Hebrews Warnings

I’ve been working on the warning passages in Hebrews for quite a while. But when I got asked to preach them in our series at Grace, I  had to stop thinking and produce! The sermon actually worried me because most sermons are pretty encouraging even when they call people to action or change. But the warnings are very serious (6:4-6: it is impossible to be renewed to repentance) and severe (10:26-27: nothing remains but a fury of fire that consumes). Even if that comes in an encouraging context (6:8 in your case, beloved, we think better things), it is still a warning of hard things.

A key to understanding is to put things in context.



To understand Hebrews 6 go back to Numbers 13-14 and Deuteronomy 1. To understand Hebrews 10, go back to Babylon. Kadesh Barnea tells us  Israel had seen the hand of God but refused to believe His promise that He had given them the Land. They rebelled and refused to enter the Land after sending in spies. They believed “The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. God forgave their sin, but in His anger swore they would never enter the Land. The people “repented,” again ignoring God’s promise, and arrogantly entered the Land but were defeated. No amount of weeping or religious ritual cancelled the consequence. God protected them from enemies, provided manna, water. Even their shoes did not wear out. But they die in the desert, not in the land.

Similarly if believers who shared in His enriching provision, His enabling Spirit, His incomparable Word, His strengthening power, then fall away, it is impossible for them to be brought back to repentance. While they are still His children with His acceptance and provision, they lose specific blessing of the LORD now and forever. Who knows exactly what that lost blessing might be. It might be the intimacy with God, or the sense of His presence and comfort.

The place went serious when I suggested we might lose a level of intimacy with God forever. Somehow everyone has the view that we may mess up now, but Jesus will make it all good when we see Him. He will renew us and we will all be be equal before Him. American egalitarianism runs deep. But His life here suggests differently. There were many disciples, but only 12 were chosen to be Apostles. Among the Apostles, there were 3 who were closer, who were there for special events like the transfiguration and the Garden. Among the three Peter was the closest. Similarly the rewards passages like Luke 19 suggest that those who return more get more in the kingdom. Ten minas means 10 cities and five means 5 cities, where ruling cities refers to opportunities to do more cool things with Jesus.

Chapter 10 shows us that those who deliberately defiantly sin may have God respond with severe punishment, like that of the Israelites being sent to Babylon. The widespread lie that God does not punish His children is partly true: He does not work out his anger on His children. He does not punish people who really trying nor ones who who make mistakes. But He does punish rebellion.

The out come is that the call to all to draw near and enjoy the lavish banquet He provides freely is a wonderful opportunity. Jesus will never reject the one who comes to Him (John 3:16; 6:37; Psa. 102:17; Isa. 1:18-19; Matt. Matt. 11:28-30) But something is seriously wrong with those who don’t want His salvation, whether that’s justification or the fullness of His intimacy. It’s dangerous when we are OK with ignorance or immaturity. I think a lot of the fear of drawing near comes from Satan’s story that God isn’t trustworthy. He accuses, “what kind of God would make you lose your job?” When Satan reminds me of the trouble in my life and suggests God doesn’t care, look at the Cross and remember how much He cares. That One is God Himself. There’s no way a God who doesn’t care would do that. So we draw near to the beauty of Jesus.

The sermon is here or go to gracecc.net and look at the Hebrews series. 





Jesus in the Qur’an

Sherry and I were at the Jesus in the Qur’an conference (web site here) in Corvallis over the weekend. I knew some of the things the Qur’an taught about Jesus, but was amazed when we gave it careful attention. It teaches that Jesus is a miracle and a sign (Sura 2:87 and 21:91), a prophet (19:30), the only prophet born of a virgin (3:47), the only prophet who is sinless (19:19), the only prophet who was brought near to God (3:45), the only prophet who performed healings and resurrections (5:110), the only prophet who is called the word of God ((3:45, 4:171), the only prophet who was called Messiah – and called that 11 times (4:157, etc.).

In light of the wonderful prayer which makes up Sura 1, the statement in 3:50-51 is amazing: Jesus says, “fear God and obey me. This is a Straight Path.”

I am wondering if Mohammed  really was pointing to Jesus, especially in the earlier days, and his followers missed the message. Lots to think about and talk about.

Despite my role as elder at Grace Community Church and that I am officially old, I did find it hard to park in this spot:2012-04-14 07.48.09

Beirut #6

Beirut 31You Beirut 32would think that a Portlander would never trust the weather report, but somehow I did when it said it would rain (yes, that’s the Portland default). I cancelled the plans to take a tour to Baalback or some such place. Of course, the early morning shower was all alone in the world and the day was mostly sunny! We had tentative plans to go downtown for supper with a friend but a meeting and a lost passport in the group he was leading nixed those plans. The result was that our day off teaching was pretty normal. After breakfast I joined a Bible study with Daniel from India, Barnaba from South Sudan, Samar from Egypt, and Diana (not in the picture) from USA and Lebanon. It is a kick to hear the different perspectives but very sad to hear Barnaba telling about the rising conflict that’s killing South Sudan . . . again.

I got upstairs to see Mary in our room with Sherry. When we first came in 2002, she was running the dining room. She took great pains to be sure the food was to our liking and we were well taken care of in every way. Now she’s semi-retired and oversees the room service. She’s still the wonderful caring person who laughs often and bring joy to everyone.

Beirut 33I was invited to the ABTS faculty meeting. I asked what the agenda was. Coffee, snacks and sharing life. What a great agenda! After I took pictures of them, Hikmat insisted that I join and took our picture. He loaned me his book where he did the first ever cataloging of the Arabic Gospel Documents which is a huge contribution to the world of New Testament textual criticism. Along with being a first class scholar and both NT faculty member and dean, he also pastors a local church which has tripled in size to about 200 in Sunday attendance since he took over after he finished his PhD about three years ago.

We had lunch with the woman who had to flee her country after being severely persecuted for becoming a Christian. We heard more of her faith and her love for Jesus and the Muslim people. Her tears were close as she described what a wonderful hope she had now that she has her very own Bible and can read freely to learn more about her Savior. Absolutely fascinating.

Beirut 34Akram, another long time member of the ABTS service staff, enjoys Turkish coffee, an after lunch is a tradition here. I couldn’t get Sherry to try it.

We went to get snacks and Starbucks with Scott Keranen. Sherry and I both appreciated the unusual bill board. And we deeply enjoy the sunsets from our room. Beirut 35

Beirut 36


Beirut #5

Today was the first day of class so I was eager to meet my students. At breakfast, I wondered who they might be, as I did as we worshipped in chapel. Finally 10:00 came and the students began to arrive. A few have English so we talked directly. Most do not so translation slows down conversation. As they told their stories, I delighted in ministry stories from Iraq, Egypt, Syria, North and South Sudan, and Lebanon, of course. One of the exciting points is that there are three husband/wife teams in the class.

Walid is my translator. He is assistant librarian who teaches some classes and hopes to grow into a full professor after he finishes his advanced studies at the seminary in Prague. After introductions, we opened our Bibles and went to work. My questioning style is not normal at all, but they enjoy engaging with issues so they quickly got engaged. By the end of the class time, they were actively wrestling, almost arguing, about which interpretation was correct. I just stood back and smiled to see them learning actively and personally. Three hours went by very quickly.

Beirut 23After lunch, we went down to show off my portable coffee maker to Diane, one of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies staff. She is the espresso lady but wanted to see my travel brewer. We ended up in a laugh filled reciting of international coffee stories. So like times here with the great diversity of ethnicities and cultures. We visited Marcelle to see about how to get to the airport in the extremely early hours of Sunday. The taxi will pick us up at 1:00 am. Since the taxi didn’t show up last time we had that arrangement, I wanted a backup plan. “It will be here,” Marcelle insisted. “It is Trust Taxi.”

Who is practicing a favorite activity? Beirut 21

Sunset tonight was spectacular as the clouds that will bring us showers for the next three days approach. Enjoy God’s beautiful art: Beirut 22

Beirut #4

Beirut 11SBeirut 12unday is for preaching which I got to do at Faith Baptist Church. We greeted some old friends and met many new ones. Alexy picked us up and and her fiancé, Joe wired me for sound. Rola showed her Mother’s love, Elie introduced us to his parents and grandmother, and many others came to greet us. Rudolphe prayed for the children before he introduced me. Elie was my translator. He was kind enough to ask if I wanted him to translate the nice things Rudolphe was saying about me. The sermon from Acts 3-4 seemed to go well. The audience was responsive and there were a number of nice comments after.

A woman I’d seen around ABTS came up to introduce herself. She is a Muslim from another country who decided to follow Jesus. When she told her family, they tried to persuade her to return. When she wouldn’t, her brother began to beat her, but she stayed firm in her commitment to Jesus. Finally they sent her to stay with a Sheik who locked her up and tried to persuade her. Finally she was able to escape. Though she is a very careful person, she immediately found a way to get to Lebanon. She arrived with no visa, knowing not one soul, a hotel reservation for one night, and no options. God got her connected with someone from ABTS who took her to their home. Now 25 days later, she is full of joy, hoping that somehow she will be able to live openly as a Christian.

Beirut 14After service Rudolphe and Rana took us for an exquisite Lebanese Beirut 13meal in a restaurant operated by Alexy’s aunt and her husband. There is no better place in all Lebanon. The shepherd herding the goats off the road added to the rustic feel. We ate for more than two hours, talking about the LORD’s work and the attacks on Rudolphe and his family. Within an hour of the time he was voted into the pastorate of the church, he had a horrible pain in his back. Over a very long time and assurances that it was fine, they discovered a fast growing tumor on his vertebrae. He had surgery to remove the vertebrae and replace it with a rib. The doctors still cannot explain the speed of his recovery. Then there was a blood infection that nearly killed him before his prayer healed it just before the doctor came in for a last ditch effort to stop it. The story goes on. Through it all, Rudolphe pastored the church with diligence and vulnerability. Even with all the troubles, it has grown from a dying church of 40 to a positive church of 120 in the 18 months since his pastorate began.

We drove up into the mountains where the snow was at near record levels. There was so much beauty that could not fit into any camera. The natural stone bridge intrigued me. It also intrigues me that this is a color picture. Beirut 15One point of our conversation was relations between Christians and Muslims. He told us how the war time Israeli bombing drove many Hezbollah people out of their homes in south Beirut. They found that Christians welcomed them into their homes, served them, fed them and asked for nothing. Since then there has been a deepened partnership between the peoples despite deep differences in culture and religion. It is a wonderful example of the result of Romans 12:17-21. He also told of the huge difficulties it causes them when American pastors are reported as deliberately defiling the Quran or insulting the Prophet or pronouncing “railing accusation” (2 Pet. 2:11; Jude 1:9) on Muslims. It is a mark of a Christian to treat all people with love and respect. I need to be sure I do that.

Finally, why is it that American is the ultimate draw in place of the world with amazing culture of their own?Beirut 16

Beirut #3

Beirut 11Saturday started with work highlighted by a most beautiful view of the city: preparing an exam for my Portland students, doing a bunch of email (still trying to get used to doing this off line as much as possible) but mostly working on final prep for my sermon for Sunday. I asked Rudolphe what I should preach on and he jokingly told me to preach that Christians should come to church! But that dropped me into Acts 4, Peter and John’s encounter with the officials and prayer and the response of the church: They praised and prayed, praying specifically for (#1) boldness to speak the Word with boldness and (#2) to do great miracles. I realized that we don’t pray either of these. God’s answer was to shake the place – as Mt. Sinai and Isaiah’s Temple were shaken – such that they were filled with the Spirit, spoke boldly (#1) and shared everything so that there was no need among them (#2). Interesting answer to #2. The healings come but the immediate result was the sharing. Our individualism and self-protection makes this a most unlikely outcome in the modern church. I wonder what would happen if we really prayed these prayers.

After a good nap, we went to fellowship with some long time workers in this area. He came in the taxi to fetch us and later to return us. Like the taxi driver we were deeply touched by his hospitality. The afternoon and evening was spent sharing stories and talking theology/life. While I can’t share specifics because of security, some lessons had me spending a lot of prayer time in the night.

In the Middle East, self is a corporate concept. One never thinks of himself other than as part of a family/clan. So when Jesus told his disciples to change families (Matt. 12:48-50) He was going to the core. When He called us to hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, even our own life to be His disciple (Luke 14:26), it feels like hyperbole. But is it? It made me think of the number of American missionaries who leave the field to take care of family and are usually congratulated by me and the church when they do it.

He showed us that prayer is typically done with eyes open, looking at the others, and speaking blessing on them in the name of Jesus. The others respond with unison “Amen” pronounced in the Arabic way, “Omeen.” And it goes on for a long time. It made sense of many of the biblical prayers so that will become a part of my life.

I continue to be troubled by the richness of the American church in light of the radical call of Jesus and the example of these folk who live with the poorest of the poor to bring blessing to them. Jesus is a most uncomfortable figure. . . . but He is the LORD of glory come to live among us to show us the Father, how to live a blessed life and bring us all the family blessings of that life.

Beirut 12The internet keeps showing me interesting stuff. Click on the picture to enlarge it and note the right side of the Yahoo home page. Would that ever happen in the USA?

Beirut Day 2

What a great day to start our time in Beirut. Jet lag was a defeated enemy for us both! We shared our first meal with Paul Sanders. He’s a long time friend and the fellow who introduced me to Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (here) back in 2002. He was provost then and working to promote theological education through out the Arabic and French speaking world. Now he’s turned the ABTS reins over to Elie Haddad who is taking it to an even higher level. They are both working with the Teach/Learn project which will deliver state of the art theological/pastoral training to seminaries and churches throughout the Arabic speaking world using satellite technology. It’s ironic that the very best in web based learning may be in Arabic!

Beirut 11Speaking of internet, getting on here is a bit of an adventure. I’m very used to unlimited time but here it is sold by the hour. So I’m careful to log on/log off (does that sound like Mr. Miyagi?). Even more challenging is that they know where I am! Yahoo has been my home page for a long time. I thought it knew me. But alas, try as I might, it always went to this screen. I asked several people for help and Elie found the button that switches the display to English. But there’s no connecting with my Portland page from Beirut.

Beirut 112After chapel (with simultaneous translation headsets) and a tour of the ABTS facilities, we had lunch with Alexy Abou Rjeilly, one of my long time friends, to catch up on her life. We have talked about many things over the years including doing some counseling with her and her former fiancé. I am very glad that she is now happily engaged to Joe. They will be married in September. Both are involved in the church I will preach in on Sunday.

Rola Salloum is the most delightful librarian you would ever want to meet and also a part of Strongholds, an outstanding Christian band (here). I was disappointed to find out that they are giving a concert shortly after we leave. But Rola invited us to their evening rehearsal in the wonderful new ABTS auditorium, so Sherry and I went down to join the fun. Though it was definitely a rehearsal the atmosphere of praise in their music was deeply moving. I was sad when we had to head up to bed.

Beirut 113Lunch was with Scot Keranen, a former student who is working with Heart for Lebanon, an agency started after the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war to bring aid to some very tragic situations. Now they are also ministering to refugees from the civil war in Syria. We went up the hill to a place where he said you can get American coffee. It wasn’t true! But we had a good time reviewing ministry, politics, and the state of the Evangelical church and next generation Christians. Sherry was impressed with the price of pizza.

Finally, can you identify Sherry’s mystery item?

Beirut 11


Beirut Dairy Day One


2012-03-22 10.14.53Coming back to Beirut after six years is a joy. There are many familiar sites like the Grand Mosque in downtown. Our driver, father of one of my former students, told us that land in this area runs about $25,000 per square meter and small apartments will run $5,000,000. This is where the oil rich people live. 2012-03-22 10.15.54

Tucked away among such expensive buildings are ones that are the heritage of the twenty year civil war. This one is on the dividing line between the warring factions. It is nice that many of the destroyed buildings have been rebuilt. The civil war in Syria is just a few miles away and whole neighborhoods are being destroyed. The people here in Lebanon are grateful that their country is spared this time.

Coming up the hill and turning into the seminary drive brought back many memories of great times with friends here, staff and students alike. Most are gone to other places now. Some like Hala, who translated for me in my other visits, are in the USA or Canada. Others are in ministries around the Arab speaking world. Iskandar and Mary are in Kartoum where he is rector of the Anglican Cathedral. One other is in one of the war zones in Syria. Who knows what will happen to him and the church.

Our 20 hours in transit was very long since the most I do is sink into short periods of unconsciousness. I have deep envy for those who sleep on airplanes. Wish I knew specifics about most marvelous castle we flew over as we landed at London’s Heathrow. We had a short turn around and a very long walk there. Sherry was glad for her new knees, but pretty fatigued when we got to our gate. The “closing” notice confirmed the need for maximum pace.

I did laugh out loud at what awaited us as we exited the Beirut airport: 2012-03-22 09.57.26


Apocalyptic Sermons

I preached the first of two apocalyptic sermons at Foothills Church in Stayton. It was on Matthew 24, done on the 10th anniversary of 9/11! Just before I left to preach the sermon, I read DA Carson’s New Bible Commentary which gave me a different and better perspective on 24:29-35. Now, mind you, this is in the final moments of getting everything into my head, days after the Power Point and sermon outline went in. And now a key interpretation changes!

Matthew 24 is Jesus answering the disciples questions: when will the Temple be destroyed and what will be the signs of Your coming? Jesus begins by telling them there will be many terrors — false messiahs, wars, hostilities, famines, earthquakes – but don’t give in to deception or fear for that sort of thing will typify the whole time. It is not the end of the age or the failure of Jesus (though it may be the failure of the religion, Christianity). In all these things, the gospel will be proclaimed and the kingdom will be real even if like yeast. Then He gives signs of the destruction of the Temple – the arrival of the abomination which turns out to be Titus. There are recognizable signs of this and Christians are warned to get out of town, which they did in 66 AD. Those are the days of terrible tribulation.

I thought verse 29 began speaking of the second question, the coming of Jesus with cosmic signs, leading up to “this generation will not pass away before all these things happen.” This is very difficult since Jesus did not come back in that generation. But Carson took me to what I have dedicated myself to: interpret NT symbols by how they are used in the OT. He observes that the language of sun darkening and stars falling comes from Isaiah 13 and 34. There it speaks of the fall of Babylon not the end of the times. The Son of Man language of v. 30 is from Daniel 7 where it is anointing of Messiah rather than the second coming of Messiah. Using that perspective means that the section from 29-35 is speaking to the change from God meeting humans at the Jerusalem Temple to the Him meeting us in One greater than the Temple, i.e., Jesus. The long promised New Covenant is inaugurated, Messiah is anointed King and Messiah, and the time of the Jerusalem Temple is ended. The language uses powerful images from the OT to help us see that change which is typified by the destruction of the Temple is “cosmic”!

That means the generation of verse 34 is the people listening to Him as He speaks the prophecy. It is about the time of the destruction of the Temple. There are signs of that event which actually comes less than 35 years later, just as Jesus said.

Verse 36 begins speaking of the second coming, referred to specifically as the parousia in verse 37. Unlike the destruction of the Temple, there are no signs of that event. Even Jesus, in His incarnate state where He has laid aside the use of His divine powers to live as a perfectly Spirit filled human, does not know. It is like a thief in the night. We are ready not because we have some magic decoder ring to predict the date, but because we are doing the consistent work of living and declaring the reality of the kingdom.

The second is on the whole book of Revelation in a single sermon. A bit of a task.

Bell on Hell

When Rob Bell speaks you have to listen. He is so compelling, so likeable, so confident. He has a contagious love for Jesus. He uses images, and metaphors, and ideas with incredible dexterity. So when he poetically probes questions about hell, we question too. He rightly wonders about people who feel they must declare proudly and noisily that Gandhi is in hell. He does a great job of deconstructing the hellfire and brimstone people, ones who see God getting glory out of people burning in hell. There are frustratingly many of these, though it’s much less common in the evangelicals associated with Western Seminary or the churches I minister in.

He outlines his view: At the end of the age, God’s love overcomes every objection and everyone comes to know and accept Jesus. This is not the “all roads lead to God” type of universalism, but a Christian universalism with salvation only through the name of Jesus. He cites passages like Philippians 2:10 and Colossians 1:20.

Bell centers on the deep deep love of God. Ironically this is one of his weaker spots. When he insists, “love wins,” he makes God more like the dominating husband demanding his own way than the triune God of the Bible, the God who will let you choose, the one who will let you love someone else. The God of the Bible is something like a jilted husband, grieving for His lost covenant partner. Bell’s God largely does a pass on the anger that love raises up when confronted with persistent sin and evil, the God who is like an outraged father whose daughter has been abused. Forgiveness and reconciliation come only at great expense and are easily derailed through one party’s resistance.

He asks a good question: Does God want all to be saved? My answer is absolutely. The God who seeks Adam and Eve out after their sin seeks everyone. John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 are very clear. Then he asks does God get what he wants? My synthesis of the biblical data says He does not. God draws (John 12:32), convicts (John 16:8-11) and leads (Rom. 2:4-11) every human being toward His kindness. Anyone who responds to this drawing will find a God who initiates in grace, eager to reveal Messiah Jesus through various means. Those who like Jesus and want to be like Him and with Him doing the cool things He likes to do will be there and do that forever.

But He also allows the many of the ones He draws to persist in their demand to run their own lives as they see fit — often for very bad reasons — and reject His love. if you don’t like doing the things Jesus does, then you get to live in a place we call hell. Bell correctly says that there are many Middle Ages pictures of hell that are very non-biblical and shreds them. But he also shreds the fact of the self centeredness that makes people reject the self-giving way of Jesus. He shreds the biblical concept of sin, which Luther termed curvatus in se, bent in on self. This means separation from God for all and punishment for evil doers.

I believe there are different levels of hell. Matt. 11:20ff is one place this is clear. So for many, hell is the place of ultimate selfishness after God gives them over (Rom. 1:24ff) to their own desires, an ultimately self-centered place they think they want. But that’s a very alone existence, completely absent of the self-giving love of God. For evildoers, especially those guilty of spiritual evil, that will be a place of terrible punishment. It will be existence – not living – under His curse, in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Mat 25:41)

What really hacks me is that Bell actually changes the very text of Scripture to fit his view (Matt 25:46; details below for those who want specifics). He does it without any justification or even telling us that he’s doing it. And then he accuses people who follow the text of reading foreign concepts into the text. Astounding. Absolutely astounding. And completely unacceptable.

The other big scale issue is that he has virtually no gospel left. As he deconstructs the whacked gospel of the hell fire and brimstone preachers, he makes the Bible seem as if there’s just total confusion and then never says what Jesus’ provision is nor what our response should be. His discussion bypasses the whole issue of sin and stays quite vague about what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. Not good.

Finally he begins his book with Gandhi because most people think him a super good guy and therefore must be headed to heaven. Anyone who says he’s in hell obviously is a bigoted fundamentalist. But Gandhi investigated Jesus and rejected Him, choosing to be a Hindu and worship the Hindu gods. His form of non-violence led to a civil war in which vast numbers were injured and killed. The division and hatred continue to this day. Now contrast Gandhi with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King investigated Jesus and embraced Him. His revolution was largely blood free and the reconciliation which he initiated, though incomplete, continues to this day.

What should we do with hell? Denying it’s existence is like denying that I have cancer. I appreciate Mark Driscoll’s sermon on Luke 16. I resonate deeply with his tears at the thought of people going to hell and his passion to spread the old old story of Jesus and His love given freely so they can find life. Then it will be true that LOVE WINS.

The best review of Love Wins is by Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary does a chapter by chapter review. The links are here:

There is a chronology of written and video reviews on Resurgence.com

I particularly like John Mark Reynolds of the Torrey Honors Institute: here: .

Now some details: According to every English translation of Matthew 25:46 – Jewish , Catholic, mainline, and evangelical – Jesus says that goats go into eternal punishment. Anyone who goes against every single translation has to give really good reason for it. Let’s take a look. In Greek the words are aion
ion kolasis
. No matter what lexicon you select, the only translation is “eternal punishment” or words with the same meaning. But Bell changes the text to aion kolazo. Rather than an adjective modifying a noun, it’s two nouns which really makes no sense. He has to add “of” to make it work. Why does he do that? There are no textual variants, no manuscript evidence, no scholarly questions behind the change; just Bell’s chutzpah that wants to update Jesus. What’s the significance? If you look up the changed words in Bauer, Denker, Arndt & Gingrich, the standard Bible era lexicon, the meaning will still be “eternal punishment.” But if we go to Liddell & Scott, the standard lexicon of classic Greek, the language of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle from some 400 years prior to the biblical era, you can find a rare meaning, “prune.” So Bell constructs the meaning “a period of pruning.” But if the word modifying punishment (or pruning) is for a period of time that ends, then it has to have the same meaning when it modifies life. Does Bell really believe our life with God comes to an end after a while? The big offense here is that he never mentions the fact that he changes the biblical words. And then he accuses people who follow the Jesus’ words of reading categories and concepts into the phrase that aren’t there.