This post is in reply to Jimmy Meeks’s comment on a previous post here.
Mr. Meeks’s original words are in quotations.
‘I agree that almost all the verses you post are compelling arguments for Universalism,’
‘I offer more accurate interpretations which do not contradict Scripture.’
‘All of my quoted Scripture is from the ESV translation.’
In the interest of full disclosure, unless otherwise stated, all my quoted Scripture in English is from Young’s Literal Translation.
‘The first verse you use to support your position is Colossians 1:19 and 20. There are two phrases that are key in interpreting this verse correctly, the first being “reconcile to himself” and the second being “all things”. You interpret “reconcile” to mean “save” (which usually it does) and “all things” to be without qualification (which usually it is). However, it is impossible for both of these interpretations to be taken in this passage without contradicting Scripture. Here’s why.
Revelation 20:10 – “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”’
All right. To start with, ‘for ever and ever’ is a dramatic mistranslation of Greek words which truly mean ‘for an age’ or ‘for an eon’. To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of Romans 1:20, every passage in the New Testament which speaks in translation of eternity uses a form or derivative of the Greek aion, which refers to an age. See this article: http://www.hopebeyondhell.net/blog/what-does-%E2%80%9Ceternity%E2%80%9D-in-the-bible-mean/(Note that I have only read and only agree with the part before the ‘Alternate Views’ section and I do not agree that the strongest phrase used to describe the life of God is ‘to the ages of the ages’; I am aware of the reference in Romans to His eternal power and Godhead.)
It would be tedious for me to reproduce here the many cases where ‘eternity’ as a rendering of ‘aion’ and related words is absurd, but I’d like to share a few of the Bible verses where the word is used, with the word ‘eternity’ substituted for a more reasonable translation, to demonstrate its absurdity.
since it had behoved him many times to suffer from the foundation of the world, but now once, at the full end of the eternities, for putting away of sin through his sacrifice, he hath been manifested;
The end of the eternities? How can there be more than one eternity? How can eternity end?
11And all these things as types did happen to those persons, and they were written for our admonition, to whom the end of the eternities did come,
There it is again, multiple ‘eternities’ ending. Does this make sense to you, Jimmy? If a single aion is forever, then having more than one is absurd. But if a single aion is not forever, then neither is a set of two, or three, or fifty aions! Of course, it is possible that at some point a single aion will last forever, but there is nothing in the lexical content of the word that demands this.
‘Obviously there are at least three “things” which are not reconciled (if you interpret “reconcile” to mean saved from punishment, specifically eternal punishment)’
First, this is not at all obvious in light of the true meaning of aion. An aion can be eternal, just as life can be, but it is not part of the true meaning of the word, as shown either by etymology or by indisputable usage.
Second, I do not interpret ‘reconcile’ to mean ‘save from eternal punishment’. ‘Eternal punishment’ forms no part of my view of soteriology, eschatology, hamartiology , or any other branch of theology. Rom 6:23 says the wages of sin is DEATH. That’s what I believe. You, Mr. Meeks, say that the wages of sin is eternal life in hell. That, I do not believe. I don’t believe we’re saved from going to hell; I believe we’re saved from sin and death.
‘since the devil, the beast, and the false prophet “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” If you attempt to qualify “forever and ever,” I fear this discussion will be over, since that would be nonsense.’
I don’t need to qualify it any more than I need to qualify the existence of the Easter Bunny. I need to show that those words don’t belong there at all. There are many uses throughout the Bible that prove that aion does not signify forever. I have quoted two and linked to a long list of others.
A question, Jimmy: Is an aion forever(by this I mean, is an aion forever by definition, not ‘is some particular aion by coincidence everlasting in length?’)?
If so, what does ‘forever AND ever’ mean in English, and why do the Biblical authors speak of plural aions in Greek?
If not, why do you assume it means forever when it refers to punishment?
‘First, the Greek word translated “reconcile” is “apokatallasso.” While it can mean “to reconcile completely” as you claim it does, it can also mean “to bring back to a state of harmony” (cite Strong’s New Testament Greek Lexicon #604).’
I use Arndt and Gingrich’s ‘A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’ as my primary lexicon, and it only gives the definition ‘reconcile’. My guess as to the reason is that ‘reconcile’ and ‘bring back to a state of harmony’ mean more or less the same thing.
‘Individuals spending eternity separated from God in punishment would be in harmony with God’s justice, wrath, and righteousness.’
No, they wouldn’t. There is nothing ‘just’ about infinite punishment for finite sins, especially when that punishment accomplishes nothing.
Mr. Meeks, a few questions:
Does eternal punishment benefit the sinner?
Does eternal punishment benefit God, as its inflictor?
Does eternal punishment benefit the saints, as its witnesses?
I answer no to all of the above. I dare you to defensibly say yes to any one of them.
‘Individuals in eternal punishment do not mean that God has not brought creation into a state of harmony, quite the opposite if God is just. (I lean towards this interpretation.)’
First, the context shows that this reconciliation is being done through Christ. What does this mean? Well, it seems to mean that if the reconciliation is actually condemnation(a strange, strange thought indeed) then most of the world is condemned through Christ. But what is Christ’s mission? John says:
17For God did not send His Son to the world that he may judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him; (John 3:17)
Second, God would be creating an entirely new state of harmony if your theory were true, not restoring an old one; so it does not fall under the definition of ‘apokatallasso’.
Third, your definition of justice is fundamentally flawed because it creates a conflict between justice and mercy. You present justice as ‘punishing’ and mercy as ‘not punishing’. Clearly, these two are in conflict, and you have created a war within the Godhead between God’s justice and His mercy. As if one could not be simultaneously merciful and just, the doctrine of penal substitution to which most of the church adheres and which you also seem to believe makes out that God cannot be merciful without sacrificing His justice. What to do? Well, it seems Jesus does the mercy bit, and the Father does the justice bit, and lucky for us, Jesus wins a tiny minority of mankind from the domain of justice to that of mercy. But I’m not buying it.
You consider justice to be the opposite of mercy. If this is the case, how can both mercy and justice be good? How can it be that:
12And with Thee, O Lord, [is] kindness, For Thou dost recompense to each, According to his work! (Psalm 62:12, most translations have ‘mercy’ for ‘kindness’)
How can it be that:
9`Thus spake Jehovah of Hosts, saying: True judgment judge ye, And kindness and mercy do one with another. (Zechariah 7:9)
How can it be that:
18And therefore doth wait Jehovah to favour you, And therefore He is exalted to pity you, For a God of judgment [is] Jehovah, O the blessedness of all waiting for Him.(Isa 30:18)
How can these things be, Mr. Meeks?
‘Second, the Greek word translated “all things” is “pas,” which must not always be unqualified, as you interpret it to be. For instance, the same word is used in Matthew 3:5 and 6, when speaking about the ministry of John the Baptist, Matthew says, “Then Jerusalem and ALL Judea and ALL the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” No sensible exegete of Scripture would interpret this to mean that literally every single human being in Judea and the region about the Jordan were baptized by John, that’s nonsense. Therefore, we can conclude that the Greek word “pas” translated as “all things” can and is very often qualified. Going into the possible qualifications at this point I feel is unnecessary, but I will point out one possible qualification.
Again citing Strong’s New Testament Greek Lexicon, “pas” can mean “collectively” or “some of all types.” The same is true in contemporary English. If I say, “I’ve collected all the Beanie Babies made between 1990 and 2000,” I do not mean, literally, every single Beanie Baby, I mean collectively or some of all types, like at least one of every type of Beanie Baby. Therefore, in Colossians 1:20, “all things” could very possibly be qualified to mean, not literally, every conceivable thing in the universe. It could mean, some of all types of things that God reconciled.’
The word pas can indeed mean ‘some of all kinds’. But let us look more closely at Colossians 1:19 and 20. The Greek phrase is ‘ta panta’, literally ‘the all things’. If it means ‘some of all kinds of things’, as you assert, then the phrase is indefinite. But the article cannot attach to an indefinite noun. It’s not allowed. Therefore, ‘ta panta’ means all things, without qualification, or with qualification by context, as ‘all things that are such and such,’. But such context does not exist here, leaving us with the unqualified ‘all things’.
‘For your proof text of Ephesians chapter 1, I would point back to my argument of the interpretation of “all things.”’
And I would point back to my above explanation of why that overlooks a fundamental fact of Greek grammar; namely, that the article is never attached to an indefinite noun.
‘On your point that God’s purposes are never frustrated, I find that we can agree.’
Oh? So, does God purpose to save all men, or no?
‘In Luke 3:6, again “all flesh” can mean some of all types of flesh, as I believe it does here. Both Jews and Gentiles will experience salvation, that is all flesh, but does not mean every human being. In Luke 3:6, John is quoting the beginning verses of Isaiah 40, which in that context it is clear that he means all flesh shall “see” as in acknowledge the existence of, not “see” as in experience. Every human being will see God’s salvation, just some will see it from a distance. They will see that they are not experiencing it.’
John was quoting Isaiah 40 immediately previously, but I don’t think Luke 3:6 represents a quote therefrom. In Isaiah 40, all flesh see the glory of God, which is much different from His salvation. If he is in fact quoting Isaiah, then the context is somewhat on my side, as this is supposed to be a comforting passage, and it is more comforting that ‘all will be saved’ than that ‘all will witness some being saved’. However, I will concede that this verse could go either way.
‘1 Timothy 4:10 states that God is the Savior of all men. This is true. There is no other Savior, or name by which we must be saved.’
This doesn’t go far enough. Merely to say that there is no other Savior is not to say that God is Savior of all. Look at this simple syllogism.
1. God is the Savior of all.
2. A Savior is one who saves.
3. God is the one who saves all.
The only way you can deny this clear truth is to deny either that ‘God is the Savior of all’(which you just affirmed) or ‘A Savior is one who saves’(which would be absurd.)
‘He is the Savior “especially of those who believe.” So what’s the distinction? All humans experience grace, though some only experience it temporally. The only reason I woke up this morning is God’s grace. I don’t deserve to live in God’s creation, since I have broken God’s laws. He does not owe me anything. The fact that all people, even nonbelievers, experience grace in the temporal sense, does not mean that all will experience grace in the eternal sense. That is why Paul adds the distinction, “especially those who believe.”’
Letting someone live a few extra years and rack up some more sins before He casts him into Hell does not make God that person’s Savior. Merely having your sentence delayed does not mean God saves you. You can argue that in some sense it’s grace, but it’s pretty measly grace, and it doesn’t matter. The verse says ‘Savior’, not ‘grace-giver.’ God does not save all men, in your view, therefore He is not the Savior of all men, in your view. There is no way around that simple fact.
‘For 1 Corinthians 15:22, I would again point out that “pas” does not mean “all” unqualified. The qualifications are implied with the rest of what Paul teaches about coming to faith in order to be saved.’
Here you are clearly wrong, Mr. Meeks. Paul goes out of his way to indicate that just as in Adam all die, so also in this manner in Christ all shall be made alive. In Greek he says, hosper gar en to adam pantes apothneskousin(Just as in Adam all die), houtos kai en to Christo pantes zoopoiethesontai(so also in Christ all shall be made alive). The connection is clearly drawn that the two work the same way. Death in Adam, as I’m sure you will agree, is universal and involuntary. So also, then, is life in Christ.
‘I am struggling to see how Hebrews 2:14 is relevant to Universalism. Yes God has the power over death. Nowhere in this verse does it imply that he grants eternal life to everybody.’
The point made, Mr. Meeks, is that through Christ’s sacrifice, God beat the devil and overthrew death. The devil had the power of death, now Christ has destroyed him and taken that power of death. The majority of the modern church(and seemingly you also) teaches that most people, however, will still be subject to the devil’s power of death, and will suffer ‘eternal death’.
‘For 2 Timothy 1:10, you expound on the word “abolish,” which I find to be academically naive, since “abolish” is just a translation into English. However, the Greek word katargeo, which is translated “abolish,” is accurately portrayed by your definition of abolish.’
‘Abolish in this sense cannot mean to destroy completely. Death will still be prevalent in the future.’
Abolish can here be understood to mean ‘to destroy completely’ if we assume that the abolishment has not yet been fully realized, which you pretty much have to assume to give the passage any real meaning at all.
Death will not be prevalent into eternity future, but has already been defeated. When we see the full realization of that defeat, there will be no more death of any kind.
‘You will no doubt agree that people die physically. But I assume you do not believe that people die spiritually, the second death.’
I believe that death of all kinds must in the end be abolished.(1 Cor 15:26) So no one remains eternally in death of any kind.
‘But Scripture clearly states that people do die in “the second death.”
Revelation 21:8 – “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”’
Truth be told, I don’t really understand most of the book of Revelation. A literal interpretation of the lake of fire is rendered dubious by the statement that Death and Hades themselves are cast thereinto(Rev 20:14). That said, inasmuch as there is a literal burning flame(which I doubt, but cannot certainly deny), I believe it is temporary and corrective, and that the gates of the New Jerusalem are always open, as it says in Rev 21:25.
My belief that God’s punishment is temporary and corrective is based on an understanding of a God who is Love and who does not cause suffering to no good end. What is the good end of eternal hell, Mr. Meeks?
‘Just as you believe traditionalists must ignore the Scripture that you proposed (which I believed I showed can be interpreted in a view different than yours), I believe Universalists must ignore all the clear teachings of hell in Scripture.’
For the first 500 years of church history, the majority of Christians were Universalist, especially educated Greek-speaking Christians. Evidently these teachings were not nearly so clear in the original languages.
‘Matthew 25:41, 46 – “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,’…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
How do you interpret “eternal punishment” found in this verse?’
As age-during chastisement or correction. The translation ‘correction, chastisement’ is at least as legitimate a translation of kolasis as ‘punishment’ and fits better with the true character of God. ‘Age-during’ is a better translation of aionios than ‘eternal’ for reasons above discussed.
‘And how do you interpret Lazarus and the rich man in Hades?’
It is a parable, a story about Israel and the nations(Gentiles).
‘How do you interpret 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9? “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 obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”’
For the record, that Scripture is quoted from Second Thessalonians 1:6-9.
I interpret it, as I interpret all seemingly eternal tormentist passages, in light of the real meaning of Greek words. As I have pointed out before, aionios in Greek simply does not carry the meaning of ‘eternal’ with which it is here translated. They suffer ‘destruction age-during’. I have never denied the reality of punishment, only its eternity.
‘I could spend hours typing verses that speak of hell.’
And I could spend hours explaining why they do not, in fact, speak of hell.
‘I’m interested to hear your interpretation of these passages I find to teach the reality of eternal punishment quite explicitly,’
‘along with your interpretation of what Jesus meant when he spoke of hell,’
Again I maintain that Jesus never spoke of hell, except in flawed translations. He did speak of a similar concept popular in Jewish thought at the time in the parable of Lazarus and Dives, but this is a parable and not a literal teaching, and no mention is made of many of the key features of the modern Christian conception of hell, so I’d hesitate to say he exactly spoke of hell even in that fictional context.
‘or what the Church has historically translated as hell from it’s inception. (I am familiar with the background of gehenna.)’
The church has not ‘historically translated’ anything as ‘hell’ ‘from its inception’. The fact is that ‘hell’ is an English word, which is not used by Christians who don’t speak English and never was used by Christians who don’t speak English, though similar words no doubt exist in other Germanic languages. Furthermore, the original sense of the word ‘hell’ was as a hole or a dark or covered place. Compare the related words ‘hall’, ‘hole’, ‘helmet’, and ‘hull’, among others.
It is also worth noting that the church was largely universalistic for the first 500 years of its existence; thus, any conception of hell it had during those years was almost by definition compatible with that universalism.