Does the Bible Teach Arbitrary Exclusion From Salvation?

Epicurus of Samos

The Hellenistic Apostasy in Late Second Temple Judæa
and God’s Reaction to “Worldly Wisdom”

by Mark Mountjoy

Scripture text: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

Introductory Remarks

Frequently, when we encounter a passage from the Bible, we bring with us assumptions that do not align with the context and history behind it.  These assumptions can influence and misshape our interpretation of the events described in the passage.  To gain a proper understanding of the meaning behind a passage like Matthew 11:20-24 (and specifically verse 25), we must thoroughly comprehend the historical context and any wrongdoing or offenses that may be related.

In the cases of John 3:19 and Matthew 11:20-24, it is important to understand their chronological order.  Some interpretive paradigms assume that God's rejection is unlogical and arbitrary.  To clarify, we should ask whether God predetermined certain Jews to be lost before they were even born?  Alternatively, did the possibility of penalty emerge after Jews moved away from the Law of Moses and adopted the Samos Greecephilosophical framework of Epicurus of Samos and other philosophers?

When we understand and realize that the influence of Hellenism, rather than God's eternal decrees, caused the Jewish State to stray from the explicit beliefs and principles stated in the Old Testament, we come to understand that this apostasy placed people at a distinct disadvantage, making it difficult, if not impossible, to accurately assess Jesus' identity and decipher the correctness of his words and actions.

It is important to note that a deviation from their heritage resulted in necessary and mandated punishments, as indicated in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 and Acts 3:22-23, but had they remained faithful to the Law and the Prophets, key beliefs would have given them a foundation for reflecting upon, evaluating, and ultimately accepting Jesus.  These beliefs include God's ability to intervene in history (Isaiah 19:1 and Daniel 7:13) and to perform miracles through his servants (2 Kings 5:1-19).  Additionally, they would have had accurate notions about God's personal attention and consistent concern for the world (Psalms 33:13 and Romans 1:18-32).

By reflecting on the abandonment of certain aspects of the Israelite religion, we can understand how God's people got into trouble and why many people in the ancient Jewish world were resistant to the Gospel.  These insights will allow us to interpret New Testament passages discussing judgment, culpability, and condemnation differently than we would without this background knowledge. 

In first-century Judæa, the widespread cynicism towards Jesus and his miracles was largely due to a worldview that did not accept anything supernatural.  This means that many people rejected their religious heritage that affirmed the reality of events like the flood (2 Peter 3:4), and preferred to believe explanations for Jesus' resurrection that involved theft rather than accepting the possibility of a miraculous event (Matthew 28:11-15; Jude 10)2

The fact remains that this dire and sickening un-Israelite way of looking at reality came in the aftermath of the advent of Alexander the Great. His Hellenistic cultural revolution brought with it a wide variety of philosophical beliefs and conceptual superstitions and falsehoods, all of which went against God's revealed will for his covenant people, as stated in the Law of Moses.

Sadly, these ideas were increasingly embraced by the Jewish masses.  One of these beliefs, Epicureanism, was particularly popular.  It was conceived, organized, and spread by Epicurus from the Greek island of Samos.  While this philosophy proved quite attractive, it also corrupted the Jewish community to such an extent that many refused to believe in the existence of angels, spirits, or the resurrection, as well as miracles or other wonders performed by God (as noted in Luke 20:27-38 cf. Acts 23:8).  Such a denial immediately challenges and falsifies fundamental assumptions found throughout the Old Testament. In truth, the Sadducee religious sect subscribed to borderline atheistic beliefs that were heavily influenced by the teachings of Epicurus.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that the three cities witnessed the mighty works of Jesus but doubted them.  To fully comprehend texts that suggest God predetermined the fate of certain individuals regardless of their choices, it is necessary to reconsider the historical context. In essence, before concluding that the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were destined to be lost, it is important to recognize that they turned away from God by embracing a wicked philosophy that was not aligned with God's divine truth, which had been revealed to their society long ago. Epicurus' ideas were simply conjectures and theories, as they were not conveyed to Israel by God through Moses or the prophets

 

Endnotes

1 This means that the punishment was a part of a national agreement with God, and had already been predetermined for a certain time period, rather than stretching into eternity.

Additionally, this natural consequence was a result of violating said national agreement, as it had happened to other nations in the past, such as those under King Saul, Jeroboam, and Rehoboam, during the time of divided kingdoms, as well as the Assyrian capture of the Ten Tribes and the Babylonian Captivity of Yehud.  It is important to note that the penalty of blindness did not indicate that God had arbitrarily predetermined the fate of any first century Jews, Israelites, Idumeans, Godfearers, or Romans to be cast into the lake of fire, also known as the second death. This can be seen in passages such as 2 Peter 3:8-10 and Jude 23.

2 On the eve of the Destruction of Jerusalem, God performed obvious and blatant signs and miracles that went against all laws of normal nature.  For example, a star that looked like a sword appeared above the city, and a comet remained visible throughout all of A.D.63. On the 8th day of Nisan that year, a light shone around the altar in the Second Temple at three o’clock in the morning, and it was as bright as daytime.  This lasted for thirty minutes.  During that same festival, a heifer being led by the priests to be slaughtered gave birth to a baby lamb in the midst of the Temple.  Furthermore, the eastern gate of the Second Temple, which usually required 20 men to open, opened on its own accord. Thirty-seven days later, on the Sunday night of May 8, A.D.63, chariots and troops of soldiers were seen running through the clouds over Judæa and surrounding cities.  After that, many heard the voices of a multitude inside the Second Temple saying, “We are leaving this Place.” (Ref. Wars of the Jews 6.5.3.288-300).

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Caption: Epicurus of Samos - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia