice of all is for someone to reject His gracious substitutionary sacrifice!  Should Jesus have died for nothing?  Would the Father ever allow that?  Forbid this very thought!

46) Again, in his commentary on Revelation (16:5-6), Mounce also writes:

All caricatures of God which ignore his intense hatred of sin reveal more about man than about God.   In a moral universe God must of necessity oppose evil.  Far from undermining his righteousness, the love of God has made possible through the cross the redemption of unrighteous man.[4]

47) But could it be that God will allow unbelievers who reject His grace to suffer temporarily and then they cease to exist?  Scripture nowhere teaches this; as we’ve already seen and will discover from many passages, there is only heaven and hell.

48) But couldn’t God simply punish people for a time and then cause them to cease to exist (annihilationism)?  But how much suffering is enough?  Such a view completely undermines the cross, where Jesus paid mankind’s sin-debt in full.


49) If someone can merely suffer for a period of time known only to God, why did Jesus die?  And if they have paid for their suffering, why not allow them into heaven, apart from the crucifixion of Jesus?

50) In fact, according to Rom. 9:17, 22-24, when God punishes evil the glory of His justice is revealed and even unbelievers will stand in awe of His mercy and salvation.

51) For further study: Doesn’t “perish” in John 3:16 imply a cessation of existence?

52) The Greek word is apaluo and does not mean cessation but ruination of all that is of value; to come to one’s end; to be wasted (cf. Phil. 3:19; 2 Pet. 3:7, where it is translated “destruction” with Mt. 26:8, where the same word is used each time).

53) We see another Greek word used for “destruction” (olethros) in 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9, but once again, it does not mean that something ceases to exist.  Rather, it comes to ruin (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5 for the same word).

54) This substantiates Jesus’ long teaching from Mt. 23 of the scribes and Pharisees, who paraded themselves among the people as righteous, but severely misled them from a right relationship with God.

55) Frightening judgment will come upon them unless they repent: “hell” in v.33 is Gehenna, which Rev. 20:11-15 describes as the “lake of fire.”  In His grace, Jesus warns them that they will not “escape the sentence” of this place.

56) There is no indication whatsoever – however much one may wish it to be so out of human sentiment or our fallen sense of what is just – that these people will eventually cease to exist.

[1] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 163.

[2] Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: The Word of Life (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 395.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 206.

[4] Mounce, op. cit., 295.

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