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.