Summary of Walls’ Response to Burk’s ECT

I spent 11 posts carefully engaging Denny Burk’s entire case for Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. I’ve also summarised Stackhouse’s and Parry’s responses. The remaining co-contributor is Jerry Walls, who wrote a case for Purgatory.

Walls and Burk
Walls and Burk

Walls views hell as “eternal, conscious misery” and acknowledges that he broadly agrees with Burk’s exegesis. Although, unlike Burk, he notes that:

the biblical case for eternal hell [isn’t] decisive by itself, and in fact, I think both advocates of conditional immortality and universalism can make impressive exegetical cases for their views. But it is clear where the overwhelming consensus lies in the history of theology, and that is why I think the burden of proof remains on those who reject the traditional doctrine of hell as conscious, eternal misery.

Jerry Walls, page 55

I think Walls makes some helpful suggestions:

the debate must focus more on larger theological, philosophical, moral, and aesthetic issues and assess the various competing positions in light of these criteria. These issues should not be set in contrast to exegetical considerations, of course, nor is giving them their due an alternative to sound exegesis. To the contrary, these issues inevitably arise out of exegetical claims and conclusions, and they must be central to the conversation as we argue our case for whose exegesis is finally most convincing.

Jerry Walls, page 55

In light of this, Walls focuses on the larger issues that Burk mentioned:

[Many people] can hardly comprehend how [ECT] can be reconciled with the ways of a just and loving God.

Denny Burk, page 17

Like Stackhouse, Parry, and myself, Walls is concerned with the Burk’s view of justice and love in relation to ECT. First he looks at whether Burk’s parable proves ECT is just. He acknowledges that the parable shows that there is some relationship between the worth of a victim and the guilt of a perpetrator, but like Parry and myself, he sees problems:

there is profound disanalogy in the parable that undermines the central point he wants to establish … [as] we do not have the power to do anything to God that is remotely analogous to the harm the character in the parable inflicts on helpless creatures

Jerry Walls, page 56

Walls points out that Burk’s “sin against an infinitely glorious being is an infinitely heinous offense that is worthy of an infinitely heinous punishment” has well known defenders. However, Walls is very skeptical that it actually holds up because:

the notion of infinity is a difficult one, to put it mildly, and it is far from clear how infinity in one thing entails infinity in another that bears some sort of relation to it.

Jerry Walls, page 56

Walls gives a good example to illustrate that, before explaining the significance:

I am dubious that Burk has made the case that eternal hell as he conceives it is just.

Jerry Walls, page 56

Walls continues considering justice. He says it’s unclear where Burk stands on human freedom, responsibility, and guilt, and whether God gives each and every person equal grace, opportunity, and mercy. He notes that Burk doesn’t believe in postmortem salvation, and that this makes things harder as:

it certainly appears that many people have far more and better opportunities to hear the gospel and accept it in this life than many others who are less fortunate. The person who is raised in a loving family that regularly attends a healthy Bible-believing church, let’s say, has far more opportunity than a person raised in a slum whose mother is a prostitute and whose father is a violent drug dealer. Suppose the latter is exposed only to a garbled view of the gospel, which he rejects, and he is later killed as a teenager by a street gang. If the opportunity to receive Christ ends with death, it appears this person had little, if any, meaningful chance to receive grace and be saved. …

The notion that the opportunity to repent is over at death is hard enough to defend as a matter of justice … But it is impossible to square with the claim that God truly loves all persons and sincerely prefers the salvation of all. I do not think the Bible teaches that the opportunity to repent ends at death, and the reasons that have traditionally been given to support this claim are dubious. … If God, whose mercy endures forever, is not willing that any should perish, but that all will come to repentance, wishes to extend his grace after death, he is certainly capable of enabling sinners to repent …

Jerry Walls, page 57-58

I love Walls’ next point about Justice:

Is hell somehow necessary to demonstrate God’s justice? Does God need eternal hell fully to glorify himself? Assuming Burk affirms substitutionary atonement, was God’s justice not sufficiently demonstrated in the death of Christ?

Jerry Walls, page 57-58

Walls now moves on to questions about Burk view of God’s love. He wonders whether Burk thinks God really loves each and every sinner, and does everything within His power to save them. Walls thinks we get mixed messages from Burk―that sometimes he makes statements like this:

If his mercy was big enough and wide enough to include you, is it not sufficient for your neighbor as well?

Denny Burk, page 43

This sounds like he means to say there is grace sufficient to save all persons so that those who end up in hell do so because they have persistently rejected grace that was available to save them.

Jerry Walls, page 59

Another example is Burk’s quote of Spurgeon, which Walls’ discusses:

Does he believe God loves all fallen sinners with a heart of true compassion as suggested in the lines from Spurgeon? Or does he believe only that we should exert this sort of effort to win them to Christ, but that God may not love them in the same way? If so, this puts us in the ironic situation of loving these sinners more than God does.

But again, ironically, on Spurgeon’s own theology, God could give all such sinners his irresistible grace that would determine them gladly, joyfully, and most freely to come to Christ. And if they persist in going to hell, it is because he did not favor them with such grace. … For theological determinists, human freedom is no barrier to salvation for anyone God is willing to save.

Jerry Walls, page 59

But that at other times Walls notes that Burk sounds like a determinist, a position Walls is very critical of, for example:

the doctrine of hell is morally indefensible, given theological determinism. … Does [Burk] believe God is glorified in giving irresistible grace to some, while damning others who are not given such grace, and who consequently cannot do other than sin and disobey God? Is this what he means when he says

“the existence of hell serves to demonstrate eternally the glory of God’s justice in his judgment on sin”?

… But how can it be said with a straight face that God loves persons from whom he withholds the saving grace

Jerry Walls, page 57

Walls admits that ECT is a difficult doctrine for everyone but thinks it’s slightly easier if people are only in hell because they really, really don’t want to ever have anything to do with God―even despite God giving them postmortem opportunities because of His neverending, genuine love for them.

Summary of Parry’s Response to Burk’s ECT

I spent 11 posts carefully engaging Denny Burk’s entire case for Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. I’m now summarising the responses of the co-contributors―my last post was Stackhouse’s―now for Robin Parry’s Universalist response.

Parry and Burk
Parry and Burk

Before raising his concerns, Parry commends Burk for the clear, biblical case for judgment, followed by division.

Methodological Concerns

Parry is concerned that Burk ignores the “canonical framework”, in particular the texts about God’s desire and ability to save everyone, and simply sees the debate settled by his ten passages.

The critical hermeneutical aspect to the hell debate is how one deals with the fact that some biblical texts seem to speak of annihilation, some of everlasting conscious torment, and some of universalism. The issues for evangelicals is how to affirm all of these texts as sacred Scripture, how to interpret them in relation to each other, and how to hold their teachings together.

Robin Parry, page 48

Parry suggests Burk―despite criticising opponents of prejudice―gives the impression that all texts must be compatible with ECT.

With regard to the ten texts, we might even agree that, other things being equal, some of the texts appear at face value to teach ECT. But other things are not equal—I have argued in my paper that there are important biblical factors that weigh against such a view of hell. I cannot ignore these when considering the ten texts and their relevance.

Robin Parry, page 49

Two Destinies?

Parry explains how divorce and remarriage is an example of affirming what an author (Mark) wrote while being aware of the qualifications from other authors (in this case, Matthew and Paul). He applies this logic to Burk’s passages:

Burk is correct that most of the two-destinies passages do not suggest any salvation after the division of people into two groups. … [However, in other passages we find] grounds for universalism. So how can we affirm the truth of both of the two-destinies texts and the global salvation texts (both of which can be found side-by-side in Paul, John, and Revelation—who presumably thought they belonged together)? The typical universalist proposal, embraced by many in the early church, is that we can do so by understanding the condemnation as qualified by the ultimate salvation texts and thus as a penultimate fate. The failure of the two-destinies passages to mention post-condemnation salvation … does not in itself rule out such salvation any more than Mark’s failure to mention an exception to the ban on divorce and remarriage rules one out.

Robin Parry, page 50

Parry also points out that:

the lack of qualification of the two destinies may play an important rhetorical function. Think of a policeman warning a criminal: “If you do that, you’ll go to prison!” He doesn’t add, “But don’t worry, you’ll get out eventually.” Such mitigation would serve to undermine the impact of the warning, even if it is true. In the same way, there may be good reasons in certain speech contexts why God would not want to undercut the seriousness of two destinies by qualifying them.

Robin Parry, page 50

Eternal?

Like Is Aionios Eternal?, Parry discusses the translation “eternal” from the Greek aionios.

I was pleased that Burk notes that aionios “is an adjective that means ‘pertaining to an age,’” and, as Stackhouse observes, “often means ‘of the age to come.’” This is correct, and it is part of the reason that I don’t think we can “be confident that kolasis is a punishment… that is unending.”

In the case of kolasin aionion (Matt. 25:46), we cannot settle the question of the duration of the punishment from this word, even if the age to come (in which the punishment occurs) is everlasting. The need for caution is illustrated by the “eternal fire” (puros aioniou) of Sodom’s punishment (Jude 7), which—contra Burk—did not burn forever.

We also do well to note the numerous examples in which universalists among the early church fathers would happily speak of eschatological punishment as aionios and consider such biblical terminology as fully compatible with their universalism.

Robin Parry, page 50-51

Thinking Biblically

Burk was concerned that some objections to ECT are “based on human estimations of the way God ought to behave” instead of “specific passages of Scripture”. Parry responds:

[T]hinking theologically is not simply about explaining “specific passages of Scripture,” but of indwelling the Bible and allowing the Bible to indwell us, such that our mind and emotions are reshaped in biblical ways. … [The objections] arise when Christians are trying to think biblically. … If the lack of a specific proof text was considered enough to exclude such concerns, then along with them would go other matters for which specific proof texts are lacking—doctrines such as the Trinity. There be dragons!

Robin Parry, page 51-52

Rejoicing in Damnation?

Like Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 1, Parry is also disturbed by Burk’s suggestion that ECT would be a source of joy:

We will look upon the damned, which will include people we love deeply, and see them in desolate turmoil of soul, with absolutely no hope, and our hearts will overflow with happiness. No thanks. God does not delight in the death of sinners, even if it is just (Ezek. 33:11)

Robin Parry, page 52

The Happiness of the Redeemed

Parry explains how ECT would cause another problem:

Can the saints ever be fully happy in the new creation if those they love are suffering ECT (or are annihilated)? In the resurrection, how could a mother ever find perfect joy if her beloved daughter is burning in hell? The God-given love she has makes her yearn for her daughter’s entry into divine life. But this can never be. So it is not only the daughter who has no hope—the mother has none either. And how can this do anything but diminish her heavenly joy?

Robin Parry, page 52

The Parable

Burk’s parable was meant to show that God’s infinity makes any sin against God “worthy of an infinitely heinous punishment” (see Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 1 for details).

Burk is telling us about the principle underpinning his essay. … However, this kind of argument did not make an appearance before St. Anselm (1033-1109), and it is certainly not found in Scripture. … in the Bible sins are differentiated in degrees of seriousness [“determined not only by the status of the one sinned against, but also by the nature of the sin itself (the motivation, the intentions, the effects, etc.).”] … [and] not all deserve the same punishment. There is certainly no suggestion that they all deserve “an infinitely heinous punishment.”

Robin Parry, page 52-53

Parry suggests it’s also logically problematic because:

All sins are sins against God, and on this argument, as God is infinitely glorious, they all incur infinite demerit. You cannot get worse than infinite demerit, so it seems that all sins are as bad as each other—infinitely bad. If you steal a sheet of paper from the office, you have committed a sin that is worthy of infinite punishment in just the same way that you have if you torture and kill children.

Robin Parry, page 53

Parry concludes by explaining why this suggests ECT would be unjust, or that it implies:

God ends up perpetuating sin and an evil world without end. It is true that he is forever balancing them out with the appropriate amount of punishment, but it remains the case that instead of removing sin from creation, God actively keeps unreconciled, sinful wills around forever in hell. I find that theologically problematic.

Burk says that the question of ECT comes down to the question of who God is and that “our emotional reflex against the traditional doctrine of hell reveals what we really believe about God.” I agree. But this is precisely the problem for ECT! The very reason Christians struggle with it is that it seems incompatible with divine goodness, love, and—yes—justice.

Robin Parry, page 54

Summary of Stackhouse’s Response to Burk’s ECT

I spent 11 posts carefully engaging all of Denny Burk’s case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. To give myself something to look forward to, I didn’t read the responses from the co-contributors beforehand. Anyway, it was great reading them last night so I’ll now summarise them for you, starting with John Stackhouse, who holds the Terminal Punishment (aka Conditionalism/Annihilationism) view.

Stackhouse and Burk
Stackhouse and Burk

I like that Stackhouse started by highlighting the significant common ground with Burk, before critiquing his case.

In particular, we agree that our view of God is at stake in our view of hell. So I grasp the nettle to suggest that Burk’s view of God is rather more focused on God’s greatness than upon God’s goodness and particularly, it seems, at the expense of celebrating God’s love for his creatures.

John Stackhouse, page 44

I think Stackhouse explains the role of emotions really well:

Burk starts by taking swipes at his theological counterparts for being “emotional”—as if emotions are not conveyors of information that theologians, like any careful thinkers, ought to pay attention to. Why does this formulation of doctrine repel me? Why does this view of God horrify me? Perhaps it is because I have unsanctified feelings that need to be corrected by God’s Word. But perhaps instead, those are sanctified feelings, or even just good, basic human feelings remaining of the imago dei, that are warning me that I am on the wrong theological path. To be “emotional” is simply to be humanly alert to what’s going on, and we are wise to take the feelings into account, although not, of course, to be dominated by them.

[Burk also begins his main argument with] a story not from the Bible [, which appeals] immediately to our emotions… (I myself don’t think there’s anything wrong with such a move; it simply seems incongruous from someone who has just taken pains to warn us about the emotionalism of his opponents.)

John Stackhouse, page 44

Stackhouse now examines Burk’s central argument.

Despite Burk’s claim to be rigorously biblical, I submit that his argument is essentially deductive:

Since God is infinitely great, any sin against such a God deserves infinite punishment …

The immediate problem here, and one that shows up in all the exegetical work that follows, is that Burk shows precisely nowhere in the Bible a single passage in which this argument is actually made. … I suggest that it is Burk who is guided by his emotions and intuitions expressed deductively and that the actual data of Scripture are entirely against him when freed from the interpretative presupposition he brings to it from reasoning such as this.

John Stackhouse, page 44-45

Stackhouse’s next point is similar to Love or Glory? What Motivates God?:

Burk’s view of God has God pursuing primarily his own glory:

God has created the world for the purpose of exalting the glory of his own name (Isa. 42:8; 43:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

Let’s notice first that the former of the two proof texts offered here does not in fact make the point in question, and that the latter one actually speaks of God’s love for Israel, not that Israel is some means God uses merely to glorify himself.

Indeed, this view of God as preoccupied with his own glory, so popular among some evangelicals today, is a dangerously narrow view of God’s purposes in the world. It is narrow because it leaves out lots of scriptural teaching:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16)

not so that God would get more glory but so

“that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Likewise, Jesus suffered and died for us “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2)—the joy of a lover who gets to save the beloved. God is deeply invested in the whole cosmos and in making shalom (peace”) everywhere, and so he undertook

“to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20).

John Stackhouse, page 45

Stackhouse spends another three paragraphs going even further in his criticism of this, particularly in relation to Calvinism, but I’ll move on for the sake of space.

His next point is that the Bible discusses Judgment, and its consequences, which he believes is extinction for those opposing God, in more than just the ten passages Burk looked at. Furthermore:

In passage after passage of Burk’s analysis, moreover, he adds meanings that are not in the text—especially the idea that the suffering depicted therein is eternal, which is, after all, begging the question.

John Stackhouse, page 46

Stackhouse gives a few examples of where he thinks Burk has done this, including his discussion of Isaiah 66:

[The worms and fire] do not die, but they are consuming corpses, not zombies or some other form of perpetually living “undead.” The deathlessness of the symbols of judgment, worms and fire, speak of the perpetuity of God’s holy antipathy toward sin, but the corpses themselves are dead. They’re finished. And Burk has the integrity in this case to admit that he is, indeed, adding information to the text:

“Though not mentioned specifically in this text, this scene seems to assume that God’s enemies have been given a body fit for an unending punishment.”

I suggest that it is not “the text” that is doing the assuming here.

John Stackhouse, page 46

Stackhouse’s final point is that:

God’s wrath is fierce, but it does not last forever, as we are told in Scripture again and again (Ps. 30:5; 103:9). … And since universalism is not correct …, terminal punishment remains as the view consistent with scriptural teaching.

In Burk’s view, alas, God’s wrath does last forever, he punishes forever, and he does so because it makes him look good to do so (equal to increasing his glory). I respectfully suggest that the view of God as keeping human beings conscious in torment forever does nothing to achieve God’s other purposes of saving the creatures he loves and enhancing shalom.

I suggest further that such a view doesn’t even achieve its desired result: to enhance God’s glory. Quite the contrary: It poses an unbiblical and therefore unnecessary stumbling block to genuine faith. Such a view is, to speak more bluntly, sadistic, and the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the exact opposite of one who gets joy from the suffering of others: he gets joy from suffering for others (Heb. 12:2 again).

John Stackhouse, page 47

I like that Stackhouse finishes by praising God:

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5, NRSV

Should We Fear God?―Conclusion of Burk’s Case

Denny Burk wrote the biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. In this post I’ll finish engaging with his chapter.

There are numerous objections to the traditional doctrine of hell

Denny Burk, page 42

Perhaps that’s because the “traditional doctrine” isn’t what Scripture presents…

The weight of the scriptural arguments … should be enough to settle the issue even if our lingering objections are never fully resolved in this life.

Denny Burk, page 42

I think that’s cheeky given that the debate about Hell has been ongoing since the Early Church. Hopefully, this blog series has at least shown the scriptural arguments for ECT aren’t strong enough to settle the issue.

Augustine once reproved those who act as “if the conjectures of men are to weigh more than the word of God.” He thunders, “They who desire to be rid of eternal punishment ought to abstain from arguing against God.”

Denny Burk, page 42

I agree we don’t want to argue with God, but surely any non-Augustinian Christian could equally say Augustine is putting his conjectures above God’s word and arguing against God?

Fear
Fear (D Sharon Pruitt)

Next Burk says we should consider the implications of ECT, and gives two:

First, the biblical doctrine of hell teaches us whom to fear. God is not only the treasure of heaven. He is also the terror of hell. … If you have been frightened of hell because you are frightened of the devil, you are not fearing the right person. The Lord Jesus himself teaches us this,

“Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Who destroys soul and body in hell? Is it the devil? Of course not. The devil himself is being punished there. Who is the one destroying soul and body in hell forever? God “afflicts” the wicked in hell, and the Lord Jesus deals out “retribution” to his enemies (2 Thess. 1:6-8). Going to hell means being left in the presence of God’s wrath forever (Rom. 2:5-8). Hell is scary because

“it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

Denny Burk, page 42-43

I find the direction Burk goes here disturbing. Matthew says God is “able” to destroy, not that God ever does, and it’s in the immediate context of encouraging the disciples, the opposite of inducing fear (v22 “persevere, endure, saved”, v23 God knows you are being persecuted, v24-25 you are following in Jesus’ footsteps, v26-27 “don’t be afraid” God will bring justice, v28 “Don’t fear”, v29-30 God cares for you even more than sparrows).

Romans 2:5-8 talks about wrath but it doesn’t say it’s forever.

Jesus spoke with authority, performed miracles, and garnered a lot of respect, however I don’t think His relationships were based on fear. Likewise, God frequently describes Himself as “Abba Father”. Awe, respect, reverence, obedience, and the apprehension we have before undergoing surgery (Heb 10:31), but the type of fear we have for the devil―fear of his hatred and desire to poison, torment, and destroy―surely isn’t healthy between a parent and child? We are told almost 150 times in the Bible not to fear. For example:

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into love’s complete perfection].

1John 4:18, AMPC

Moving on.

Second, the biblical doctrine of hell compels believers to see the urgency of evangelism. Have you considered the great mercy of God toward you in Christ? Have you begun to fathom what he rescued you from through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross? If his mercy was big enough and wide enough to include you, is it not sufficient for your neighbor as well? Shouldn’t the terrors of the damned move you to share the mercy of God with those who have not experienced it while there’s still time? Perhaps Spurgeon has said it best:

Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves 1 . If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

Denny Burk, page 43

I’ve been more motivated to evangelise since becoming an Evangelical Universalist for lots of reasons, one of which is that it now feels less hopeless, that even when people I evangelise die in apparent non-belief, I know that God can still use whatever small word or kindness I’ve given them. Also most non-universalistic forms of Christianity are overwhelmingly depressing, when you really consider the billions of our brothers and sisters ending up utterly ruined and wasted, either by torment or annihilation.

Having said that, I can almost agree with Burk if I consider hell from my reformed perspective―a place that God uses for reforming, correcting, pruning, purging, surgery, etc. I think there is urgency, that living in bondage to sin is destructive, and that the addictions and idols of this life don’t truly satisfy. I also think it’s good to consider the great, wide mercy of God and Christ’s amazing sacrifice―doing so was one of the reasons I left Burk’s view.

I like the quote of Spurgeon. It seems to be a reflection on:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9, NIV

However, this raises the question, given God loves people even more than Spurgeon, why didn’t we see Jesus 2 with “arms about their knees, imploring them to stay”? I think the most plausible answer is that He knew their rebellion was only the first chapter in their story―that in the end, all shall be well.


1. Although Burk’s ECT emphasises God afflicting people (see earlier quote that starts with ‘First’), rather than people ‘destroying themselves’.
2. Nor the Prodigal Son’s father.

Love or Glory? What Motivates God?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―10

Denny Burk wrote the biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. In this post I’ll start engaging with his conclusion.

The Bible teaches that God has created the world for the purpose of exalting the glory of his own name (Isa. 42:8; 43:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory 1, whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:7, ESV

I think the Bible’s teaching is more nuanced. I think that the Father created everything through and out of love for Jesus:

For by him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:16, ESV (cf John 1:3, Romans 11:36)
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.
John 3:35, ESV (cf Hebrews 1:2)

And that out of love for the Father, Jesus brings back everything to Him:

but I [Jesus] do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

John 14:31a, ESV

Then comes the end, when he [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.

1Corinthians 15:24, ESV (cf Philippians 2:6-7)

I think Jesus loves the gift (creation) that the Father has given Him and that the Father loves the gift (creation) that Jesus gives Him. So much so that God gives Himself to ransom/restore/reconcile/save creation:

and through Him [Jesus] to reconcile everything to Himself by making peace through the blood of His cross—whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Colossians 1:20, HCSB

Heaven must receive him [Jesus] until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Acts 3:21, NIV

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time.

1Timothy 2:3-6, NABRE

So I think it makes sense that this other focused love is also the telos of creation―our purpose given by God.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us [which includes loving]. They will reign over [care for] the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

Genesis 1:26, NLT

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Matthew 22:37, NIV

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

1John 3:11, NIV

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children [a reflection] of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45a, NIV

Anyway, I agree with Burk that God deserves all glory and will receive it. Although I think it will be freely given. The Father freely gives Jesus glory, Jesus freely gives the Father glory, and one day all humanity will freely give God glory. To me, this makes more sense of how Jesus spoke about glory:

Jesus answered, “… But I do not seek my glory; there is the one seeking and judging. … If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my father glorifying me, whom you say that ‘He is your God.'”

John 8:49a-50,54b, Apostolic Bible Polyglot

I realise that’s a lot of commentary about one sentence by Burk but our beliefs about our purpose―what God intended―significantly affects the rest of our theology 2. However, moving on to Burk’s next sentence:

He means to manifest both his justice and his mercy in his disposition of sinful humanity (Ex. 34:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

He continues to show his love to thousands of generations, forgiving wrongdoing, disobedience, and sin. He never lets the guilty go unpunished, punishing children and grandchildren for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:7, GWT

I agree, although encouragingly the punishment in Exodus 34:7 is significantly less than the love and forgiveness―thousands of generations vs four generations, which is actually reduced to one in Ezekiel 18:20!

The person who sins will die. A son will not be punished for his father’s sins, and a father will not be punished for his son’s sins. The righteousness of the righteous person will be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be his own.

Ezekiel 18:20, GWT

Back to Burk:

Those who follow Christ are “vessels of mercy” who show forth “the riches of His glory” (Rom. 9:23). Those who do not follow Christ and go to judgment are like Pharaoh, whom God raised up “to demonstrate My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Rom. 9:17). In short, God is glorified in both mercy and justice, and the existence of hell serves to demonstrate eternally the glory of God’s justice in his judgment on sin.

Denny Burk, page 42

I agree that God is glorified in mercy and justice, although I don’t see those two in opposition. God’s mercy isn’t unjust, nor is His justice unmerciful. Both work together towards his purpose of realizing love between everyone.

I agree God is just in His judgment on sin. However, sin is an impediment to the harmonious relationships that God made us for. Therefore, now that Jesus, on the cross, has overthrown the power of sin, I think God is working towards eradicating all sin, through conversion and sanctification. Once all sin is gone, I can see no need for any ongoing judgment.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.

1 Peter 3:18, HCSB

I cannot imagine anything more glorious that seeing God justly bringing everything that has ever been created, to freely, wholeheartedly, and eternally love and worship Him as He deserves and intended.

Creation


1. Most English translations seem to skip the Greek word ‘en‘ (usually translated ‘in’), which seems to change the meaning. e.g. Apostolic Bible Polyglot translation is ‘For in my glory I carefully prepared’
2. See also Why Did God Create Man?

Book of Life―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 9

I’ve been engaging Denny Burk’s biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. The last passage he examines is:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever [literally “into the ages of the ages”]…

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:10, 14-15, NIV

The Book of Life
The Book of Life

In the previous post I looked at how the Greek word translated “tormented” was connected to testing metal in preparation for purification, and how “sulfur” was linked to purification and healing. I also explained why “forever” isn’t a literal translation but an interpretation based on other unnecessary beliefs about the ages. However, in this post I’ll focus on new points Burk raises:

Those found in the Book of Life are separated once and for all from those who are not found there. Those not in the Book of Life are raised from the dead in bodies fit to endure their final punishment, and they are thrown into the lake of fire.

Denny Burk, page 41

I agree that judgment will result in separation. However, Revelation 20:10-15 seems to be linked to yet another “Universalist postscript”:

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

Revelation 21:23-26, ESV

To understand just how remarkable this could be, we need to look at who the “kings of the earth” were:

These kings of the earth have committed fornication with the economic whore-city Babylon, and she rules over them. When she is burned up in the fiery judgment of God, they stand appalled. Indeed, the lake of fire is the way in which those who join themselves with Babylon share in the same fate as her (17:2, 18; 18:3, 9). These same kings hide in fear from the end-time wrath of God (6:15) but still join with the Beast to make war on Christ (19:19). But the Christ they attack is the King of kings (19:16) and the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), and he defeats them (19:21). There can be no doubt that these kings of the earth find themselves in the lake of fire. Yet it is the very same kings of the earth of whom we read that they enter the New Jerusalem via the open gates in order to bring their splendor into it (a contrast with 18:4-19, in which they bring their splendor into Babylon). John has actually changed the “kings” of his source text (Isa 60:3, 11) to “kings of the earth” so as to ensure we understand just who he has in mind. They come, “not as captives or second class citizens,” but as worshippers on an equal standing with the other redeemed.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 116

Likewise, “the nations” in Revelation are those who have been receiving God’s wrath―the ones who weren’t in the Book of Life and were in the Lake of Fire (see previous post for details). To be clear, it’s only after they get their names written in the Book of Life, that they enter. This alone suggests the contents of the book aren’t fixed but there’s more support:

A more important observation is that [Revelation] 3:5 strongly suggests that one could have one’s name removed from the BOL. This interpretation is strengthened by the following observations:

(i) The Old Testament background to the notion of the BOL clearly envisages the real possibility of being “blotted out” from it (Ps 69:28; Exod 32:32-33; Dan 12:1-2).

(ii) The book of Revelation is clear in its warnings that Christian apostates will be thrown into the lake of fire. To suggest that such apostates were not real Christians does not, in my view, do justice to the way in which they are described and the severity of the warnings to the churches not to apostatize.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 193

However, if you are still adamant that it’s fixed, there are other possibilities. For example:

Perhaps the BOL is a record of those who will receive eternal life, and within it we see the following, and only, entry—“Christ.” Before creation, God ordains that those “in Christ” (to resort to Pauline terminology) would receive eternal life—share in the resurrection life of Christ. When a person believes the gospel they are in Christ and share in that promise of his life. In Christ they are in the book from before creation. If they apostasize, they are out of Christ and are thus no longer in the book from creation. The moment a person believes he or she moves from the state of “not being (in Christ) recorded in the BOL from before the creation of the world” to the state of “being (in Christ) recorded in the BOL from before the creation of the world.”

I put this forward as a tentative proposal that could possibly make sense of the problematic data. Although the theology of indwelling Christ and sharing in his life is not prominent in the Apocalypse, it is a major theme in John’s Gospel, which probably arose in the same Christian circle; and that could lend weight to this proposal.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 194

The above seems similar to Karl Barth’s view.

In an email to Parry, Talbott suggests another approach:

Perhaps all the descendents of Adam, all who come into the world as “children of wrath,” also go by a name that is not written in the BOL. Yes some names are written there from the foundation of the world and some are not. But is “Abram” written there? Or is it “Abraham”? In Revelation 2:17 we read:

To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone, which no one knows except him who receives it.

Evidently then, people can receive a new name, and this is certainly consistent with the idea of a new birth or a new creation in Christ. So is not the following consistent with the teaching about the Lamb’s BOL? Even though no new names are ever added, people can (as all Christians do) receive a new name, one that has always been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 194

Talbott’s suggestion also fits with the table at the end of Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire.

Back to Burk’s argument:

The opening of the books and the judgment according to deeds indicate that the final assize will render to each person what is owed to them. Again, there is no hint of renewal or annihilation, only of divine retribution for the deeds that each person accomplished while living.

Denny Burk, page 41

I agree that there are consequences to our deeds. However, I also believe that God is free to forgive and use those consequences for His glory and our good. As I tried to show in my previous post, I think that even in this severe passage, there are hints of renewal:

  • in the Universalist postscripts.
  • in the wider use of the image of “sulfur” and “fire”.
  • in the Greek words translated “tormented” and “forever”.
  • in the hyperbolic OT language that John seems to be drawing from.
  • even without all of the above, because there seems to be a pattern of sin-judgment-repentance-restoration throughout the Bible, acknowledging that a particular text is judgment doesn’t rule out the possibility that it’s also part of the pattern.

Fire & Brimstone―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 8

I’ve been engaging Denny Burk’s biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. Next he examines:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forevereis aión and everaión [literally “into ages of ages”], and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Revelation 14:9-11, ESV

Smoke

John seems to be drawing directly from the judgment language in Jeremiah 25:15-16 and Isaiah 34:8-10 (see The Evangelical Universalist p124-125). In particular, although Isaiah 34:10 said the smoke of Babylon’s destruction would rise “forever, historically it actually didn’t, making it likely that the language is hyperbolic and symbolic. Therefore, this would suggest that “forever” is also hyperbolic and symbolic here in Revelation―that the smoke won’t literally rise forever. However, Burk doesn’t mention this background, but instead interprets the phrase “forever and ever, and they have no rest day and night” as implying:

John says that the pain and distress do not end but go on everlastingly.

Denny Burk, page 40

In 1Timothy 1:17 the ESV footnotes indicate the Greek behind the phrase “forever and ever” is literally “to the ages of ages”, which means all 3 occurrences of aión in the verse are translated the same:

To the King of the agesaión, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory to the agesaión of agesaión. Amen.

1Timothy 1:17, literal translation in ESV footnotes 

Exactly what into the “ages of ages” means, depends partly on how many ages we think there are… I’ve heard some people argue there are only two, while others argue there are many. I lean towards the latter, although universalism doesn’t hinge on it. In the next section Burk describes the second death as lasting “everlasting ages“, which seems to imply he also thinks there will be more than one future age.

Continuing on, Burk says that in contrast to the “saints who persevere”:

John describes the damned as “tormented with fire and brimstone” (v. 10). Again, the imagery of fire shows up here as an expression of God’s holy and painful judgment on sin.

Denny Burk, page 40

I think God’s spiritual surgery/pruning/purging/purifying of everyone will be both holy and painful, albeit the best thing for everyone. It’s possible the image of theion, translated “brimstone” or “sulfur”, supports this angle too.

… equivalent to divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, theion

Sherman Nobles unpacks this:

Sulfur was burnt as incense by the Greeks and Romans during their “worship” of the gods as a means of spiritual purification. It’s healing benefits are widely known. Hot Sulfur Springs were well known for their healing benefits. They even burnt sulfur as an incense for medicinal purposes.

Sherman Nobles, The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Burk goes on to say:

The verb for “torment” (basanizó) in verse 10 means to subject someone to severe distress.

Denny Burk, page 40

But it’s interesting that the first definition given in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

1. properly, to test (metals) by the touchstone.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, basanizó

As Nobles explains:

Note that the word “torment”, basanizo, is related to the testing of metal, rubbing metal against a touch-stone to see how much it needs to be purified.

Sherman Nobles, The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Burk continues:

The noun for “torment” (basanismos) in verse 11 likewise refers to “the severe pain experienced through torture.”

Denny Burk, page 40

Again it’s tricky because severe testing, correction, purifying, pruning, etc. can seem like torture to the person receiving it, especially if they aren’t in a relationship with the Surgeon, Gardener, Metallurgist allowing and/or applying it―which seems to be the case with the “worshipers of the beast”. We see this again in the first definition given in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

1. a testing by the touchstone or by torture.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, basanismos

Stepping back from the definitions of the words, it’s worth looking at the context of the passage. Robin Parry does this thoroughly in his chapter on Revelation in The Evangelical Universalist but one of his points is as follows:

The two visions in 14:6-20 both refer to the climax of God’s judgments and 15:2-4 to the eschatological salvation consequent upon those judgments. So our first hell text is set within one of the “final-judgment-followed-by-salvation” sections that Beale notes:

Judgment Salvation
6:12-17 7:9-17
11:18a 11:18b
14:6-20 15:2-4
16:17-18:24 19:1-10
20:7-15 21:1-22:5

This observation will later be seen to be of considerable hermeneutical significance.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 108-109

So although Revelation 14:9-11 has judgment, it is linked to salvation in 15:2-4. Parry describes this as a “Universalist postscript”.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Revelation 15:2-4, ESV

Parry explains the significance:

To see the universalist implications of this we need to clarify the referent of “all nations” in v. 4. In the book of Revelation, the nations are created by God and ought to worship him (4:11); instead, they rebel against him. The Beast is given authority over them (13:7b). They partake in the sins of the world-city Babylon and thus also in her judgment (14:8; 17:15; 18:3, 23; 16:19). John is called to prophesy against the nations (10:11), and, just prior to Babylon’s final destruction, a final gospel call to repentance goes out to the nations (14:6)—a call they do not heed. Under the deceptive influence of Satan and the Beast, the nations persecute God’s people (11:12). When Satan is bound in the millennium, he can no longer deceive the nations (20:3). But afterwards, he raises them for the final battle against the saints (20:8). Consequently, they are the objects of God’s eschatological wrath (11:8; 12:5; 19:15).

The saints are never identified with the nations. For John, the nations are the apostate ethno-political groupings that make up God’s rebellious world. The saints are distinguished from them as those who have been redeemed from among the nations to form a new kingdom and who are the objects of the nations’ rage. There can be no doubt that the nations referred to in 15:4 are the same apostate nations the smoke of whose torment rises forever and ever. So what does the victory song of the saints tell us about them? That although they are now subject to God’s wrath, they will come and worship before God. Notice that John does not say that people from all nations (a description which would fit the church, 5:9; 7:9) will come and worship, but that all nations will come and worship.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 111-112

Fiery Darkness―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 7

I’ve been engaging Denny Burk’s biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. The next passage he examines is:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternalaiónios fire.

Jude 1:7, NIV

I agree with what Burk wrote about this passage up until the end of this quote:

the fire that rained down on the infamous cites was an example of “eternal fire,” or “fire of the age to come,” invading the present age.

Denny Burk, page 37

However, after admitting here that word aiónios can (I’d say probably should, see Is Aionios Eternal?) mean “of the age to come”, he frustratingly suggests that the fire is everlasting because life “of the age to come” is everlasting. If I said:

The highlight of the year to come will be my long service leave and lowlight of the year to come will be my sick leave.

Does that mean my long service leave will be the same duration as my sick leave? I see no necessity to interpret it that way… Indeed it seems the probability of any two future events having identical durations is low.

As I tried to show in Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire, there are plenty of examples in the Bible of God’s fire achieving things. It doesn’t have to be interpreted as an end in-and-of-itself. For example, fire is described as refining and purifying. Sometimes the fire’s purpose, the good that it brings about, is not explicitly stated when the fire is used. For example, with Sodom and Gomorrah, we only discover this much later, in Ezekiel.

I [God] will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and those of Samaria and her daughters. I will also restore your fortunes among them, so you will bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you did when you comforted them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters and Samaria and her daughters will return to their former state. You and your daughters will also return to your former state.

Ezekiel 16:53-55, HCSB

It’s also pertinent to consider how long Sodom and Gomorrah physically burned? Was it days? Weeks? If we traveled to the site today it’s certainly no longer burning! I think this should inform our interpretation of “eternal” fire.

The next passage Burk looks at is Jude 1:13. I find most English translations very irritating in how they “translate” eis ton aión as “forever”. For example:

wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom-of-utterzophos darkness has been reserved forevereis ton aión.

Jude 1:13, ESV

1Samuel 27:12 and Malachi 3:4 are examples in the LXX where the words can’t literally mean forever, and indeed some translations realise this:

Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for lifeeis ton aión.”

1Samuel 27:12, NIV

And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of oldton aión and years gone by.

Malachi 3:4, HCSB

 If we look at each word in word, here’s what we find:

eis: to or into (indicating the point reached or entered, of place, time, fig. purpose, result)

Strong’s Concordance, 1519

ho, hé, to: the

Strong’s Concordance, 3588

aión: a space of time, an age

Strong’s Concordance, 165

Seriously, why can’t they just translate each word and leave the interpretation to the reader? I think the Apostolic Bible Polyglot translation is more honest and helpful in this regard:

wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shame; wandering stars, ones to whom the infernal-regionzophos of darkness is being kept intoeis theton eonaión.

Jude 1:13, Apostolic Bible Polyglot

Although Burk mentions that the darkness is “forever”, I’m glad doesn’t base his argument on eis ton aión. Instead he notes that verse 6 also talks about darkness:

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternalaidios chains under gloomy-darknesszophos until the judgment of the great day

Jude 1:6, ESV

Burk comment on this is that:

The black darkness suggests the same fate [for the false teachers] as that of the fallen angels who were being “kept in eternal bonds under darkness” (v. 6) until the final judgment.

Denny Burk, page 38

However, this is puzzling because doesn’t it say the fallen angels are only in darkness temporarily, until judgment? Does that mean the false teachers are only in the darkness temporarily too?

Anyway, Burk goes on to look at the image of “darkness” in Matthew, and how it’s connected to the “fiery furnace” and “weeping and gnashing” images:

I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 8:11-12, HCSB
So he [the king in the parable] said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Matthew 22:12-13, HCSB (cf 25:28-30)

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the ageaión. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:40-42, ESV (cf v48-50)

Sobering stuff. It’s not surprising that the Pharisees were very offended (Matt 22:15, 26:3) that Jesus’ parables implied they weren’t entitled to be at the feast, that their complacency and negligence was going to result in their blessing/invite/talent being taken away from them and given to those they disdained, even evil people off the streets (Matt 22:10) and Roman centurions (Matt 8:10)! As we now know, Israel was indeed thrown into the “fiery furnace”―God allowed the Romans to burn Jerusalem to the ground in 70AD. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, the natural consequences of rejecting God’s ways―becoming smug, violent, and unloving―was severe and left them weeping and gnashing in the dark.

Jerusalem 70 AD
Jerusalem 70 AD

While I believe the impending earthly “hell” was Jesus’ primary concern for His immediate audience, I think the parables can be applied further. At times, each and every person is unloving in all manner of ways―from subtle disregard of those in need, to blatant smugness, lust for power, and violence. Jesus even warned His 12 disciples about these things so none of us should be complacent and reliant on our righteousness.

However, for those who are trying to heed Jesus, particularly those who are already weeping in the dark, I believe that thankfully the Bible promises that one day there will be no more tears or darkness anywhere, and that those who have been cut off will be grafted back on.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4, HCSB

On that day the sources of light will no longer shine, yet there will be continuous day! Only the Lord knows how this could happen. There will be no normal day and night, for at evening time it will still be light.

On that day life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea [the Lake of Fire 1] and half toward the Mediterranean, flowing continuously in both summer and winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped.

Zechariah 14:6-9, NLT

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves… And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree.

Romans 11:11,23, NLT


1. Thanks to Brad Jersak for pointing this out in Her Gate Will Never Be Shut.

Ruin from God?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 6

Fire

I’m blogging through Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. Denny Burk wrote the biblical and theological case for the first view, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). The next passage he examines is Mark 9:42-48. However, I’ve already covered that in Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire, and Matthew’s parallel in Is Aionios Eternal?, so I’ll move straight to his next passage, 2Thessalonians 1:6-10.

since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternalaiónios destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

2Thessalonians 1:6-10, ESV

Burk notes that there is some disagreement over the translation of verse 9, mainly around whether apofrom should be interpreted “[away] from” or “[that comes] from”. The NIV, NET, RSV, NLT, LEB, GNT, CEB, AMP, NASB, etc. translate it like the former. The HCSB, KJV, DLNT, DRA, GNV, JUB, WEB, WYC, YLT, etc. translate it like the latter. The ESV has the former in the text and the latter in footnotes. Anyway, Burk sides with former and I side with the latter.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction that comes from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

2Thessalonians 1:9, ESV footnotes

hoitineswho dikēnpenalty tisousinwill-pay olethronruination aiōnioneonian apofrom prosōpoupresence touof-the KyriouLord kaiand apofrom tēsthe doxēsglory tēsof-the ischyosstrength autouof-him

2Thessalonians 1:9, Interlinear

Talbott explains why he thinks the latter is better:

Second, if the idea of eternal destruction implies punishment of some kind, does it also imply a final separation from God? Some of our English Bibles certainly do leave such an impression … But these are inaccurate paraphrases, and the American Standard Version, which speaks simply of:

eternal destruction from (apo) the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

is both more literal and less theologically biased at this point. The sole reason other translators have for injecting into the text the idea of being excluded or shut out from the presence of the Lord is that the Greek apo, like the English “from,” can sometimes mean “away from.” As Leon Morris once pointed out, “This is certainly the meaning … in Isa. 2:10,” where we read:

Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty.

It is also the meaning in Revelation 6:16, where the kings of the earth and others cry out to the mountains and rocks:

Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.

In these texts, however, the verb “to hide” or “to conceal” determines the correct translation. When we try to hide or to conceal ourselves from the presence of the Lord … we are indeed trying to get away from that presence. But in the context of 2 Thessalonians 1:9, we find no relevant verb, such as “to hide” or “to conceal,” no relevant subject of the action, and no other grammatical device that would entitle one to translate apo as “away from.” In the absence of such a device, such a translation makes no more coherent sense in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 than it would in Acts 3:19, where the wording is identical:

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Just as the presence of the Lord is the causal source of, or that which brings about, refreshing times for the obedient, so the appearance of the Lord “with his mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess 1:7–8) is the causal source of, or that which brings about, the destruction of the disobedient. No other understanding seems to me even remotely plausible. “Destruction away from the glory of his might” simply makes no sense at all in the context, but “destruction that comes from or has its causal source in “the glory of his might” makes perfectly good sense.

Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, page 89-90

Interestingly, despite going with the separation interpretation (which fits better with the ECT’s permanent “them and us”), Burk doesn’t want to support Annihilationism so he says:

They will in fact be in the presence of God’s wrath in their eternal destruction, for it is God himself who will “afflict” them (v. 6) and the Lord Jesus who will give them “retribution” (v. 8).
Denny Burk, page 35

Which ironically seems to actually support the “[that comes] from” interpretation that he opposes.

Anyway, regardless of which translation is correct, I think the more important question is, “What does olethros aiōnios mean?” Burk rightly notes that olethros doesn’t mean “cease to exist” in the other places it occurs in the NT:

hand this man over to Satan for the destructionolethros of the flesh [sinful nature], so that his spirit may be saved on the [Judgment] day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:5, NIV

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destructionolethros will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

1 Thessalonians 5:3, NIV

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruinolethros and destruction.

1 Timothy 6:9, NIV

So it seems Burk and I would agree olethros is more like “ruination” in the sense of painful reduction. Reminds me of severe pruning, which would seem to fit particularly well with 1Cor 5:5, and with kolasis in Matthew 25:45 (see Pruning the Flock?). However, even if it does mean “cease to exist”, I think that would make 1Cor 5:5 an example of Paul’s “old man vs new man”―that God annihilates the evil within each and every person, rather than annihilating people made in His image (see the second half of Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire).

I’ve looked at the meaning of aiōnios a couple of times now (e.g. Is Aionios Eternal?), so I’ll just say here that I think that the word is probably best translated “eonian”, in the sense of something that will occur in the next age (e.g. after Judgment Day).

Burk ends the section by making a case that it is retribution, which it certainly appears to be. However, there are examples in the Bible of retribution being followed, sometimes much later, by reconciliation (e.g. Egypt in Isaiah 19). So the fact that only the former is mentioned here doesn’t rule out the latter.

Pruning the Flock?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 5

I’m blogging through Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. Denny Burk wrote the theological and biblical case for the first view, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). This post will look at the next passage he examines, Matthew 24:31-46.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Matthew 24:31-32, NIV

Burk helpfully notes how this fulfills one of Daniel’s visions:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlastingaiónios dominion that will not pass away 1, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14, NIV

Burk points out that everyone receives justice:

This Son of Man rules over the nations as the world’s true king, and he will render justice to every individual who has ever lived.

Denny Burk, page 28

But Daniel’s vision goes further, stating that everyone worshiped God (v14). Burk might respond that the reprobates’ worship is because of their subjugation. However, I think that’s very unlikely for two reasons:

First, in the vision’s interpretation we are told:

The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey Him.

Daniel 7:27, NIV

The only way for these rulers and kingdom folk to serve and obey God is to receive a new heart from God―to repent and willingly join His kingdom.

Second, God isn’t interested in mere forced lip service 2, He rightly requires and deserves wholehearted worship, which can only come from a renewed, Spirit-filled person.

Burk moves on to Jesus dividing “the sheep from the goats”:

The Son of Man separates them from one another because he intends to treat them differently based on what they are.

Denny Burk, page 29

Last year I gave reasons why I think Jesus wasn’t comparing adult sheep with adult goats but rather mature and immature animals within the Good Shepherd’s flock. If this is correct, this changes “what they are” and therefore the interpretation of how “he intends to treat them”. That doesn’t mean it will be easy for the immature but it seems to imply His aim is maturity―particularly Christlike empathy in this parable.

Baby goat
Young goat

Yes, Burk is right that aiónios fire is mentioned but I think this evocative language highlights the severity not the unlovingness of the process. For example:

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them—all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger. Then I will purify the speech of all people, so that everyone can worship the Lord together.

Zephaniah 3:8 (NIV), 3:9 (NLT)

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.

Malachi 3:2-3, ESV

their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day [of Jesus’ Judgment] will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

1 Corinthians 3:13, NIV

Burk discusses how some people translate kolasis aiónios (Matt 25:45) as “correction in-the-next-age” rather than “eternal punishment” as he does. He goes as far as saying:

kolasis never means “correction” or “pruning” anywhere in the New Testament or related literature.

Denny Burk, page 30

I’m puzzled by his certainty because I’ve found evidence to the contrary. For example, according to Perseus 3 kolasis appears in a few hundred ancient Greek texts, and they’ve summed it up as:

checking the growth.

Perseus, Greek Word Study Tool

Barclay, a theologian and author of popular NT commentaries, came to a very similar conclusion:

The word was originally a gardening word, and its original meaning was pruning trees. In Greek there are two words for punishment… kolasis is for the sake of the one who suffers it [i.e. correction to mature someone]; timoria is for the sake of the one who inflicts it [i.e. retribution]

William Barclay, The Apostles’ Creed (see also 

Furthermore, the NAS Exhaustive Concordance says kolasis comes from kolazó, which includes:

1. properly, to lop, prune, as trees, wings.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Another word that comes from kolazó, is kólon, which means:

a limb of the body (as if lopped)
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance

However, given correction can be severe (like chopping off a gangrenous leg) it’s understandable that it also became associated with punishment.

kolasis: maiming, cutting off.
J. Schneider, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Volume III

All this reminds me of Paul’s description of God cutting the Jews off for a time (which has been unpleasant for them), before grafting them back on again once the Gentiles have come in.

Burk comments that:

The term is used one other time in the New Testament, in 1 John 4:18 where it clearly means punishment.

Denny Burk, page 30

I think “clearly” is a bit strong as some translations don’t translate it that way (e.g. Douay-Rheims BibleWeymouth New Testament, 1599 Geneva Bible, and Wycliffe Bible translate it as pain, and Aramaic Bible in Plain English translates it as suspicion). Also if the word is translated “correction” it seems to link better with teleioó in the last sentence:

God’s love doesn’t contain fear, rather His perfect love removes fear―the fear of correctionkolasis. That we still fear means we haven’t yet been fully correctedteleioó (indeed filled) by His love 4.

In any case, universalism doesn’t hinge on the definition of kolasis as there are plenty of examples of God even restoring people who appear to have experienced retributive punishment 5.

Lastly, Burk says that the fate of demonic creatures is ECT, and that therefore ECT is the fate of the people sent into the fire “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). However, Universalists, such as Gregory of Nyssa, the father of orthodoxy, maintained that even “the originator of evil himself will be healed” 6 ―that he will be reconciled because he is part of all things that God has created (see Col 1:15-20).


1. It’s interesting how translating aiónios as everlasting makes an unnecessary tautology, whereas translating it eonian would not. See also Is Aionios Eternal?.
2. See Everyone Repents & Rejoices for examples of what He requires and what He says is unsatisfactory.
3.  An online dictionary used by Logos, the largest and most widely used Bible software in the world.
4. I like the way the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition puts it.
5. e.g. restoration of Sodom in Ezekiel 16:53.
6. Thanks to Robin Parry for pointing this out in Origen on the Salvation of the Devil.
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