I’m blogging my way through Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. The biblical and theological case for the first of the views, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT), is written by Denny Burk. In this post I’ll look at Daniel 12:2-3, which is the next passage he examines.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.Daniel 12:2, NIV
Burk highlights Jesus’ allusion to this passage in John 5:28-29. This seems to imply that both passages describe the universal resurrection and judgment at the end of the age. Most Evangelicals Universalists and Conditionalists that I know don’t dispute either event, but disagree about what happens after the judgment.
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.John 5:28-29, ESV
Burk recognises that the Hebrew word olam (translated “everlasting” in the NIV) “has the connotation of time extending into the distant past and into the future indefinitely.”1 Note that neither “distant” nor “indefinite” is necessarily “everlasting”. But he then claims the separation in the passages above is permanent because olam is used to describe both the life and the contempt. As the former is everlasting, he concludes the latter must be too.
However, even according to his own definition of olam, that seems like a huge leap. If I say X occurred in the distant past and Y occurred in the distant past, that surely doesn’t mean both X and Y had to occur at the same instant and for the same duration. Similarly, if I say event X is indefinitely long and event Y is indefinitely long, it seems that logically there’s no necessary link between the durations of X and Y.
If I tell you that, “Tomorrow I’m going to the gym and tomorrow I’m reading a book”, does that mean I must be doing both activities for exactly the same duration? Unlikely. Or even an example where we have a clearer idea of the duration of the first thing, “Tomorrow I’m moving to the US and tomorrow I’m reading a book”, again does this imply I must be reading the book for the entire journey and forever in the US?? I see no reason to think that.
It’s also worth considering how olam is used in Hebrew.
Hebrew words used for space2 are also used for time… The Hebrew word olam literally means “beyond the horizon.” When looking off in the far distance it is difficult to make out any details and what is beyond that horizon cannot be seen. This concept is the olam. The word olam is also used for time for the distant past or the distant future as a time that is difficult to know or perceive.
That the life and contempt both occur “beyond the horizon”, in the ages to come, surely doesn’t mean they are necessarily of equal duration.
Here are two more examples of scholars who don’t think “everlasting” is the best translation:
The word [olam] itself simply means “long duration,” “antiquity,” “futurity,” “until the end of a period of time.” That period of time is determined by the context. Sometimes it is the length of a man’s life, sometimes it is an age, and sometimes it is a dispensation.
The second thing to keep in mind is that there are two Hebrew forms of olam. The first form is le-olam, which means “unto an age.” And the second form is ad-olam, which means “until an age.” However, neither of these forms carry the English meaning of “forever.” Although it has been translated that way in English, the Hebrew does not carry the concept of eternity as the English word “forever” does.
The third thing to keep in mind is that the word olam, le-olam, or ad-olam, sometimes means only up “to the end of a man’s life.” For example, it is used of someone’s lifetime (Ex. 14:13), of a slave’s life (Ex. 21:6; Lev. 25:46; Deut. 15:17), of Samuel’s life (I Sam. 1:22; 2:35), of the lifetimes of David and Jonathan (I Sam. 20:23), and of David’s lifetime (I Sam. 27:12; 28:2; I Chr. 28:4). While the English reads for ever, obviously from the context it does not mean “forever” in the sense of eternity, but only up to the end of the person’s life.
The fourth thing to keep in mind about the meaning of olam is that it sometimes means only “an age” or “dispensation.” For example, Deuteronomy 23:3 uses the term for ever but limits the term to only ten generations. Here it obviously carries the concept of an age. In II Chronicles 7:16, it is used only for the period of the First Temple. So, again, the word for ever [olam] in Hebrew does not mean “eternal” as it does in English; it means up to the end of a period of time, either a man’s life, or an age, or a dispensation.
Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Ariel Ministries Manuscript 176, p323
Olam: Jenni holds that its basic meaning “most distant times” can refer to either the remote past or to the future or to both as due to the fact that it does not occur independently (as a subject or as an object) but only in connection with prepositions indicating direction (“since,” “until,” “up to”) or as an adverbial accusative of direction or finally as the modifying genitive in the construct relationship.
Here’s an example of a translation that I think better captures the broad scope of the word:
I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight [olam]. But you brought me out of the pit.
Interestingly, in this case, olam turned out to be only 3 days! For more examples, see Gerry Beauchemin’s helpful article.
Burk says the use of “contempt” suggests punishment, and it probably does. However, the question isn’t whether or not there’s punishment but whether or not God rescues everyone. Personally I think there are many biblical and theological reasons for thinking that He does. I’ve posted some of them on this blog and when we get to engaging with Robin Parry’s chapter, we should find some more.
Anyway, hopefully from all of the above you can see that the “contempt” in Daniel 12:2 is indefinite in duration, and therefore doesn’t necessarily support ECT.
2. The connection with location is interesting when you consider how the Greek equivalent, aionios (which I’ll look at in a future post), also carries the idea of “in or of the age to come”.
3. As cited by HaDavar Messianic Ministries.
39 thoughts on “Punishment’s Duration―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 3”
//Burk says the use of “contempt” suggests punishment, and it probably does. //
May I suggest that this is improbable? Contempt is from a Hebrew word used to describe people looking at rotting corpses of wicked people; it’s not used to describe an emotion that’s felt by people who’ve been judged.
I think this is the point: the wicked are raised to “shame and eternal contempt”. The shame is their experience, but it’s not eternal; the contempt is the experience of those seeing their judgment, and it is eternal.
The sentence is structured so that it’s impossible to read as meaning “eternal shame”, which would possibly imply ongoing experience.
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Thanks William for commenting! It’s especially interesting to hear angles I haven’t considered. It sounds like you’re saying it’s similar to Isa 66:24. I don’t know much Hebrew but your points sound plausible. However, what do you make of these:
1) “And many of those who sleep in the flat of the earth will arise, some to everlasting life but others to shame and others to dispersion [and contempt] everlasting.” http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/40-daniel-nets.pdf
2) “diaspora and shamefacedness age-long/unending”
3) “and these others unto scorning, and for shame eternal”
Yes, the only other Biblical usage of this word is Isa 66:24.
I don’t know why ‘diaspora’ appears there, honestly. But I checked my LXXes; both Greek words used for the 2 Hebrew words can be translated as “shame” or “disgrace”, but the eternal one is an objective shame (like being naked) while the temporal one is subjective (also used to convey feelings). So there’s some evidence even there, although of course we should be wary of secondary evidences like that.
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We must remember that all God’s judgments, and condemnations, are for the purpose of redemption and restoration. All creation belongs to God, and God desires what will be accomplished. That is the restoration of all things in Christ our Savior and Redeemer. Whatever is the will of God will come to be. The Lord will wipe away all tears of shame and remorse and those “feelings” will not continue endlessly. Past, present, and future are all one and the same to God. He knows the end from the beginning.
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//We must remember that all God’s judgments, and condemnations, are for the purpose of redemption and restoration.//
That’s true, but I also remember that in the redemption of the cosmos, the individual things redeemed and restored are mutually exclusive with the things judged and condemned. When God comes “he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Mal 3), the question is not “how tough is that going to be”; but rather “who can endure?” Those who have done evil — together with all stumbling blocks — will be consumed “root and branch” by the fire of His coming, and the righteous will walk on the ashes (Mal 4, Matt 13).
This is why the consistent language of the gospel of John is that when we believe, we are saved from judgment and from condemnation. Those who are not saved, instead receive the judgment and condemnation their works merit.
//All creation belongs to God, and God desires what will be accomplished. That is the restoration of all things in Christ our Savior and Redeemer. Whatever is the will of God will come to be. The Lord will wipe away all tears of shame and remorse and those “feelings” will not continue endlessly. Past, present, and future are all one and the same to God. He knows the end from the beginning.//
It would sound like we agree… but of course I know we don’t. You’re a universalist, as is the author of this page, and I’m a conditionalist. As a universalist, you believe that people can be both saved _and_ condemned — not saved FROM condemnation (as Christians are), but rather saved IN SPITE OF condemnation.
I’m not saying that in order to get agreement; I’m saying that in order that you can see that I already believe what you said, and I’m not a universalist.
William out of curiosity, what do you make of:
Restoration has always been the purpose of God. It may not seem to make sense, but God’s judgments bring about reconciliation not eternal damnation.
Restoration of the cosmos, yes. But some of the things in the cosmos — the evildoers and stumbling blocks, to use the words of Christ in Matthew 13:41-42, have always been designed for destruction. Eternal destruction, eternal punishment, eternal judgment; the word “damnation” is merely an obsolete word for “judgment”, so when you deny it you deny Hebrews 6:2. All happen on the Day of Judgment, Day of Wrath; when God comes in the person of the Son, to whom He has granted all judgment.
Because of that destruction of evil, the restoration of all things is possible; see the “apokatastasis” sermon in Acts 3 for how the two fit together, and the warning that those who do not listen to Christ will be utterly destroyed.
I suspect that most people see this as a prophecy of the church’s formation, but it’s also “already and not yet” the Day of Judgment. The restoration of the nations brings a remnant from every nation into God’s kingdom, every ethnos with its own leaders, society, and customs marching in procession into God’s kingdom through the open gates — but the kings who do not help in building the kingdom will be utterly cut off.
The assumption in universalism is that every restoration is a total restoration through resurrection of every individual; but the Bible gives examples of 3 means of restoration. First, there’s the total resurrection restoration, although _usually_ the custom of the Bible is to refer to that not as restoration, but as preservation (so that all of the people “sleep”, not are killed). Second, there’s the restoration from a remnant; this is what wicked Israel was promised in Jeremiah 3:14 and Sodom was forbidden in Isaiah 1:9. Finally, there’s restoration from an unrelated people’s adoption of the name and imitation of the extinct culture; this is what Tyre is forbidden in Ezek 26:21ff, probably with echos in the Great Whore of Revelation.
if the cluster of words that are translated in Scripture as ‘eternity’ have an indefinite or temporary sense to them, why isn’t life with God of a limited duration?
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Thanks for reading and commenting! That’s a fair question. Given the broad scope of olam and aionios, I don’t think we can rely on them for supporting the eternity of anything.
However, thankfully we are told a lot more about the life in the next age, for example, it is:
• in the sustaining/renewing presence of God (Rev 21:23, 22:5)
• immortal (2Tim 1:10)
• without death (1Cor 15:26; 2Tim 1:10; Rev 20:14)
• without rust and decay (Matt 6:20)
• tied to our relationship with God (John 17:3)
Verses in Bible Gateway
And for what it’s worth, it’s also described as “absolutely-everlasting” [aidios] in 4Macc 10:15 and by the Church Fathers.
BTW, aidios doesn’t mean absolutely-everlasting any more or less than aionios does (check a lexicon, or look at its uses in the Bible). The strongest word for everlasting is “forever” /eis ton aiona/ (used in secular Greek as well as the Bible), or its pluralizations and reduplications (which are, I believe, unique to the LXX and New Testament).
Many people claim that /aion/ is translated forever, but this is an error due to using interlinears or not knowing Greek — /aion/ means age or world, but /eis ton aiona/ means forever.
I agree, “absolutely” was too strong, I should’ve said “much more likely to be”. I had in mind a section of the conclusion of “Terms for Eternity”, I’m not at home so can’t cite it directly by according to https://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/summary-terms-for-eternity-aionios-and-aidios-in-classical-and-christian-texts/:
“We have seen that the term aïdios has its roots in the earliest Greek philosophical vocabulary, and more or less consistently refers to a strictly eternal stretch of time, without beginning or end, or at least endless. This use obtains in later pagan as well as Christian writers. The term aiônios, which seems to have been introduced by Plato and comes into its own in the Scriptures, is more complex…”
Is /eis ton aiona/ the phrase used in 1Tim 1:17? If so I’m not sure it has to mean forever…
http://biblehub.com/interlinear/apostolic/1_timothy/1.htm translates it “to the eons of the eons”
Similarly the ESV footnote for that verse is “to the ages of ages”
Found an article about it here:
Also an essay about it:
I agree that aionios is complex (so I definitely agree it’s not as simple as traditionalists want it to be). But check the 2 uses of aiodios in the NT — neither one actually means enduring forever; one of them contextually means something that won’t endure forever (the chains that bind angels until the judgment). I’d still gloss both as “everlasting”, but it’s kind of interesting… The point being that aidios is really not that much clearer of a word than /aionios/.
/eis ton aiona/ cannot mean “to the age”; that’s what /heos ton aiona/ means, or in Hebrew /ad olam/ (LXX). Check a lexicon (Thayer’s on blueletterbible is free); the rule is that when you’re dealing with time, /eis/ can mean either “approaching” (as in “it was approaching dawn”) or “for” in the sense of complete duration (“for the age”). The English “to” is simply wrong — the interlinears gloss it that way because “to” is the most common gloss of /eis/, not because it’s possible in this context.
The articles you’re pointing to assume that /aion/’s meaning determines /eis ton aiona/’s meaning. This is simply wrong; /eis ton aiona/ gives a specific context to the word that forces its meaning into a narrower subset of its possible meanings. A good lexicon, like BDAG, makes a note of this and documents it (check it, it’s true). The logical derivation of /eis ton aiona/ is pretty simple; its gloss is either “for the age” or “into the world” (BTW it’s used one time in the Bible the latter way), and if “the age” is unspecified it means the eternal age. But as I mentioned, the phrase is used in secular Greek to mean duration without end.
The pluralizations of /eis ton aiona/ seem to come from the Septuagint, and serve to emphasize everlastingness.
There’s one exception. /eis aiona/ (without the /ton/) is rarely used, and may just mean “for an age” (i.e. a lifetime, a long time). A pluralization of that, /eis aionas aionon/ (perhaps “for ages of ages”) is used in Rev 14:9-11 (and nowhere else ever) to describe the duration of the smoke of their torment going up. I wish I knew for sure what to do with that! It seems unfair to insist either that it’s NOT forever, or that it IS forever.
I’ll be candid, though, and tell you my suspicion. I interpret “the smoke of their torment ascends” to mean that the announcement and warning about their future judgment of torment is plainly announced (this is what “smoke going up” means everywhere else it appears — note Sinai’s smoke, Ai’s smoke, Sodom’s smoke, and so on; normally the smoke warns or announces complete destruction). Therefore the duration (of that announcement) would make sense if it were simply for all ages — something that’s been warned about since the beginning of time (but not coeternal with God) and will be known for all ages even after it’s complete.
So you have to go elsewhere in Scripture to prove that life with God is actually eternal! And if you were being consistent you’d agree then it’s OK to go elsewhere in Scripture qualify phrases like “all men to be saved” (e.g. 1 Tim 2)?
I agree that the limited use in the NT is a disadvantage when it comes to translating it. But why don’t you think Rom 1:20 isn’t a suggestive case for aidios? I would’ve thought that, by definition, God’s power and divinity are infinite in duration, and that therefore aidios would be an appropriate way to describe them? My impression of Jude 1:6 was that only the chains are aidios, in that because they’re God’s, they are everlasting in the sense of being indestructible by any created being. However, that God’s free to take them off whenever He pleases.
Unfortunately I don’t know enough Hebrew or Greek to be able to respond properly to this, which is why I was pointing to the ESV translators and David Konstan (co-author of Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts, which is the most comprehensive analysis of these particular words and phrases that I know of—I assumed a more recent, 250 page, analysis “trumps” even a BDAG entry??). Although even if it must be translated “for the age” or “for the ages”, I don’t see that as a problem, as I my impression is that there are multiple ages, and potentially even a timeless space after many ages.
I think that’s possible but “Lord of lords”, “King of kings”, “Holy of holies” implies both superiority of God but also seems that the “lords”, “kings”, “holies”, etc. are actual plurals too (E.g. Lord over all the lords that have ever existed. Holy over and above all the holy things). So when it comes to God “for/to” the “age of ages” or “ages of ages”, I take it to mean God creates, rules, transcends, cares for, all the ages, past, present, and future.
I agree, I’m not dogmatic about it either. However, when I get up to where Burk uses this passage, I’ll provide some reasons why, either way, it’s still compatible with Evangelical Universalism.
I think that sounds like a reasonable interpretation.
Yes, given the ambiguity of olam/aionios, I don’t think they can conclusively prove anything is eternal.
I don’t think 1Tim 2 makes the strongest case for UR, as without immediate parallels (e.g. Rom 5:18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” or all created paralleled with all reconciled in Col 1:15-20), there is room for some ambiguity as you could rightly say that there are instances in the Bible where “all” is used in imprecisely or hyperbolically.
However, looking at the immediate context of 1Tim 2, it seems to be that:
So I’m not surprised that the HCSB translates 1Tim 2:3-4 as:
“This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
And 1Tim 4:10 as:
“In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.
Thank you for your very thorough and honest observations. It is very encouraging!
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Thanks George for your encouraging feedback!
The early church understood that the purpose of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God was the redemption of ALL mankind as well as the restoration of ALL His kingdom (all of creation) to its original condition. There are some scriptures that I must confess give me no small amount of difficulty. On the one hand I see many scriptures that declare that in order to be saved a person must submit himself or herself to the lordship of Christ, believe that He is the Son of God and accept Him and His gift of salvation through grace and faith. However, it has also come to my attention that there are scriptures that declare the principle of universalism.
To quote this belief I will reprint what follows from an article I found on the internet.
“Christian universalism is a belief in the simple Bible truth that Jesus Christ is the “Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.” He is the promised Messiah of whom the prophets of the Old Covenant foresaw. He is the Savior of the world. He is the “Second Adam,” through Whom all mankind will be restored to God’s original image. He is the only way to the Father; the only begotten Son of God, and that there is no other way to everlasting, “aionian,” life but through Him. We believe He is king and judge of the universe, and owner of all Creation, and that His purpose for the ages (aions) is to bring all things under His government and to be reconciled with Himself.
We believe that in His substitutionary death and resurrection He became the “Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.” As Christ Himself said, “If I be lifted up (crucified) I will draw all men to me” (as also prophesied in Psalm 22). His Name is the One before which every man, woman and child, from all of human history will bow before and declare that He is Lord. At that day, the prophesied “restoration of all things” shall come to pass, and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end.
This view is also known as Ultimate reconciliation or Universal Salvation, which is a very different thing than Unitarian Universalism.”
I must confess that this viewpoint seems to be scripturaly based, so for the purpose of this article I will attempt to see if there is evidence that this belief was widespread at the time of the early Church. If so, did this belief contribute to the successful spread of the early Church? I would like to point out something from the statement above. We all know that “every knee will bow,” but did we really note that ALL would confess Him as LORD? Taken literally, this would mean that all persons would accept His lordship.
First, what I would like to point out is that we know that salvation does not depend upon anything a man or woman can do. The way, the truth and the life depends on Jesus Christ alone. Secondly, universalistic belief does not state that all religions lead to heaven. Third, in order for universalism to be scriptural these two principles must be in unity with one another. Given that there is only one Name under heaven by which one must be saved for universalism to be a true tenant of the Bible there must be a scriptural way by which all mankind will be brought to a saving knowledge of Christ. In order for this to be true universalism cannot teach that all mankind is presently saved. Neither can it teach that all unsaved individuals will burn endlessly in Hell. For both these tenants to work we must see if scriptures teach that at some time in the future all creation will be set free and all individuals as well as creation itself will be released from the hold of sin and corruption.
We already know that throughout history the majority of souls on earth have not accepted Jesus Christ for their personal lord and savior. There are many times when we attempt to present the Gospel message to individuals that they will ask if some departed loved one is endlessly burning in a devil’s hell. They realize that if they are saved and the relative was not, they would have drastically different eternal futures. For many years I have struggled with this and thought that the only thing I could say to them was that we don’t know what may or may not have happened between that loved one and the Lord before they slipped away. To be honest I felt that this was a very weak response that truly did not provide much comfort. I have often wished that I could provide a concrete response from the Bible that showed both the love and grace of God along with His sovereign justice. If I could show that universalism was true then I could honestly do just that. The following is what I have found from the Scriptures that seem to prove that my Lord really does have the keys to death and hell. Remember that nothing is impossible for God! Our finite minds cannot encompass the idea of the Trinity of three in One. Perhaps, this is another teaching that we will have trouble getting our minds around. Try to follow these arguments with an open mind while remembering that your mind has been pre-programmed to believe in certain ways. I would take the truth of scripture and leave all other teachings by the wayside.
Can you accept that Jesus Christ is both the Lord of the living and the dead? Do you believe that He has the keys to both death and hell for all those who died in Adam (all humanity)? Doesn’t I Corinthians 15: 22-28 teach that the last enemy to be destroyed will be death itself? Do these same scriptures not say “in Christ shall all be made alive?” It is manifestly true that Christ will subdue all things and all things will be subject to Him.
Perhaps what has caused us difficulty in learning this tenant of scripture is once again a matter of semantics. As we try to lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ we tend to use the word salvation as meaning eternal life. In the early Church people understood salvation to mean “to make whole, to heal, to restore, and to deliver.” (refer to Vine’s or Unger’s Greek translations)
We tend to concentrate so much on winning souls to a heavenly home that we seem to forget that salvation provides as much a blessing in this life as in the next. When a person is saved he or she is endowed with the gifts of the Spirit. Then they too become the salt of the earth, and a light that cannot be hid.
We are as much in eternity now as we will be after death! Why do we evangelize? Is our job as Christians simply to keep people out of hell? I believe that salvation is much more than that. We evangelize so that we can add members to the Kingdom of God, but I dare say that we don’t really understand the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is any rulership of God on the earth.
God has a plan in which we can joyfully participate. If He wanted to save the whole planet and its entire people today what would keep Him from doing so? God is doing things in His way that has an order and a purpose that may be beyond our comprehension. What we do know is that He wants us to participate in His ordered plan by evangelism. Why should we decline to participate in His plan if Christ is really our Lord and Master, and if part of God’s plan is the eventual redemption of all creation? Another thought is why should we bother with evangelism if God will eventually save everyone? Well, for one reason it is a way by which we can participate in God’s Kingdom. It is also the way by which we are personally blessed and by which we can be a blessing to others. God does hold His children accountable for the way in which they participate in His family structure. We don’t need to abide by a heavy legalism, but we are required to live moral and orderly lives.
John Wesley used the term universal redemption, but by the term he meant that salvation was simply made available to all mankind, but not that all mankind would enjoy a heavenly eternity. The rest would spend eternity in hell. On another front John Calvin taught a limited atonement in which only certain individuals were preordained for salvation, and the rest of humanity was foreordained for an eternal hell. You may have been taught these or similar doctrines, but if you adhered to one of these didn’t you actually feel that something was missing? When you read your Bible didn’t these doctrines seem to fall short of what you studied? Both the Old and New Testaments teach that Jesus Christ would and did come to save the world. If He did not accomplish this through His death, burial, and resurrection, then He was a failure in His mission, and He was not the foretold Messiah Who would fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
In the Early Church the believers were taught and accepted universalism. They believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew scriptures. They understood the Greek apocastasis as meaning that through Christ all things would be restored. They believed that the Messiah would restore Israel and save the world, not just a limited part of it. Do you have trouble accepting the fact that Jesus died for everyone? Would you be happy just to know that you were a part of the small number of saved individuals? Would you enjoy heaven so much knowing that loved ones would spend their eternity in a devil’s hell? Have you predetermined that you know the truth of God’s Word, or that you cannot accept anything other than what you have been taught?
Examine the Scriptures that follow with an open mind:
Paul’s writings (see I Corinthians 15:28, 29) show that he did not teach everlasting punishment, but that Christ had won the victory over death and hell.
Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Christ also taught that the Good Shepherd would leave the 99 to seek even one that went astray.
Luke 3:6, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Do you think that Christ accomplished this or will many just see this salvation from the pits of hell? If even one person created in the image of God is lost, then Christ’s victory was only partial. Jesus won the right to keep all that are His, and all creation is His.
John 3:17, “God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” This is a very familiar verse, but do we imagine that Jesus would have gone to the cross knowing that His death would only provide a partial salvation for the world. Jesus accomplished everything that the Father sent Him into the world to accomplish.
John 6:33, “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” Note the word giveth which even in the Greek means bestowed. It does not say that that eternal life is only offered but must be accepted or rejected.
John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” The verse does not declare that He will draw some, or draw the elect, or draw those that choose to be drawn. Jesus said what He meant and meant what He said. All mankind will be drawn to Him.
Matthew 11:27, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The verse says that Christ will reveal Himself to mankind. It would not seem possible that Christ would choose not to reveal Himself to anyone.
John 17 has the real Lord’s Prayer. In this priestly prayer Jesus declared that the Father gave him authority over ALL flesh. The salvation of every person has been predestined. There is no qualification to the word all.
From the cross Jesus said teleo, translated It is finished. By rising from the dead three days later He proved that as Daniel foretold He made an end of sin, reconciled iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness. (Daniel 9:24). His death satisfied divine justice, and the salvation of all men and women was won for eternity. If salvation was not accomplished on the cross, but only made available He could not have said it is finished. The battle would have only begun. See I John 2:2, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
I John 3:5, 8 states that Jesus came to take away sin. He had victory over sin and hell. He destroyed the works of the devil. How could hell continue for eternity along with all lost souls when Revelation 20:14 says that both death and hell were destroyed in the lake of fire. Jesus is the savior of the world not just the few that receive Him during their lifetime on earth. How can there be an eternal separation from Christ when He has the keys of Death and Hell, and He is not willing that any should perish?
How can people be left in hell where the worm dieth not and there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? Revelation 5:13 declares that EVERY creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea will be gathered before the throne of Christ worshipping Him with blessing, power, glory and honor.
Ephesians 1: 9-12 is so clear that there is no need for comment. “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose on him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
If Ephesians 1:22,23 is accurately translated then we must accept that Jesus will one day have ALL THINGS under His submission. If God will fill all existence with His presence it does not leave a place like Hell that will be kept eternally from His presence for eternity. “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.”
Ephesians 4: 8-25 warns the believer that because Christ redeemed all things unto Himself, and even that he first descended before He went back to heaven in order to fulfill all things. Believers should not remain ignorant of the truth that Christ fulfilled all things. Believers are a part of the body that is joined together and compacted unto good works. Believers are to be the perfected saints who work toward unity. The joy of the Christian is that they are enjoined with the work of the ministry of Christ.
God was pleased to reconcile to Himself ALL things. His ultimate goal in sending Christ into the world was to reconcile everything to Himself. Nothing is capable of hindering the will of God. (see Colossians 1:19,20 and Ephesians 1:11)
I have heard it said many times, and even taught that God receives all the glory either through sinners accepting the work of Christ, or that He would be glorified in His righteous judgment against the unrepentant. I must confess that I always felt that eternal damnation was a very weak way for God to be glorified. God knew from before time that man would be condemned by sin. He sent forth His Son not to condemn, but that the world through Christ might be saved. Christ taught that grace involved paying the workers equally no matter what time they joined in the labor. There is reward for Christians that labor in the fields that are ready to harvest, but the real glory of Christ is in complete redemption. I Timothy 2: 3-6 says, “This is good, and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.”
Listen to these statements and see if you to recognize the false and the true: 1. God desires all people to be saved, but He can’t save anyone except those who are willing to be saved. What kind of lifeguard would only rescue those that believe that he was capable of their salvation? 2. God has two wills. He expressly says that it is His will for all people to be saved, but secretly He doesn’t want everyone to be saved, only the elect that He chooses out of billions. Thus He will be glorified in the condemnation of billions of souls to Hell for eternity. 3. God wants all men to be saved, so He sent His Son to pay the penalty for their sin so that all mankind will be redeemed.
I Timothy 4: 9,10, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” Where do you find in verses like this that only some people will be redeemed?
The Bible teaches that the sin against the Holy Ghost is the unpardonable sin. I have always taught that the interpretation of this verse is that if a person died before accepting Christ as his Lord and Savior there would never be any hope of his being saved. Could this interpretation be incorrect? I Peter 3:19 tells us that Christ presented the Gospel to the spirits in prison. The next verse even tells us that this preaching was to those that were destroyed in the Great Flood. When Christ spoke of His death on the cross did He say, “If I am lifted up I will try to draw all men to myself, or did He say I will draw a few out of billions unto myself?” No, He said, “I will draw all men to myself.”
Please do not make the mistake of thinking God does not punish sin. On many occasions His chosen people were punished. Some paid the ultimate penalty, others died in captivity, and the Jews were dispersed throughout the world. God did send the Flood to destroy all but eight souls on the ark. There are many teachings about the wages of sin, but what I have noted is that in every case God ultimately redeems His people. Do I believe in a literal Hell? Yes, I do. If it was not a reality I do not believe that Jesus Christ would have said so.
Job 5: 17-19 says, “Happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles, yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.” David said under holy inspiration, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10) “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) I don’t know how God will do it, but I believe Isaiah 1:25 when it says, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? Micah wrote, “He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.” (7:18)
The Lord uses punishment not for the sake of punishment itself, but only for correction and redemption. He is compared to the refiner’s fire and a laundress’s soap. God wants us to accept His purification and refinement as an act of His love for us. God is the righteous judge of the universe, but His grace is greater than any sin. He is willing to take our penalty upon Himself.
Does the Bible teach a doctrine of eternal punishment? Yes, that can be found in the Bible (see Matthew 7:23), but beside that doctrine can be found many passages that speak of a universal salvation. I do not know how both can be true, but there are many things about God that are beyond my feeble mind to comprehend. I will continue to try to lead others to a saving knowledge of Christ, and trust the rest to the Almighty. Just because I cannot understand does not mean that the truth is not before my eyes. Perhaps at some time in the future I will come to grips with both doctrines. At present, my only way of explanation would be that there could be some fault in the translation that I am so fond of using, or that the thing simply escapes my ability to comprehend.
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Thanks for commenting! You’ve obviously given this a lot of thought Laurence, and there’s a lot of overlap in our thinking 🙂
Regarding Matthew 7:23, as it is impossible for an eternal, all-knowing God to have never known someone, I take this as evidence that the verse is hyperbole―still a serious warning but not an absolute statement of eternal punishment.
I will try to make comment on the verses which have been purported in this blog to go against ultimate reconcilliation.
Therefore wait ye upon – (for) Me God so willeth not to punish, but that all should lay hold of His mercy, that He doth not here even name punishment. Judah had slighted His mercies; He was ready to forgive all they had sinned, if they would “now” receive instruction; they in return set themselves to corrupt “all” their doings. They had wholly forsaken Him. “Therefore” – we should have expected, as elsewhere, “Therefore I will visit all your iniquities upon you.” But not so. The chastisement is all veiled; the prophet points only to the mercy beyond. “Therefore wait ye for Me.” All the interval of chastisement is summed up in these words; that is, since neither My mercies toward you, nor My chastisement of others, lead you to obey Me, “therefore” the time shall be, when My Providence shall not seem to be over you, nor My presence among you (see Hos_3:3-5); but then, “wait ye for Me” earnestly, intensely, perseveringly, “until the day, that I rise up to the prey.” “The day” is probably in the first instance, the deliverance from Babylon. But the words seem to be purposely enlarged, that they may embrace other judgments of God also.
For the words to “gather the nations, assemble the kingdoms,” describe some array of nations against God and His people; gathering themselves for their own end at that time, but, in His purpose, gathering themselves for their own destruction, rather than the mere tranquil reunion of those of different nations in the city of Babylon, when the Medes and Persians came against them. Nor again are they altogether fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, or any other event until now. For although then a vast number of the dispersed Jews were collected together, and were at that time “broken off” Rom_11:20 and out of covenant with God, they could hardly be called “nations,” (which are here and before Zeph. 5:6 spoken of in contrast with Judah), much less “kingdoms.” In its fullest sense the prophecy seems to belong to the same events in the last struggle of Anti-Christ, as at the close of Joel Joe_3:2, Joe_3:9-16 and Zechariah Zech. 14.
With this agrees the largeness of the destruction; “to pour out upon them,” in full measure, emptying out so as to overwhelm them, “Mine indignation, even all My fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy” (see Psa_69:24; Psa_79:6; Jer_6:11; Jer_10:25; Jer_14:16; Eze_21:31; Rev_16:1). The outpouring of all God’s wrath, the devouring of the whole earth, in the fullest sense of the words, belongs to the end of the world, when He shall say to the wicked, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” In lesser degrees, and less fully, the substance of the prophecy has again and again been fulfilled to the Jewish Church before Christ, at Babylon and under the Maccabees; and to the Christian, as when the Muslims hemmed in Christendom on all sides, and the waves of their conquests on the east and west threatened to meet, overwhelming Christendom. The Church, having sinned, had to “wait” for a while “for God” who by His Providence withdrew Himself, yet at last delivered it.
And since the whole history of the Church lies wrapt up in the Person of the Redeemer, “the day that I rise up to the prey,” is especially the Day in which the foundation of His Church was laid, or that in which it shall be completed; the Day whereon He rose again, as the first-fruits, or that Day in which He shall “stand again on the earth” , to judge it; “so coming even as He went up into heaven” Act_1:11. Then, “the prey” must be, what God vouch-safes to account as His gain, “the prey” which is “taken from the mighty” Isa_49:24-25, and “the lawful captivity, the prey of the terrible one,” which shall be delivered; even that spoil which the Father bestowed on Him “Who made His soul an offering for sin” Isa_53:10, Isa_53:12, the goods of the strong man Mat_12:29 whom He bound, and spoiled us, His lawful goods and captives, since we had “sold” (Rom_7:14, coll; Isa_50:1; Isa_52:3) ourselves “under sin” to him. Cyril: “Christ lived again having spoiled hell, because “it was not possible” (as it is written) “that He,” being by nature Life, “should be holden of death” Act_2:24.
Here, where spoken of with relation to the Church, “the jealousy” of Almighty God is that love for His people (see the note at Nah_1:2), which will not endure their ill-treatment by those who (as all anti-Christian power does) make themselves His rivals in the government of the world.
Heb 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
Heb 6:2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
Heb 6:3 And this will we do, if God permit.
Heb 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
Heb 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
Heb 6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
What must be taken into account is the entire portion of scripture, not simply verse 2. What the passage is declaring is that persons who accept the Kingdom of God and the Lordship of Christ cannot be returned to their former estate. This would be like saying, “If I make myself wings and fly up to heaven and then pick up a heavy rock I would no longer be able to fly.” No one would assume from this that I actually made such wings, that there was a literal rock to pick up, or that I could no longer fly. Hebrews 6:1 says that because of the doctrine of Christ (which is repentance and restoration) goes on to perfection (we can only be perfected in Christ) then we would not go back to the foundation of our repentance to faith toward God. Verse two continues the argument so that baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment are included with (verse 3) what we would do “if God permit.” Simply stated, the verses are telling us that this is impossible.
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Adam Clark has this to say, “how many preachers are there who appear prophets in their pulpits; how many writers, and other evangelical workmen, the miracles of whose labor, learning, and doctrine, we admire, who are nothing, and worse than nothing, before God, because they perform not his will, but their own? What an awful consideration, that a man of eminent gifts, whose talents are a source of public utility, should be only as a way-mark or finger-post in the way to eternal bliss, pointing out the road to others, without walking in it himself!”
The verse is a warning to those that preach the Gospel that they should also live by the Gospel. The consequence would be that they would receive condemnation from the Lord. There is no indication that such condemnation would be an eternal reward. As I have said before the purpose of judgment or condemnation is not to separate a person from God for eternity, but as a refiner’s fire or a fuller’s soap. If eternal punishment were the case God would not have sent His Son into the world. Scripture makes it plain when it says, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” I do not see how we can get around the salvation of the world, and say that the majority of that world will never be saved throughout all eternity.
It is also true that the Bible clearly teaches the aions of time, where our Bible substitutes eternity. Aions have a beginning and an end – that is not the definition of eternal. Check out the one place in the Bible that speaks of eternal punishment, Matthew 25:46. Look up the actual word used in the Greek and you will find that it is aionios. Vine defines this as describing “duration, either undefined but not endless, as in Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; or undefined because endless as in Romans 16:26, and the other sixty-six places in the NT.” Obviously, Romans 16:26 is speaking of our eternal God, which is an entirely different matter.
//It is also true that the Bible clearly teaches the aions of time, where our Bible substitutes eternity.//
No, that is not true; it’s false. There’s one verse teaching about “ages to come”; all of the others teach about an endless age of messianic rule, and about many ages at present all combined into one pre-messianic age. So your claim that we should believe in “aions of time” as clearly taught and consider “forever” to be dubious is exactly backward.
It would be fair to claim that traditionalists should _prove_ their case for each appearance of ‘aion’, and not just assume it; since you are correct that ‘aion’ by itself CAN mean a lifetime (in secular Greek usually it means the time of a king’s rule). However, you’re ignoring the fact that the expression translated “forever” is actually three Greek words, not just the one word “aion” — and it means unending time in secular Greek as well as in the Bible.
//Aions have a beginning and an end – that is not the definition of eternal.//
False. Luke 1:33 is one example of an explicitly never-ending aion.
//Check out the one place in the Bible that speaks of eternal punishment, Matthew 25:46. Look up the actual word used in the Greek and you will find that it is aionios. Vine defines this//
Vine defines it as everlasting, without end; so I don’t know why you cited him. However, with that said, I agree with you that this is NOT an unambiguous verse, and that it’s the only verse that speaks about “eternal punishment”. For that reason, although I think this verse DOES mean everlasting punishment, I don’t insist it _proves_ it.
I cited Vine because this is what I found: 1. Aion – “an aage” is translated “eternal” in Eph. 3:11.lit, “(purpose) of the ages” m(marg), and 1 tim. 1:17, lit “(king) of the ages” (marg.). See AGE.
2. anionios – “describes duration, either undefined but not endless, as in Rom. 16:25; 2Tim 1:9; Titus 1:2; or undefined because endless as in Rom. 16:26, and the other sixty-six places in the NT.
“The predominant meaning of aionios, that in which it is used everywhere in the NT,save the places noted above, may be seen in 2 Cor. 4:18, where it is set in contrast with proskairos, lit, ‘for a season’,and in Philem 15, where only in the NT it is used without a noun.
From other references I can only see that what you said is three words is only two: an article and the word anionios.
This is such an important issue, and as it seems you have quite a background in Greek, perhaps you can enlighten me further?
My desire is to see The Creator as One who is above every other concern desirous of fulfilling Scripture such as: 1Co_15:28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
If it is God’s will to send His Son to be the Second Adam and to restore humanity and all creation, why would it be arranged that only a handful of humanity would actually benefit from the sacrifice of God’s Son? “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” I take words like ALL and THE WORLD to mean just what they say.
My take on this is that the church (perhaps the Roman church) had a desire to place the “fear of hell” and “endless torment” in the minds of people so they could have controlling power over them. This idea seems to have been carried through the Reformation into the thinking of what we call the modern church.
Please help me understand.
//From other references I can only see that what you said is three words is only two: an article and the word anionios.//
The phrase I’m describing that means “forever” when expressing time in classical Greek (as well as ancient and modern) is /eis ton aiona/. (Because /aiona/ can mean “world” instead of “age”, the phrase when used with a verb of physical movement or direction more commonly means “in [or into] the world”, and passages like Psalm 73:12 (in the LXX) use the contrast between the meanings very effectively — the initial reading suggests that the author thinks the wicked prosper forever, but the gloss “in the world” fits correctly with the context, since the author is complaining that they die without being judged.)
Note that ‘aiona’ here is not the same word as ‘aionios’ — the extra ‘i’ toward the end makes it a different word.
//My desire is to see The Creator as One who is above every other concern desirous of fulfilling Scripture such as: 1Co_15:28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.//
I believe God _will_ fulfill all of scripture, not just the parts he “desires above all to fulfill”. So you and I agree that for all things God will be all in all my means of those things submitting to Christ. But one of those “all things” in your reading is death, right? That’s right there in the context. And when death is put under Christ’s feet it’s annulled, destroyed, is no more. In order for God to be all in all, death is destroyed; and I believe Matthew 13:41 (the interpretation of the parable of the tares) says that evildoers will be burned up with all causes of stumbling, showing that God’s promised means of freeing the cosmos to be one with Him is to destroy stumbling blocks, evildoers, and death all together.
This is why Col 1, which many people take to be a prediction of universal salvation, calls itself a “warning” (Col 1:28) — the message is that although “the all-things” is redeemed, Christ is restoring it by means of moving people OUT of the “domain of darkness” and into “the kingdom of the beloved son”, specifically into the church of which Christ is the head. Thus the warning is lest anyone not be part of the church, and the kingdom, and thus be left out of the restored universe once the renewal is complete.
This is why the great apokatastasis of Acts 3:21 is followed by Acts 3:23 – “And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.”
This is the amazing offer of the gospel. Moses never dreamed he would live forever; he asked God only to use “the work of our hands” in His eternal plans (Psalm 90). But Christ has brought to light immortality — even though we’re mortal, and we sin, and we know that everyone who sins deserves to die (Rom 1:32), God extends grace to us, completely without obligation on either side — for the first time, and in the only way available to us, each of us chooses whether we will live, or whether we will die. If you walk according to the flesh you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live. Not just metaphorically, but in reality, the spirit will quicken your mortal body, and the entire cosmos which has groaned under slavery to corruption will be transformed at the revelation of the inheritance of the sons of God (Rom 8, of course).
There’s no corner of the cosmos in which beings slowly transform from good to evil. There’s no evil at all once the inheritance is revealed and hope is realized (and is no longer something you can call “hope”). No place for suffering, whether everlasting or purgatorial.
//“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” I take words like ALL and THE WORLD to mean just what they say.//
That’s an excerpt from John 3. Read the rest. God didn’t have to send His son to condemn the world — the word condemns itself through men’s dark hearts. Whoever doesn’t believe in Christ is condemned already; not newly condemned for unbelief, but revealed as condemned by their preexisting hatred of the light. Then read all of John 5; whoever believes will never be condemned. Belief in Christ saves us from the resurrection to condemnation, and saves us TO the resurrection of life.
There is only one condemnation: the sentence of death. There is only one salvation: salvation from condemnation. The ones who see condemnation will not enter life; the ones who enter life will not see condemnation. This, then, is the framework in which Matthew 25:46 is unambiguous. When the wicked “go to aionian punishment”, they go away from aionian life. They will not enter it. This also explains why Jesus’ taught the Sadducees that “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead” are the ones who cannot die.
So do you believe that Christ is a catastrophic failure to accomplish what the Father sent Him into the world to do? That He only has the almighty power to save a small portion of humanity? That is those who are willing? Christ is omnipotent. His will and the Father’s are one. I believe His grace is sufficient for all, not just those who follow a magical formula. Salvation doesn’t depend on me or anyone. Christ is saviour and Redeemed and nothing can change that. Whether I believe or not doesn’t change what He is. I believe you are repeating what you were told rather than finding out for yourself.
I’m disappointed that you’d consider it appropriate to respond by belittling Christ as He’s been revealed to me. You might want to rethink that way of approaching people for the purpose of persuasion. I believe I have a responsibility to study the Bible and believe what I find. I do not have a responsibility to answer people who try to guilt-manipulate me by pretending they know something allegedly better about God than what I’ve found in the Bible.
I’m open to persuasion on the philosophical front rather than just the Biblical front; so if you really think my view of man and God leads to a problem I’m willing to listen; but you’ll have to explain more than pretending I believe Christ is a “catastrophic failure.” I don’t.
I do not mean to belittle you. What I need is Biblical proof that your position is correct. I have seen too many preachers who simply pass along what they were taught. I simply cannot understand why Christ would not be considered a failure if He could not accomplish the task for which He gave up the glories with the Father when it seems clear that the task was the salvation of mankind and the restoration of creation from the corruption of sin. I still believe that the early apostolic church did not hold these views, and that the idea of eternal hell only came about when the pope commissioned Jerome to write the Bible in a fashion that would allow the church to not only hold power over the people with the fear of eternal hell, but also make a fortune. In addition, I believe that these ideas were perpetuated through the Reformation into the churches that we have today. I have been condemned on many occasions for the position I hold, so I guess I felt that you were doing the same. Rather than belittling Christ I believe I hold Him in a much higher position than the vast majority. I see Him as accomplishing so much more than most people understand. I would never consider Him a failure in any way, shape, or form.
I respect your desire for Biblical proof. And perhaps I was a little oversensitive to your statements about Jesus… I understand how you’ve been mistreated merely for believing what people in all ages of the Church have believed.
I’m not really here to prove my position; I’m here to clearly state it, and to explore other positions. I don’t really expect to persuade anyone; merely to help them understand what conditionalism actually is.
The argument that <> is as interesting as the argument <> It’s an absurd extreme that assumes evidence not presented.
When you previously presented subverses discussing “not to condemn the world” I answered by referring to context and expanding to discuss more context. That’s the evidence, and it’s how we should be discussing this.
Perhaps I misunderstood your purpose for the blog. What exactly is conditionalism? I take it that is not situational ethics. How is conditionalism related to the difference between ultimate reconciliation versus eternal punishment for unrepentant? It seemed to me that you hold some agreement with me.
(I’m sorry about the funny angle-brace markup — I used those as quotes, and the blog deleted my words because I shouldn’t use angle braces (and I don’t remember what I wrote).)
Yes, conditionalism is a view of hell; it’s contrasted against universalism and the conventional view that some call “infernalism” or “incarcerationism.”
The short explanation of conditionalism is the two words “conditional immortality”, or in a phrase, that I believe our sin earns us death; and God’s salvation is a gift of life (as well as many rewards).
The long explanation:
Conditionalism — or in full, “conditional immortality” — is the belief that humans are created mortal and cannot survive death; that in fact the consequence of sin is simply death, not torment or suffering. No amount of suffering can atone for sins; only death is the consequence. It’s not even a punishment (although of course it’s punitive when the sin that caused it is pointed out and clearly the fault of the person); it’s just the result.
And what is death? Death is the termination, extinction of the person. If there’s an intermediate state (a contestable point, although I lean towards “probably yes”), then it’s a postponement of complete death — what death _means_ to a person is shown by what death means to a dead body. This is precisely the comparison made for Adam when God explains death in Genesis 3:19,22: it means “you [personally] will return to dust,” and that sinful man can not live forever. When a body dies, it is normally followed by the body decaying until the body eventually ceases to exist by turning into dirt. This is therefore like what happens when a person (AKA a soul) dies; and Eccl 3:18 teaches that what we see in death is intended by God to be a lesson for us. Moses, in Psalm 90, took that lesson and asked of God only to be part of God’s plans, since only in that way would he be able to endure in any sense (clearly, neither Moses nor the author of Ps 103 expected to live forever).
God is just; therefore God will judge all sins, and sinners will know their guilt, and be ashamed of it (see Ecclesiastes 12 and Job 21 for some philosophical background). But this won’t reverse the consequence of death; the resurrection of the wicked needed to do this is _not_ a resurrection to life (and is always kept Biblically distinct from that), but only a resurrection to judgment. This distinction should not be automatically be assumed to be cruel or vindictive; justice is a gift to the people who were harmed, and worthy for its own sake. Even Hitler deserves justice against those who sinned against him.
It’s in this context, the understanding of death, that the offer of the gospel shines most clearly. Even the people with the most atrocious sins are, in the gospel, offered an exception to the rule; by participating in Christ’s death, we also receive a share in His resurrection and in everlasting life. At Christ’s appearing, in one moment, those who belong to Christ will be transformed from corruptible to incorruptible, given glory, honor, and immortality by God’s gift of eternal life. At that instant, the saying is brought to pass: “death is swallowed up in victory.”
As you can see, the two of us share many common beliefs. A Biblical universalist will affirm almost all of these things, although they’ll put very different stresses on them and display them in a very different order — with the final major difference that the universalist will agree with the traditionalist that the wages of sin is not death in the sense Genesis 3 explains, but rather that the wages of sin are paid out in suffering, like the torment in Revelation 14:10. In the end, universalism and incarcerationism agree that nobody finally dies.
I would assume that these verses go along with your position:
Rev_2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
Rev_20:6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Rev_20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Rev_21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
From what I gather you believe that a physical death results in the body returning to dust, and that the second death is a spiritual death of the soul with ultimate annilation. IF a person accepts Christ’s sacrificial death their soul will not be subject to the second death? In that case Christ will only draw all men unto Himself IF they make the decision to allow Him to save them. This would mean that Christ is NOT the savior of all, but only has the ability to save those that make this personal decision. Isn’t this the same thing that churches have used that I call “Turn or burn philosophy?”
Personally, I do not believe that this was the understanding of those in the early apostolic church at all. I believe this philosophy was promoted by the pope when Jerome was comissioned to translate scriptures, and has been inculcated into church structure ever since. It is a highly successful tactic which allows people to believe they are better than all those that did not make it like they did. It raises lots of money to build institutions, large buildings, send missionaries, as well as give a sense of “rightness” to war against savages like the American Indians, and the heathen (all those who are not Christian).
I do believe that we need to make a personal decision to follow Christ as our Lord. This places us in His Kingdom rather than in the kingdoms of this earth. People should be brought to Christ and His Kingdom through the message of love and grace, and the redemption that was provided through His sacrificial death and perfect atonement for sin. Understanding the glorious nature of Christ has given me a new and wonderful love for my Savior. Now more than ever I want to be an effective servant. But as far as making Christ a person’s personal savior through some formula of prayer and supplication because of fear eternal torture in hell no longer makes any sense to me. Neither can I understand how total obliteration of billions of souls in the second death could make my Lord any more glorious.
//From what I gather you believe that a physical death results in the body returning to dust, and that the second death is a spiritual death of the soul with ultimate annilation. IF a person accepts Christ’s sacrificial death their soul will not be subject to the second death?//
That’s an OK summary, although I don’t believe in decisional regeneration — we’re not born again by making a decision, but rather by our participation in the means of grace, which also convey the union with Christ’s death which allows us to also participate in His resurrection. I’m not saying this to pinpoint a theological distinction, but rather to point out a commonality between me and almost all of the church until very recently: the means of grace given out at the church to the penitent truly produce a change in them. This change is participation in eternal life, and Biblically, that change in us enables us to be resurrected in a way that’s otherwise never stated to be possible.
So anyhow, that’s what I believe. Maybe I’m wrong; that’s a systematic doctrine, not a direct Biblical quote; but you asked what I believe.
//In that case Christ will only draw all men unto Himself IF they make the decision to allow Him to save them.//
No. Christ was speaking in that passage to Greek God-fearers, and just as He always had prior to the Great Commission, He gave them signs and compassion, but did not teach them because they were not His sheep — he was sent to Israel, and until His death/lifting up, His ministry was not to them. His teaching there was a promise that there was an event that had to happen before He would teach them (through the apostles); and having made that promise, He went and hid Himself (John 12:36).
But there’s more. In the same passage Jesus says: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” This is a consistent theme, that what we are making a choice about is our _lives_, not merely a level of discomfort or shame. Matthew 10 and Luke 12, parallel texts, make the same basic statement, but elaborate it to much greater depth: what men threaten missionaries with is what man face when they abandon Christ, _death_. The difference in those chapters between the death faced by the Christian minister and the one who abandons Christ is that God will enforce His verdicts, while man cannot enforce his. But God’s ultimate verdict is materially the same as man’s ultimate verdict — to take life.
//This would mean that Christ is NOT the savior of all,//
This does not mean Christ has already rescued everyone; we know that from common everyday experience. Non-universalists interpret this to mean that Christ is the only savior any person can possibly call on; their (my) interpretation of this is strengthened by Paul’s use of this verse in its context to encourage us to Christlike behavior and solid church organization.
//but only has the ability to save those that make this personal decision.//
This, right now, IS Christ’s mighty power. It’s not only our glorious inheritance, but also what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might. He’s not lacking in ability to save — but this is how He saves.
//Isn’t this the same thing that churches have used that I call “Turn or burn philosophy?”//
I don’t know — is it? Sounds accurate to me, but you’re the one who calls it that. If it is the same thing, is that a problem? Do you think it’s unfaithful to the apostolic teaching to be warning everyone?
//Personally, I do not believe that this was the understanding of those in the early apostolic church at all.//
I understand that you believe that, and I respect it for the Biblical reasons you’ve given — although I think they’re easily countered by their own context. But after the Biblical authors (which I believe are better explained otherwise), and aside from quotes of those authors, the first time we see universalism in the apostolic church is Clement of Alexandria, and he’s often considered a proto-universalist who merely laid the philosophical groundwork rather than one who actually believed it (although it’s impossible to tell at this historical distance); Origen, at any rate, took up universalism from his philosophy and preached it strongly, finding a receptive audience among the elders of Alexandria and elsewhere.
COULD it be that this points to universalism more broadly? It’s possible, but when we examine other writers, we find strong support for the other two views in widely respected writers in different locations (Tertullian and Irenaeus representing unambiguous eternal torment and conditionalism at equally early dates and influence), suggesting that the three emerged alongside one another in the very early church — and of course the still earlier Justin Martyr seems to slip between eternal torment and conditionalism depending on what his topic is (with some possibility he converted in the time between his First and Second Apologies).
//I believe this philosophy was promoted by the pope when Jerome was comissioned to translate scriptures, and has been inculcated into church structure ever since.//
I have no doubt Jerome wanted to insert eternal torment, as did his contemporary Augustine; but ECT was present in the “Old Latin” translations before that (IMO the Latin translation of Rev 14:9-11 shared by the Old Latin and the Vulgate is misleading in favor of eternal torment — and yes, I read ancient Latin, due to a wasteful whim during college).
//It is a highly successful tactic which allows people to believe they are better than all those that did not make it like they did.//
So long as there’s ANY judgment and ANY negative verdict at all, people will hold themselves up as special examples of people to be ruled in favor of. In spite of the fact that Romans 2 makes it clear that people who KNOW about the upcoming judgment have a special responsibility to live and judge righteously now.
So what? The fact that a belief has possible negative consequences doesn’t mean it’s false. As you well know, traditionalists keep pretending that the potential negative consequence that people won’t fear hell will make people not want to turn to the gospel. Your argument here is merely a mirror of their fallacy, and no more likely to be true.
//It raises lots of money to build institutions, large buildings, send missionaries, as well as give a sense of “rightness” to war against savages like the American Indians, and the heathen (all those who are not Christian).//
That’s a motivated misreading of the motives of historical figures in a wide spectrum of beliefs (and disbeliefs) across a wide time and in many backgrounds as though all of them were motivated to a common wickedness merely by their ignorance of your universalism. You’re also ignoring all of the great sacrifices that have been made in order to bring the gospel to people, by traditionalists.
//I do believe that we need to make a personal decision to follow Christ as our Lord. This places us in His Kingdom rather than in the kingdoms of this earth.//
It’s the Father’s work that delivers us from the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of the believed son, not a mere decision. And Paul then warns us to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel — apart from which we will not be presented holy and blameless and above reproach before him.
//People should be brought to Christ and His Kingdom through the message of love and grace, and the redemption that was provided through His sacrificial death and perfect atonement for sin.//
Amen! It’s absurd to use the fear of hell as an evangelistic message. Why? Because people who don’t trust God have no reason to believe Him when He says there’s a hell. It’s _absurd_ to make your evangelism contingent on convincing people of eternal torment. Better to make it contingent on reminding people of their own mortality, and informing them of the power of God that raised Christ from the dead.
The Bad News of the gospel is old news: we’re all going to die. The Good News is what’s new: Go’d given us the means by which we can live.
//Neither can I understand how total obliteration of billions of souls in the second death could make my Lord any more glorious.//
Why would you ever think anyone thinks it would make God glorious? Aren’t you even a little worried about making a strawman of someone else’s beliefs?
Do you hold to a systematic theology, or some sort of guide to scriptural interpretation? I seem to get the feeling that your desire is for the most part the position of a literalist. So am I. I would really like to read up on your theology. The way it is we are going back and forth with my misinterpretation of your statements.
Obviously, you and I have some points of common interest. I got into universalism through contact with Tentmakers, and it seemed to make sense, but I want assurance because for many years I held the traditional views.
What is right is important!
It sounds like we DO have a lot in common!
I love systematic theology, and I do hold to one… But I find most of them to be remote and based on excessively long chains of reasoning. To me, the best theology is one that’s in close contact with the Bible, as its “ground truth”. Of course, the Bible is NOT a systematic document; so it’s unavoidable that systematic theologies won’t be Biblical at EVERY point. We should be measuring our theologies based on how far they get from “ground truth” — an actual element that’s known to be true from the Bible.
I don’t know how well I’d measure on “literal” — I used to take everything more literally than I do now. I definitely don’t take Revelation to be describing a literal 7-headed beast, so when that beast is “tormented forever and ever” I have no problem admitting I don’t think anything is really tormented forever and ever, even though that’s the literal meaning.
What theology do you hold in esteem? I like my Bible without commentary, but with lots of cross references.
My favorite systematician is Calvin, although IMO he went too far in some things, for example his view of human wickedness as a constant deliberate and hated affront to God, and I think that was largely driven by the nature of hell as he pictured it.
Nowadays I spend more time reading Walton and Wright — Walton’s NIVAC Commentary on Job magnificently pictures the way the ancient literature works, and Wright’s “Resurrection of the Son of God” is a very good survey over a very broad corpus that point out exactly what the ancient Christians meant when they said that Jesus is risen.