The Case Against Eternal Torment
The purpose of this study is to examine the case against eternal torment in the Lake of Fire for those that do accept Christ as saviour in this life. Of course many of you have already made up your minds and are quite happy with the idea, so you may stop reading now.
From what I've seen thus far, a reasonable debate does not seem possible. Few other subjects arouse such passion and hostility within the church. Those that oppose the doctrine are often accused outright of following after doctrines of demons. Accusations fly in both directions rather than a sensible logical exchange of scripture.
It is also clear from the postings in Forumland that the subject of eternal damnation in the flames of Hell is a major stumbling block with the atheists. On any religious debate, it is not long before this subject is brought up by them as a significant reason for not believing in the existence of God. Whenever the Christian posts a statement about God's love, the atheist raises the apparent contraction with the casting of unbelievers into Hell. At this point the thread comes to an abrupt end.
The Fundamental Doctrine
The fundamental doctrine (here-on referred to as FD) of salvation and judgement states the following:
- If by the time of death a person has not accepted Christ as their personal saviour and invited Him to live in their hearts, their names will not be in the Book of Life (here-on referred to as the BoL.
- After resurrection, they will face God's judgement which is to be thrown into a literal Lake of Fire (here-on referred to as LoF).
- In the LoF they will be tormented by fire before God for all eternity with no chance of escape.
- It doesn't matter if one has led an otherwise good or bad life; the fate of all is exactly the same.
- Judgement is black or white. Judgement is defined as punishment.
- This act of God is justice and fair.
I want to work through the key concepts of the FD to see if there is a logical basis to support them.
The Nature of God
Scripture continually tells us that God is love; He is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. Although we have several accounts of His wrath being exercised, such as the Noah Flood; the Exodus plagues and conquest of the Canaanites; the desolation of Israel and deportation to Babylon; and the wrath poured out in Revelation, we say that these only occurred after ample warnings to the people concerned. However it is one thing to end a human life prematurely (consider our lives on Earth are so short anyway), but quite another to torment them eternally. God's anger may subside after thousands of people have died, but by implication, eternal fiery torture tells us that his wrath endures forever. This torment fundamentally contradicts the concept of 'God is Love'.
In the OT there are 44 occurrences of the statement “His love endures forever”. The FD must therefore insist that either this love does not extend to those who are cast into the LoF, or that His love lasts only for their duration on Earth and is terminated upon death.
How much do you love your children? Does your love still endure if they descend into drugs, crime and prostitution? Even if their actions and speech incur your anger, wreck your relationship with them and spoil all the good times, do you still deep down have a core love for them that doesn't die? Because they are your children, your love remains. Is it reasonable to suggest that we love our children more than God loves the World?
God so loved the World that He sent His only Son to die on a cross...... Yet at the point of condemning someone to the flames, His actions tell us that He now hates them.
Imagine watching from God's perspective the events unfolding at the WTC Twin Towers in 2001. Upon collapse of the towers some people will have been alive whist they fell, then at some point instantly killed. Was God watching calling, “I love you, I love you, I love you....”, point of death, “....I hate you, I hate you, I hate you”?
Suppose you witnessed a road accident and someone was trapped in a car which was on fire? Could you ignore the screams and walk away? Or would you make every effort to get them out irrespective of their spiritual condition? Does God love them in the car, but not in the LoF? Would you show more mercy than God? I suggest you believe you are more merciful than God because the FD states that He will deliberately set them on fire.
If God is a God of mercy, why resurrect those poor people just to torture them? Why not leave them in their graves dead and in complete oblivion?
In attempt resolve the obvious contradiction between 'God is love' and the LoF, many people will invent devices to 'get God off the hook'.
- The FD says that although God is Love, those that reject Him deserve their fate; they have made themselves His enemies. What do we do then with Jesus' statement telling us to love our enemies and do good to them? Is this a case of do what I say but not as I do?
- Some say God will condemn them to the flames with tears in His eyes. No such statement can be found in scripture. Is He supposedly in deep remorse for what He is about to do? Then why do it?
- Others say God will blank their pain from Himself. If so then He would be an even greater monster, more concerned with his own emotional well being than the agony of those in the flames.
- Still others say that the unbelievers send themselves into Hell. That's not what scripture says.
The Nature of the Torment
In 1184, the Roman Catholic Synod of Verona legislated that burning was to be the official punishment for heresy, as Church policy was against the spilling of blood. This decree was later reaffirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, the Synod of Toulouse in 1229, and numerous spiritual and secular leaders through the 17th century. Civil authorities burnt persons judged to be heretics under the medieval Inquisition and burning was also used by Protestants during the witch-hunts of Europe.
When burning at the stake was applied with skill, the condemned's body would burn progressively in the following sequence: calves, thighs and hands, torso and forearms, breasts, upper chest, face; and then finally death. Several records report that victims took over 2 hours to die. In many burnings a rope was attached to the convict's neck passing through a ring on the stake and they were simultaneously strangled and burnt. Death might come from carbon monoxide poisoning, heatstroke, shock, loss of blood and/or simply the thermal decomposition of vital body parts.
Pause here and imagine that YOU are the victim being executed because you refused to bow to the authority of the Pope for instance, or perhaps you believed the bible should be written in your native language. Imagine your skin drying, splitting, and peeling from your flesh; your body fluids boiling and venting through your muscles; your marrow roasting inside your bones. Imagine the agony, being deafened by your own screams. Your only hope is that you will die quickly and enter oblivion where the pain ceases.
Now imagine instead that you are in a literal lake of fire as described by the FD. This burning, pain and agony doesn't end after two hours. A day later it's still going on and on. After a year, a hundred years, a million years, the torture is still as intense as when it started and you know that though this will go on for billions of years, it will never end. You look out through the flames and can see God watching you: the same God that everyone insisted His love endured forever.
Fire by definition consumes something. When combustible material is exhausted the fire dies out. One would therefore expect a body to be consumed until they no longer remain, perhaps an hour or so in a LoF? Someone falling into a blast furnace used for smelting iron ore at temperatures up to 2300° would be vaporised before they hit the bottom. So what is the intensity of the LoF? For a person to be tormented in flames for eternity, then two things must be happening:
- The flames themselves must have an inexhaustible fuel.
- God must be actively second by second recreating human body material to replace the material being consumed.
Therefore we must conclude that God would be sitting deliberately wilfully torturing.
In modern times in South Africa, extra-judicial execution by burning was done via a method called necklacing where rubber tyres filled with kerosene or petrol are placed around the neck of a live individual. The fuel is then ignited, the rubber melts, and the condemned is burnt to death.
In Rio de Janeiro, burning people standing inside a pile of tyres is a common form of murder used by drug dealers to punish those who have supposedly collaborated with the police. This form of burning is called microondas, "the microwave".
On 19 June 2008, Taliban in Sadda, Lower Kurram, Pakistan burnt alive three truck drivers of the Turi tribe after they attacked a convoy of trucks loaded with food and other basic needs & medicine, in the presence of security forces.
Torture by burning still exists all over the world and we consider these to be evil practices. Is God even more evil than all the sadistic torturers in human history?
The Numbers Game
Let's estimate that of all mankind, only 2% come to believe in Jesus. 98% are cast into the LoF because of sin. Who has the victory, God or Satan? Was Jesus death a great victory or a complete unmitigated defeat? If a plan to save mankind only saves 2%, it's a failure isn't it?
All Satan had to do was deceive one person, Eve, on one single occasion, and virtually all mankind must be tortured forever by God in revenge? Man so fragile that sin and deception so easily took hold. It would appear that man was not made to a very robust design.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he returned to the tenants to inspect the fruit of the vineyard but he finds that 98% of the grapes have been wasted, withered, or thrown away. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants? Will He say well done my good and faithful servants?
We could argue that the owner was irresponsible to leave such an important task to a bunch of useless muppets. The church's history is full of evil, fraud, cheating, murder, raping, pillaging, indulgences. We think we are so much more enlightened than the medieval church, yet still fraudulent preachers fleece the flock whilst telling them God wants them to be rich, and all the while the number of those 'being saved' is tiny. If a manufacturing company spent it's investment on flash cars, $3000 dollar suits, luxury homes for its directors, but had a scrap rate of 98%, it would be out of business within months.
If God knew all along that your next door neighbour was not going to accept Jesus in this life, then surely the merciful thing would be for him to have been one of the 50% of embryos that naturally fail to implant their mother's womb.
No Room for Judgement
According to FD the fate of Hitler, Stalin, paedophile rapist, sweet grandma and boy who stole a bar of chocolate from the corner shop, is the same. It's not about whether a person led a good or bad life, if their name's not on the list, they're in the LoF. Judgement is synonymous with the word 'punishment'.
However, judgement is by definition concerned with fairness, punishment fitting the crime, extenuating circumstances, admission of guilt. Imagine a high court judge sentenced the teenage boy to death for stealing chocolate. The Church would be outraged: cries of injustice, pleas for mercy, prayers to God to save the boy. Now suppose God announces that when the executioner is finished, He will have the boy tormented by fire for eternity. The Church now says, “Oh well that's fair enough justice for not accepting Christ”. Double standards!
The fate of all cannot be the same:
Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
So if the dead are judged in accordance with their works, how can the fate of all unbelievers be the same? Will some be subjected to higher temperatures in the LoF? Will some get a good beating before being thrown in?
Matthew 11:23-24 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you."
The FD has the same problem here. How can the citizens of Capernaum share exactly the same LoF fate as those of Sodom, when Jesus tells us it will be worse for Capernaum? Will the Sodomites get asbestos suits to make the flames more bearable?
If we accept that the human conditions is sin, an inherited condition, then are we really to blame? Although we are responsible for our own acts of sin, we sin because it is our nature. The church shows compassion for those with inherited genetic conditions that result in some mental or physical disability, but not those in the LoF as a result of inheriting sin.
According to the FD, a child is shown mercy, but an adult is not? Where is the age cut off? What happens to the mentally disabled or those with a very low IQ who cannot be reasonably expected to make an informed decision? What is the IQ cut off?
What is the point of this punishment anyway? What does it achieve for God or those in the LoF? Prisons today are not there just to punish the convicted, but aim to rehabilitate offenders so that after their debt to society is paid, they have a chance to lead law abiding lives. A taste of prison is often enough to keep people on the right side of the law from then on. No such second chance is given to those under the FD, who couldn't possibly appreciate the gravity of their future situation whilst alive on Earth.
The Book of Life
According to the FD, anyone who has not accepted Christ does not have their name written in the Book of Life (BofL). Is this actually true?
The term 'Book of Life' occurs nine times in scripture and nowhere is it stated how one gets their name written in it and only one place where one can be blotted out. To say that believing in Christ gets your name written in or not believing in Him gets your name blotted out is a church invention. This doctrine just isn't supported by scripture.
David asked God in Psalm 69 to blot out the names of his enemies from the BoL. Note these were David's enemies and not God's, and David did have a penchant for shedding an awful lot of blood. This is the only mention in the OT of the BoL.
Paul in his letter to Philippians names some of his fellow workers whose names were in the BoL.
All other references are in Revelation and here it states the fates of those who are in and the fates of those that are not.
Rev 17 does talk about those whose names have not been written in the BoL since the creation of the Earth, but exactly who these people are and how they came to be born without their names in the BoL, we are not told.
Rev 22 warns that if anyone takes away from the book of prophesy, they will be removed from the BoL, but who would do this except the church?
The obvious question is how could anyone possibly accept Jesus before He came into the world or before the gospel ever reached them? In the absence of being born an Israelite, is it any wonder the peoples of the world believed in other Gods? Will all these people be condemned for not believing in a God they never knew?
Paul says in Romans 1 that the world is without excuse since God's power and divine nature have been revealed in creation. But without excuse for what? In v18 he tells us it is their wickedness for which God's wrath will be upon them. This is reasonable as everyone from Adam to now has a built in inner conscience that tells them what is right and what is wrong – although the dividing line will obviously vary from person to person, dependant on the culture and environment in which they have been born into. Paul goes on to state that the wicked are full of every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity, then lists a number of examples. But this is not the condition of every unbeliever. Is your kindly next door neighbour or work colleague, a murderer, full of malice, depraved, insolent, etc, etc,? Or are they just trying to get through life, bring up a family, pay their taxes, and be a decent law abiding citizen? Some people that you know will occasionally put the church to shame by their good deeds.
The truth is scripture does not tell us how some people are in the BoL, how some people are not, and only one method for getting blotted out. Clearly as David knew of the book's existence and had the understanding that people's names were already written way before Jesus came into the world, then obviously one can be in the BoL without having accepted Jesus.
So there must be some other criteria other than believing in Jesus for being in the BoL and therefore some other criteria against which one will be cast into the LoF. What that criteria is, is not explicitly stated in scripture. Everyone will be judged, which begins with the House of God by the way, and each person will stand or fall based on their deeds as written on various books. Believing in Jesus now on Earth does at least present us with an opportunity to sort our lives out now, so that we won’t run the risk of incurring the wrath of God.
Yes Jesus said that no one can come to the Father by Him. But how can anyone have come to the Father before Jesus came into the World? The solution it seems is that no one can come to the Father but by the sacrifice for sin that was Jesus. When He took away the sin of the World He did for all mankind, past, present and future. Sacrifices made under the law could never take away sin:
Hebrews 10:11-12 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Christ) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
When God looked at Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, etc, He could see their sin was still uncovered. So to make a relationship possible, He looked to mankind's future and saw the covering sacrifice of Jesus instead, because it's all about Him and not about man's efforts that make us acceptable to God. This is why no one, past present or future, or before Christ, can come to the Father unless there was the atoning sacrifice of Jesus in place at some point in human history.
Finally Jesus makes an interesting comment in John 10:16
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
If “this sheep pen” was Israel or Jesus' immediate followers, were these other sheep people scattered throughout the world who were 'good' people but had not yet heard of Jesus?
All Israel will be saved
This is according to Paul in Romans 11:26. Why? Is this irrespective of sin and confession of Christ? What is so special about Israel? Were they not a means to an end – to provide a people, culture, bloodline that would ultimately result in God's Son entering the world? What about the Native American or Australian Aborigine? Won't they cry out “Well if I'd been born in Israel, I would be saved; I didn't decide where I was born.”
What is the Lake of Fire?
If we accept without question the FD, the likelihood is that we imagine the LoF by picturing something like Lake Michigan, but instead of being filled with water, it is filled with a flammable liquid which has been set on fire as far as the eye can see.
Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John (NKJ)
The important word here is 'signified'.
Signify - verb (signifies, signfied) 1 be an indication of. 2 be a symbol of; have as meaning. 3 indicate or declare (a feeling or intention). 4 be of importance
DERIVATIVES signification noun.
ORIGIN Latin significare ‘indicate, portend’, from signum ‘token’.
The use and definition of signified sets out from the very beginning of the Book of Revelation, that everything written in it is symbolic, ergo, true, but not literally true.
As further evidence that the whole book is composed of symbolism, we can look at each chapter in turn and pull out a key subject in each:
Rev 1: Jesus walks around with a broadsword hanging out of His mouth? Is this a real literal sword? No, the sword is symbolic of His word.
Rev 2: Jesus spends His time walking about between seven lampstands? Are these real literal lampstands? No, they are symbolic of the seven churches.
Rev 3: Jesus is holding stars in His hand? Are these real literal stars? No, stars are billions of times larger than the Earth. The stars are symbolic of the angels of the seven churches.
Rev 4: Is the sea before the throne made of real literal glass? No this is symbolic, as glass is a solid at room temperature and sea is made of water.
Rev 5: Does the lamb literally have seven horns and seven eyes? No they have two of each. The seven eyes are symbolic of the seven spirits of God.
Rev 6: Are the four horsemen riding four real literal horses? No they are symbolic, as horses can only travel at 30mph so couldn’t possibly visit the whole Earth, besides which, horses aren’t available in red.
Rev 7: Are the four angels standing at four real literal corners of the Earth? No this is symbolic, as the Earth is spherical and in order to have four corners, it would have to be flat with four distinct sides.
Rev 8: Can eagles really literally talk? No this is symbolic.
Rev 9: Is it possible that somewhere upon the Earth there is a real literal bottomless pit? No this is symbolic, as the Earth is finite in diameter, so a bottomless pit is impossible unless it constitutes a hole that passes all the way through.
Rev 10: Does thunder really literally speak intelligent words? No this is symbolic, as thunder is the sound waves generated when a high voltage electrical current turns a column of air to plasma which forces a rapid expansion of the surrounding air.
Rev 11: Do olive trees have real literal mouths from which they can breathe real literal fire? No these are symbolic trees.
Rev 12: Can a woman be really literally clothed with the sun, stand on the real literal moon, and wear twelve real literal stars on her head? No these are symbolic, as she would be incinerated.
Rev 13: The beast with seven heads, ten horns and ten crowns walking up the local beach – Is this a real literal beast? No it's symbolic.
Rev 14: Is Babylon literally going to fall again? No this is symbolic, as Babylon was completely desolate by 141BC by the time the Parthian Empire took over the region.
Rev 15: Literal sea of glass again? No, symbolic.
Rev 16: Can a real literal bowl of some reactive substance be literally poured out upon the sun? No this is symbolic, as a bowl of several million miles in diameter containing something extremely potent would be required to have any effect on the sun.
Rev 17: Will a real literal woman who drinks real literal blood ride about on the back of a literal scarlet beast? No, this chapter gives us the interpretation of the symbology of the woman and the beast.
Rev 18: Literal Babylon falling again? No symbolic.
Rev 19 & 20: Are we seeing a real literal lake of fire? No it's symbolic. It simply is not credible to agree that the whole of Revelation consists of signs, symbols, pictures and images that represent something else, but then pick out one single element and insist it's real and literal in an attempt to prop up a doctrine.
The LoF is symbolic with the picture of people being consumed by fire.
Deuteronomy 4:24 “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
Hebrews 12:29 “for our "God is a consuming fire."
God is a consuming fire, so the LoF is a picture of God Himself consuming these people. What is it about the person that offends God but their sin? We've all heard the phrase “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” God is consuming the sin, the impurity, the rubbish. A picture of how this works is in Corinthians
1 Cor 3:11-15 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Here we have a picture of each man's work in this life being subjected to the consuming fire of God. The good works survive, but the wood, hay, straw, sin, poor quality work, the rubbish, will be burnt up. Ah but some will object saying that this passage only applies to the church. Really? Paul said “If ANY man”. Isn't it obvious that the same consuming fire of God working here in Corinthians is the same as the consuming fire of God in Revelation? Does God have two different kinds of consuming fire? Does God selectively apply His fire to the works of the Christian but apply it to the whole person of the unbeliever to kill them for eternity? Is God a respector of persons? If judgement comes upon the unbeliever, does not that same judgement start in the House of God? Or would you rather sing in church about the refiners fire making you holy, then walk out to tell the sinner that the same fire will sadistically torture them?
So what is the point of being saved then? Every point. In this life we can ask for His judgement to come upon us now, we have an opportunity to sort our lives out whilst we are alive. Failure to do so will result in being subject to His judgement at the resurrection and it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. This is why Jesus tells us now to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands that cause us to sin. He says it's better to get rid of our sin now, issue by issue, with His assistance, as His spirit changes us, rather than leave it until it's too late where we He would have our entire sinful selves to deal with in His consuming fire. We also get the added bonus of being invited to the Wedding feast, bearing in mind that Wedding feasts do not go on for eternity.
Mark 9:43-49 also talks about this cutting off of hands, feet and eyes, but then Jesus says that everyone will be salted with fire. It's that same consuming fire again, either in this life or in the next.
In Matthew 18:23-35 Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. The story is the parable of the unmerciful servant who demands payment of a small debt from his poorer colleague. It ends with the unmerciful servant being handed over to the jailor for torture until the debt was paid. What we can deduce is that:
- Debt equates to sin.
- The sinful servant is not forgiven in this life.
- He is handed over for torture until the sin debt is paid.
- The torture is not eternal.
Clearly as this is a parable describing Heavenly themes, what is happening to the unmerciful servant is not an Earthly matter. The jail, the debt, the torture are symbolic of what happens to the sinner after judgement.
The FD would have us believe that God throws a load of brimstone into the flames of Hell to make the existence of those being tortured even more miserable. Even the term 'fire and brimstone' conjures up images of doom. But what exactly is brimstone and what was it used for?
Brimstone - noun 1 archaic sulphur. 2 a large bright yellow or greenish-white butterfly.
ORIGIN Old English, probably from bryne burning + stan stone.
“Sulphur is a non-metallic element that occurs in both combined and free states and is distributed widely over the earth’s surface. It is tasteless, odourless, insoluble in water, and often occurs in yellow crystals or masses. It is one of the most abundant elements found in a pure crystalline form. The word sulphur is Latin for "burning stone", and was used almost interchangeably with the term for fire. Because of its combustibility, sulphur was used for a variety of purposes at least 4,000 years ago”.
“Sulphur was used by pagan priests 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. Pre-Roman civilizations used burned brimstone as a medicine and used "bricks" of sulphur as fumigants, bleaching agents, and incense in religious rites. Pliny (23-27 A.D.) Reported that sulphur was a "most singular kind of earth and an agent of great power on other substances," and had "medicinal [sic] virtues". The Romans used sulphur or fumes from its combustion as an insecticide and to purify a sick room and cleanse its air of evil. The same uses were reported by Homer in the Odyssey in 1000 B.C.”
So the use of brimstone was as a disinfectant, a medicine and to purge evil. So is it not obvious that the reason why God gives us the symbology of brimstone is to tell us that the reason people are in the LoF is to purge them from sin, impurity, and ultimately do them some good?
A Word on Eternity
Forever Isn't Always Forever. Our English bibles are full of verses that describe things that last forever, even though scripture tells us that those things do not last forever:
Genesis 48:4 'I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting [olam] possession to your descendants after you.'
Numbers 25:13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of an everlasting [olam] priesthood, because he was zealous for the honour of his God and made atonement for the Israelites."
The OT has very many references to an everlasting covenant, and the land of Israel being an everlasting possession. Yet we know that Jesus gave us a New Covenant and that the land of Israel has not been an everlasting possession. To get around these problems some translations, such as the NIV, have dropped the 'ever' from 'everlasting' to describe the covenant with Israel.
'Forever', 'ever', 'eternal' are other English words that are used when translating 'olam', but even a cursory glance through a concordance will show that 'olam' is very often describing things that do not last forever. In many cases a more accurate use is to describe something that lasts for a long period of time of unspecified length – an age. However, when describing God, clearly 'olam' is describing something that is eternal. So 'olam' derives its meaning from the thing that it is describing and not specifically with time.
When the OT was translated into Greek, the word 'aionios' was used as a translation of 'olam'. This tells us that the translators understood 'aionios' to mean the same thing, that is, used to describe something that lasts through an age or ages, but not necessarily eternity. If 'aionios' only means eternity, then it would not have been used universally for 'olam'. A translator cannot choose to pick a word that has a different meaning from the one used in the texts. Again, when describing God it is referring to something that is eternal, so 'aionios' derives its meaning from the thing being described and not necessarily time.
'Aionios' is the adjective form of the noun 'aion', from where we get the English 'eon' or 'age'. An age is an unspecified but finite length of time. A fundamental linguistic rule is that when an adjective form of a noun is used, one cannot change its meaning. For example, we cannot use the adjective ‘watery’ by changing its meaning to describe something solid and dry. Likewise, we cannot use the adjective ‘aionios’ by changing its meaning from describing something lasting a finite period of time to mean eternal.
If we have an hourly timetable, it tells us about events that occur hour by hour. If we have a monthly project plan, it tells us about tasks as they are scheduled month by month. Similarly a yearly planner allows us to record events that may last from days to years. Neither of these things are eternal. So if scripture tells us about an event using 'aionios' it is something that occurs age by age or lasts an age. If we had an English adjective form of the noun 'age' such as 'agely' then perhaps our doctrines would be different.
Here below are some examples of the use of 'aionios'.
Titus 1:2 ….a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.
Here is a literal translation from the Greek:
….on hope of eternal [aionios] life which the God that does not lie promised before eternal [aionios] times.
We have above a contradiction in the meaning of 'aionios'. The second use applies to the past, but a past eternity makes no sense as it was a finite point in time that that creation began. The translators seeing that this made no sense, just made something up like ‘the beginning of time’ with no regard to rules of language. Other bibles use ‘before the world began’ which is an even worse translation. So as the same word in the same verse can refer to one thing that is ‘eternal’ and one thing that is ‘finite’, then 'aionios' should not always mean forever.
2 Tim 1:9 …who has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time
Again in the literal Greek:
He having saved us and having called us with a Holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace given to us in Christ Jesus before eternal [aionios] times.
Here we also see that to render ‘aionios’ as eternity makes no sense when referring to the past, so the translators admit that ‘aionios’ does not mean eternity, but a finite period of time.
Romans 16:25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past,
In the literal Greek translation:
Now to Him able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of mystery having been kept unvoiced during eternal [aionios] times.
Here is another use of the word ‘aionios’ which makes no sense if translated as a past eternity.
Ephesians 3:9 …..and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
In the literal Greek translation:
…..and to bring all to light, what the fellowship of the mystery having been hidden from eternity [aionios] in God, the creating all things through Jesus Christ.
This is perhaps the best translation of ‘aionios’ in the NIV; here as ‘ages past’.
Interestingly a search of Strong’s concordance shows that ‘aionios’ is never once used to describe Christ’s reign. That is His reign is never called eternal or everlasting. Surely Jesus reigns forever you say:
Revelation 11:15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever."
The literal Greek has this:
And the seventh angel trumpeted. And there were voices great in Heaven saying, became the kingdoms of the world of the Lord of us, and of the Christ of Him, and He shall reign to the ages [aion] of the ages [aion].
Not only is ‘aionios’ incorrectly translated as eternal, eternity, and everlasting, but ‘aion’ or ‘age’ is often incorrectly translated as ever or forever. Jesus will NOT reign for an eternity, and here’s the proof.
1 Corinthians 15:22-28 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
Notice the words ‘reign until’, that means Christ’s reign will come to an end, it is not eternal. He will hand the kingdom to God. Therefore in Revelation and anywhere else we see Christ reigning forever, it simply is not true, and to translate ‘aion’ as ever or forever is incorrect.
In summary every NT scripture where we see the words, eternal, everlasting, forever and ever, these are translated from either ‘aionios’ or ‘aion’, we should read that scripture as describing something that is quite likely to be of finite duration, or lasting through undefined finite ages, unless it is describing God.
Why is this so important? Because whenever we see scripture referring to the LoF or punishment of the wicked is it often described by the words 'aionios' or 'aion', and therefore the FD says that the LoF is eternal torment and punishment. It isn’t necessarily so. With scripture so full of events and situations using 'olam', aionios' and 'aion' which are not eternal, then we cannot insist that the fate of the unbeliever in the LoF is eternal either. It may last a very long time, an age perhaps, but eternal? No.
Finally we have the utter absurdity of the idea that God has hung the great topic of the immortal welfare of millions of souls on the meaning of a single equivocal word. Had he intended to teach endless punishment by one word, that word would have been so explicit and uniform and frequent throughout the OT and NT that no one could mistake its meaning.
A Word on Punishment
Many different Greek words are rendered as punish in English, but here are the verses referring to unbelievers:
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 He will punish [giving full vengeance] those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished [penalty will pay tino] with everlasting [aionios] destruction [olethros] and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
The word 'tino' Strong's #5099. This is the single occurrence of this word in the NT. It means to pay a price by way of return or recompense, pay a penalty.
The word 'olethros' Strong's #3639 is the same word Paul uses to describe what was to happen someone guilty of fornication with his father's wife in the Corinthian Church:
1 Cor 5:4-6 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature[a] may be destroyed [olethros] and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
It is interesting that Paul said that the unbeliever would be destroyed by God's vengeance but then he hands over a believer for destruction by Satan. Which is the worst sin, not believing in God or believing in God and fornicating with one's stepmother? The unbeliever will of course suffer the wrath of God and will pay the penalty of ending up in the LoF, but does it seem right that the believing fornicator still gets away with it before God?
2 Peter 2:9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment [kolazô].
[kolazô, κολάζω] Strong's #2849 check, chastise, to be corrected, chastened, of a drastic method of checking the growth of the almond-tree
Matthew 25:46 Then they will go away to eternal [aiõnios] punishment [kolasis], but the righteous to eternal [aiõnios] life."
[kolasis, κόλασιν] Strong's #2851, checking the growth of trees, esp. almond-trees, chastisement, correction
The word here 'kolasis' refers to a punishment that is chastisement. Chastisement is always intended to bring about a change in behaviour. The word makes no sense to the FD as it tells us about a vengeful penalty punishment only. Chastisement implies that the LoF experience is of finite duration with the unbeliever coming to their senses.
A Word on Destruction
The word 'apollymi' Strongs #622, to destroy, is the word often used to describe the fate of unbelievers and is the root of the word 'Apollyon' the Destroyer that we see in Revelation.
Matt 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Mark 12:9 (New King James Version) “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy [apollymi] the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.
However, you might be surprised to see some other uses of the word:
Matthew 15:24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost [apollymi] sheep of Israel."
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost [apollymi]."
Luke 15:9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost [apollymi] coin.
The word 'apollymi' is translated perish 25 times, destroy 19 times, lose 17 times, lost 13 times and marred once. Dependant on how the translators chose to translate from the Greek to fit their doctrine, it has a huge influence on our perception of the verse in question.
There's no disputing that everyone will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and will be judged in accordance with their works, so the fate of all unbelievers cannot be exactly the same. You might support one of the three possible outcomes:
- Universal Salvation. After some period of time when God has finished dealing them, they are released to enter the New Jerusalem. This outcome would bring the greatest joy to humanity and hopefully the church would be rather pleased too.
- Annihilation. There is a difference between eternal punishing as described by the FD and eternal punishment. Punishment implies a singular one off event that has an eternal outcome. If the punishment is total destruction of the person and they become no more, then there is no eternal conscious torment.
- Perhaps the unbeliever is doomed to spend eternity wondering about in darkness outside the New Jerusalem, living in perpetual shame and regret.
Many of us have seen the films 'Bruce Almighty' and 'Evan Almighty' in which Morgan Freeman plays the role of God. God is represented as a long suffering, deeply loving father, who cares for all humanity with infinite patience, compassion and love. Just the kind of God we all hope for. Now imagine that we've reached the end of the film, and Morgan Freeman suddenly without any explanation, randomly picks up some passer by, and vengefully sets them on fire because they did not love him back. Wouldn't you find this sadistic bipolar behaviour deeply disturbing? Yet this is exactly the God that is taught by the FD.
I simply don't understand how a believer who claims to know God and claims that 'Jesus lives in their hearts', can quite happily accept this vengeful image of God which is contrary to His nature revealed in scripture, and with no sense that there is anything wrong with this picture.