Tag: Fire

Royal Fire, Love, & Wedding

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7a, NRSV

Bishop Michael Curry’s amazing 13-minute royal wedding sermon began with the verses above followed by this quote:

We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He explained that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that love because its source is God and its why we are here:

There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense, in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of Love. Our lives are meant to be lived in that love—that’s why we are here. Ultimately, the source of love is God himself—the source of all of our lives.

He backed this up with a quote from John:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:7-8, NRSV

Sometimes the way forward seems impossible but because love is from God:

There is power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.

As someone who believes that God’s love will succeed “when nothing else can”, I take the “died to save us all” (which Curry repeated) to literally mean that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, each and every person will be saved—healed, liberated, and lifted up.

[Jesus] sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.

The highest good and well-being of others is to be in a mutually loving union with God. As Jesus demonstrated, this is a voluntarily self-sacrificial relationship.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

Setting things right (justice) and right relationships (righteousness) will flow out of this love.

When love is the way, there is plenty of good room for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.

I agree that one of the implications of each and every person being a child of God is that we should try to treat people as family (see Everyone is a child of God).

Curry concluded by going back to the initial passage and reflecting on the why love is like fire.

There was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good. … Fire makes all that possible. And de Chardin said that fire was one of the greatest discoveries of all of human history. He then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it would be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

God—the ultimate Royal—is often associated with fire in the Bible. Like God, fire is immensely powerful, it is essential to human civilization, it invigorates, it transforms, and it purifies (Surprising Fire). Praise God that the royal wedding proclaimed to the world that the Royal’s redemptive Love is unquenchable!

Bishop Michael Curry's captivating sermon at The Royal Wedding

Will God burn the world up?—The Bible Project

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

2 Peter 3:10, CSB vs KJV (other translations)

Jon: Peter, I think, talks about “the earth will be destroyed by fire”—something like that?

Tim: He uses images of fire, yes, and things melting. The things that are melting… there’s an interpretative translation challenge there, of whether it’s “elements” or whether it’s “the rebellious angelic hosts of heaven”… Either way, he uses fire imagery to talk about the purifying of Creation.

Jon: Ok. In the Flood narrative with the sign of the rainbow and God’s not going to [destroy all life again by a flood]. If the Flood represents Creation collapsing back on itself, that seems to be the paradigm of, “Start over—let Creation collapse back on itself and I’m going to pull out the remnant and start fresh”, and that’s kind of like: “let everything burn”, “Titanic’s going down”, “rapture people out”, “start afresh”. But it seems like the promise, the sign of the promise, in the Flood story is, “I’m not going to do that!”

Tim: “I won’t ever do that again”. Yes.

Jon: So is that just the end of discussion? That’s not going to happen, God isn’t going to do that.

Tim: Yeah, I think that is what that means. The reason he brings the Flood is that the heart of humans is screwed up all the time. Then the moment Noah get’s off the boat he repeats the same thing! God says, “You know what I know about humans… therefore, I’m never going to do that again.”

Jon: And if it was, “I’m never going to flood the earth again”, it’s kind of like, “Ok, thanks God, but you could burn the earth!” … But the Flood story is not about how God’s going to destroy the earth as much as it’s showing you the collapsing of Creation.

Tim: Yes, correct, that’s right.

Earth burning

Jon: And He’s saying, “I’m not going to do that again” So is it “I’m not going to flood the Earth” or “I’m not going to collapse Creation on itself”?

Tim: Yeah, I think it’s that. So when Peter brings up that narrative, he says, “Remember by the word of God the heavens existed and the Earth was formed out of water by water” [2 Peter 3:5] So the word of God, waters separate from waters, dry land.

“And through it the world was also destroyed—flooded with water.” [v6] God allows the waters to come back over.

“But by His word the present age—the present heavens and the Earth are being reserved for fire—kept for the day of justice for the destruction of…” [v7] I’m not going to finish the sentence but what in your imagination? …

Jon: Destruction of the land?

Tim: Yeah, the cosmos or something. [But] what he says is, “the destruction of the wicked”

Jon: Oh.

Tim: The purifying fire is about the removal of evil, which maps on precisely to the nature of fire imagery in the prophets. God says he’s going to burn Jerusalem so that he can remove the wicked and restore the repentant remnant into the New Jerusalem, which is purified.

Or the best is Zephaniah chapter 3, when it’s like, “I’m going to assemble all nations and pour out my burning wrath and fire on them”, and you’re like, “Oh, no more nations—they’re done for”, and then the next sentence is, “so that they can call upon me with a pure speech”—“pure” being purified. So even the fire imagery is metaphorical.

Therefore wait for me, says the Lord, for the day when I arise as a witness. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth shall be consumed.

At that time I will change the speech of the peoples [the nations] to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.

Zephaniah 3:8-9, NRSV

Jon: It’s not about deescalating Creation into nothingness.

Tim: Then [Peter] goes on later on in the paragraph and talks about the Day of the Lord comes like a thief, the heavens pass away with a roar and then the “something” will be destroyed with heat and the land and all of its works will be… and then there’s a textual variant. One is “burned up”, the other one is “discovered” [“disclosed”], in which case, it’s another melting down to expose what needs to be removed. Like melting down metal so the dross comes up. For me at least, I think the most coherent reading is that the fire imagery is metaphorical because the things that are getting burned up isn’t Creation, it’s evil deeds.

Jon: Whether or not the fire is metaphoric, like is it getting to that this needs to be destroyed or does it need to be remade new?

Tim: Yes, so I think depending on the communication goals of an author. The Apostles will sometimes really want to emphasise the continuity between this age and the new age, and so John will talk about “I am making all things new” and this has the parallel in the resurrection narratives where Jesus is showing them his hands that have the scars and he has a human body, and they can recognise him most of the time. So the same Jesus they hung out with in Galilee is the same that is risen. So the point there is about the continuity and God’s not going to give up—He’s going to redeem this thing—the redemption from slavery imagery—Creation redeemed from slavery and decay.

But then there are other times, especially when the Apostles are focusing on the tragedy and the horror of what humans have done to the place and when they want to emphasise how that won’t be around anymore—God’s going to deal with that—what you find is that they typically use images or metaphors that emphasise discontinuity. So the world as we experience it will be burned.

Jon: “The sky will fade away”.

Tim: Correct. Again none of this is about video camera footage, it’s telling us something about the nature the world as we know it and the nature of the world to come. And there it’s evil won’t be allowed to pass through the Day of the Lord—it will stop and be removed. 


My transcript above is of the last 10 minutes of Design Patterns in the Bible Part 4: Chaotic Waters & Baptism by Jon Collins and Tim Mackie (slightly edited for readability). I’m delighted that Tim views divine fire as purifying—eradicating evil deeds rather than evildoers themselves. I think the logical trajectory of this is that only evil will be entirely eradicated forever, which seems to leave no room for eternal conscious torment or annihilationism.

Surprising Fire

Fire is an important image in the Bible about God’s presence. God appeared in a burning bush to Moses, in flames over Mount Senai, and in a pillar of fire over the tabernacle. And so the flames at Pentecost: this is the marking out of temple space—places where heaven and earth meet, become where God’s appearance manifests itself.

The Bible Project, Acts E2: Pentecost and the Expected Unexpected Spirit

(I experienced shivers down my spine as I wrote something very similar just minutes before I heard the above podcast)

Unlike earthly fire, God’s fire isn’t indiscriminate but only eradicates evil to refine and purify. For example:

I will turn my hand against you and will burn away your dross completely; I will remove all your impurities.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.”

Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

Isaiah 1:25, 6:6-7, 48:10, CSB

Isaiah being purified by glowing coal in The Bible Project's excellent video on Holiness
Isaiah’s shock at being purified by God. Image: The Bible Project’s video on Holiness

I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are my people, and they will say: “The Lord is our God.”

Zechariah 13:9, CSB

Yet he knows the way I have taken; when he has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold.

Job 23:10, CSB

For you, God, tested us; you refined us as silver is refined.

Psalm 66:10, CSB

But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

Malachi 3:2-3, CSB

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold, but the one who purifies hearts by fire is the Lord.

Proverbs 17:3, GW

each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15, CSB

This is why the Holy Spirit, whilst described as fire, doesn’t eradicate people. For example:

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Luke 3:16, CSB

They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:3-4, CSB

In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1 Thessalonians 5:18-20, EHV

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning.

Isa 4:4, BRG

Showing hospitality to someone who has enmity towards you is “fiery” in this sense.

If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Romans 12:20, CSB

In my next post, God willing, I’ll look at how this, somewhat surprising, image of refining fire needs to inform the way we interpret verses about fire at the end of the age and in the ages to come (which providentially, The Bible Project discussed a few weeks ago).

Above & below

God above
Earth below
Filled with love
Yet sorrow knows

From above
To below
Seeks the lost
Mercy bestows

Father above
Child below
Moment of clarity
Home I go

Order above
Chaos below
Meaningful moments
Thus we grow

Aim above
Strive below
Seek the truth
Shalom will flow

Judge above
Nations below
Justice restored
Evil brought low

Fire above
Fire below
Refined by love
Through we go

Mystery above
Revealed below
Creation renewed
All in tow

 

Silhouette of tree above & below ground

Engaging Stackhouse’s View of Hell―Part 1

John G. Stackhouse Jr.
John G. Stackhouse Jr.

John Stackhouse wrote the biblical and theological case for Terminal Punishment (also know as Conditionalism or Annihilationism) in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. As I did with the previous chapter, my aim is to engage with him as I read through his chapter, and not read the responses from the other authors until after I’ve finished my own.

Introduction

I like Stackhouse’s opening paragraph:

Any proper doctrine of hell must take thoroughly into account the goodness of God, an attribute that can be viewed as having two poles, both of which are essential …

… God’s holiness: God’s moral rectitude and cleanness, God’s detestation of all that is wrong and his relentless action to make everything right. God is, in a word, a perfectionist … “God is light” (1 John 1:5)

… God’s benevolence: God’s kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. God is, in a word, a lover … “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16)

John Stackhouse, page 61

The first example of “everything right” was in Eden before the Fall, and so I think that scene should define the minimum of any future right-ness. In it all humanity were created in God’s image and enjoyed holy relationships of selfless love―there was no death, destruction, or annihilation.

Stackhouse contends that his view, summarised below, satisfies both poles of God’s goodness better than the alternative views, and furthermore, is the most warranted by Scripture.

hell is the situation in which those who do not avail themselves of the atonement made by Jesus in his suffering and death must make their own atonement by suffering and then death, separated from the sustaining life of God and thus disappearing from the cosmos.

John Stackhouse, page 61-62

It will be interesting to see Stackhouse unpack this but my first reaction is that I don’t see why death has to be seen as complete separation from God. According to the 2016 Annual Moore College Lectures, most Christians believe in at least a semi-conscious intermediate state, where those who have died go until the general resurrection. That seems to imply “death” cannot simply be equated to complete separation and cessation.

What Is Hell?

In this section, Stackhouse highlights the three biblical depictions of hell he sees as central:

  1. A destination.

Hell is the logical and metaphysical, and thus inevitable, outcome of the decision to reject God―and thus to reject the good.

John Stackhouse, page 63

As with the previous quote, I’m concerned too much weight is placed on someone’s “decision“―whether they reject or “avail themselves”. As far as I can tell, everyone is ignorant of the complete reality of their choices, that we are corrupted/damaged and lacking in discernment. We desperately need the Holy Spirit to work in us, to heal us, give us wisdom, and the ability to choose what is best for us―namely the Good. I think Talbott’s reflection on C. S. Lewis’ conversion is very helpful when considering the role of our decisions.

  1. A fire. He says that fire performs two functions in the Bible:

The first is that of testing, or judging, the essential nature of a thing by destroying anything that lacks value, as fire burns away husks to reveal seeds, if there are any … . The second … [is] purifying the situation of that thing itself if there is nothing to it of lasting value.

John Stackhouse, page 63

I believe the Bible teaches us that everyone is a child of God―made in His image. If the biological seed/connection from our parents is irreversible (it’s in our DNA), how much more permanent will the divine (immortal) seed/connection from our Father be!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39, ESV

  1. A dump. He says it fits because:

… hell is the place to which evil is removed and in which it is destroyed (Matt. 22:13; 25:30)

John Stackhouse, page 63

The first passage cited is the parable where one of the king’s wedding guests was so arrogant and ungrateful that he didn’t even bother to dress respectfully. Similarly, the second passage is the parable where a servant was so apathetic about his master’s business, that he did nothing with the talent entrusted to him. In both cases, the consequence was being thrown into the “outer darkness”. However, there’s no mention of them being “destroyed”, on the contrary, we are told there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (a conscious activity), which might be a sign of remorse (a step towards repentance). Given another chance, I suspect they would have a better attitude. Regardless of whether I’ve interpreted that detail correctly, I think Jesus’ point was that self-righteousness and laziness towards God are character flaws that will be addressed―and I believe―corrected, even if that requires hiding from us (outer darkness) so our delusions shatter.

Regarding Stackhouse’s comments about evil, I believe God’s holiness and love means He will not tolerate evil continuing anywhere, not even in hell 1. But how He achieves that seems to depend on what evil isor isn’t… Some theologians suggest it is the privation of good, similar to darkness occurring when light is removed. If that is the case, adding enough divine light/goodness should result in the cessation of evil.

Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.

Romans 12:21, CEV

Alternatively, I think evil could be described as “any will discordant to God’s”. If that is correct, evil will cease if God can freely bring our wills into harmony with His―which seems to be His plan.

… [God] is patient with you; for it is not his purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn 2 from his sins.

2 Peter 3:9, CJB

Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?

Abraham Lincoln


1. Which I think is a huge issue for the Eternal Conscious Torment view.
2. Literally, “a change of mind”.

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.

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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