Gregory MacDonald responds to a question
In light of something Cliff Martin wrote here, I sent the following question to Gregory MacDonald, author of the Evangelical Universalist:
I wonder what you think of the passage Mark 14:20-21 'He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread
into the bowl
with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born"'.
If the Universalist case it accepted, how could it possibly be better for Judas never to have been born? Penny for your thoughts …
Here is Gregory's response for you to think about:
Here is how I would provisionally approach the text you quote - as an example of what I refer to as the rhetoric of wrath: Hyperbole for dramatic effect. Jesus was a master of it as were the prophets. Here are some examples from Jeremiah of it at work
"Moab will be destroyed a nation ... Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the days to come" (48:42, 57)
"I will pursue [Elam] with the sword until I have made an end of them ... Yet I will restore the fortunes of Elam in the days to come" (49:37, 39)
I'm not suggesting that these are exact parallels or what Jesus had in mind or anything of the sort. My point is simply that biblical authors can declare judgement in ways that look final but which are not. So I guess I would take that as a line of inquiry to pursue - if I had the time (which I don't). My inclination is not to take Jesus' words as strictly literally true and that to press them that hard - as if they were statements from a professor of analytic philosophy - is to over-read them.
Of course, my critics will accuse me of under-reading Jesus and of not taking his words seriously. Well, I do take it as a very strong warning about a very real and dreadful punishment so I think that I do take it seriously. However, in the end it will depend on the wider theological frameworks within which we reappropriate Jesus' words. It is that that will incline us one way or the other. I'm a universalist so I naturally am inclined to see Jesus' words in that light. I fully understand why others would not do so.
My initial thoughts run as follows: I am quite sure that he is right about the importance of the wider theological framework. I am not sure, however, 1) if his theological framework reflects the beliefs and teaching of the authors of the NT, nor 2) if we should use a theological framework in such a harmonising way. What think you?