Hell again

I’m pleased to see that my post on “The unfairness of Hell” has elicited another comment from Jayman, who has impressed me with his insights and overall reasonableness. He makes some more good points and brings up some issues I would like to discuss further, hence today’s post.

I don’t think your post deals adequately with views of hell that do not involve eternal torture of the damned. It seems that all your objections to hell can be answered by those Christians who hold to the universal restoration of all things.

True enough, I did give only a passing nod to universal restorationism when I said that the unfairness of Hell led some Christians to “come up with all kinds of schemes to get God off the hook somehow, ranging from the notion that Hell is only a temporary therapy to “burn” the evil out of you, to the notion that sinners not only deserve Hell, but actively pursue it.” But it’s an interesting topic in and of itself, so let’s have a deeper look.

First of all, it should be plain that universal restorationism is a more moderate amendment to an original, harsher doctrine. People don’t modify their religion in ways that make it more embarrassing and disturbing to them, they make changes to increase their comfort and satisfaction with it. If Jesus and the Apostles taught eternal damnation, it’s easy to see how Christianity could end up where it is today, with some believers holding the harsher view of Hell (because it had the authority of Jesus behind it) and others holding the milder view (because it was more reasonable).

Had Jesus and his disciples taught the milder view originally, the results would have been quite different. In the first place, it’s unlikely that any Christians would say, “Hmm, our doctrine of hell is too reasonable. We need to amend it so that it makes God look more evil and less fair, to it more difficult for thoughtful unbelievers to embrace our religion.” Look at the doctrine of Purgatory: it started out as the milder, “this is for your own good” form of temporary torment, and no one is proposing that it needs to be amended to consign believers to eternal agony for their sins.

But suppose Jesus did teach that Hell was only temporary, and some later Christian did come along and say, “No, Jesus was wrong, souls burn in Hell forever.” Would that result in the modern circumstance, where orthodox Christians vary in opinion among themselves about whether Hell was temporary or not? That seems pretty unlikely, given the early Christians propensity for anathemas and canons. Far less likely than the other way around (i.e. the harsher doctrine came first).

The only way that would really work is if Jesus were ambiguous in his teachings about the duration of hell, such that people could get away with claiming that their version of Hell was what Jesus really meant. That assumption, however, means that Jesus did not explicitly teach universal restoration, since a clear teaching on the topic would not be an ambiguous teaching on the topic. At best, universal restorationists are merely injecting “what seems right in their own eyes,” into the vague bits, exploiting the ambiguities of the text to insert their own opinions.

I do not, however, think that Jesus was being all that ambiguous, nor were the apostles after him. Universal restoration is not a hard doctrine to teach. All you have to do is say, “And then after suffering has purged you of your sinfulness, you will enter into the glory of the Father with the rest of His children.” But none of the New Testament writers ever said anything of the sort. All NT descriptions of souls entering hell end with the soul still in hell, with no mention of purging or relief or hope. Torments are mentioned, and wails and moans and gnashing of teeth, but not hope.

Jayman brings to our attention several verses that are cited by universal restorationists as evidence of restorationism in the NT, but I think you’ll find that on closer examination, these verses are not talking about souls in hell or the end of eternal punishment. Let’s look:

Acts 3:21
He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Sounds like universal restoration all right. It does have the phrase “restore everything” in it. But there’s two problems. First of all, does “restore everything” really mean God is going to restore everything? Our sins? Our mortality? Our earthly weaknesses? “Everything” doesn’t necessarily mean literally all things. It’s a universal that has to be taken in context, and in the context it seems more likely that “restore everything” means “restore the kingdom of Israel, and the glory of the Temple” and so on. This is even more likely given that Peter associates “restore everything” with the Second Coming, which puts the “universal restoration” before the Final Judgment, and thus before Hell (for most people).

Romans 5:18
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

This one is, at best, ambiguous, since it implies not that Hell will be made shorter, but that it’s not needed at all. It doesn’t say “one act of righteous plus some finite amount of suffering in hell,” it just says “one act of righteousness,” as though that was all that was needed. Of course, we could also quibble over whether God does indeed give eternal life to the lost, only to make them spend that eternal life in Hell! But that would, in my opinion, be a red herring. The important thing to observe is that Romans 5 says nothing about Hell being a temporary purgatory of some kind. If it says anything at all, it says that Hell ought not be necessary for anyone. We did not choose to commit the “one trespass [that brought] condemnation for all men,” so the “one act of righteousness” ought to apply equally to all men, regardless of our beliefs or choices, at least according to Paul.

Col. 1:19-20
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Another passage that does not so much make Hell shorter as it eliminates it completely. God does not make peace “through his blood plus a finite amount of agony on the part of sinners who do not repent,” He makes peace “through his blood,” end of story. And notice He makes peace at the Cross, i.e. in the past, not at some future point after the Second Coming. Clearly, if early Christians held both the doctrines of Hell and of “universal” reconciliation, there were some implicit limits on what could be reconciled. I don’t think Paul intended to imply that the blood of Jesus would reconcile adultery and incest with God, for instance. If the damned are not included in the elect group of the reconciled, well, maybe that was supposed to be obvious too.

Matthew 25:46 (Young’s Literal Translation)—
And these shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.

The argument is made that Jesus didn’t actually say “eternal” here, but merely “age-during.” But we need to remember two things: one, we’re dealing with a Greek translation of a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom, so the absence of the Greek word for “eternal” isn’t as significant as it might appear; and two, Jesus uses the same idiom to describe both the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the blessed, so if you’re going to make one of them finite, you need to make the blessing of the saints a temporary condition as well.

Besides the textual/historic problems, there are also philosophical problems with the idea of Hell as a purgatory. If we believe that some people go to Hell as unrepentant sinners who could not be helped/cured by the blood of Jesus and the wise and loving power of almighty God, and who then, after a finite amount of unimaginable agony, became good, pure saints, what we’re saying is that blind, mindless torture is a more potent force for good than God Himself, since it succeeded in redeeming those whom God’s power alone could not restore!

This is what happens with backwards thinking: you start with the conclusion you need to reach (limited Hell), and then reason your way backwards to find a set of premises that will allow you to reach the desired conclusion. We need some way to justify sending people to Hell, so we imagine that some set of preconditions must apply: Hell must be a kind of purgatory that cleanses the soul of sin.

But backwards thinking conflicts with the conclusions you get from forwards thinking. If you start with the premise that God exists, is infinitely wise and powerful and good, what that implies is that He ought to be the ultimate power in terms of doing good. If we say that brutal, relentless torture is able to do good things that God is unable to do without inflicting the pain, then not only are we making God inferior to torture as a force for good, we’re implying a very nasty set of Christian principles for how to rehabilitate criminals! (Hopefully Chuck Colson is not reading this!)

Lastly, just to clear up, I’m not saying that the doctrine of Hell was imported into Christianity. It was brought back into Judaism by the Farsi Jews who returned from Persia some centuries before Christ. We do know enough about Zoroastrianism to know that it did not suffer from a schism between those who denied resurrection and judgment, and those who affirmed it. That particular schism occurred between the Farsi Jews and the Zadokite Jews (or Pharisees and Sadducees, as we call them today). Prior to the Babylonian Captivity, there was no concept of a future resurrection and judgment, which is why Jesus could only come up with “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” when he tried to find a Mosaic reference to resurrection. (And Daniel is an Exilic prophet, not a Pre-exilic prophet, by the way).

The bottom line, though, is that universal restoration is a good thing: it’s a step along the road to denying Hell altogether, which goes a long way towards making Christianity a more civilized religion.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 18 Comments »

18 Responses to “Hell again”

  1. jim Says:

    This all seems to be an example of tweaking the original intent to mollify modern human sensibilities, while attempting to retain a doctrine’s air of authority. Activist Supreme Courts has been doing the same thing with the Constitution for decades. In both cases, the interested parties want to retain something they believe is valuable, if ultimately flawed in some respects. The difference, as I see it, is that at least SOME of the Constitutional finaglers acknowledge they’re changing the context of interpretation to get what they want.

    I GUESS a move towards universal restoration is a good thing. Baby steps are better than no steps at all, I suppose. But it’s a hard pill to swallow for someone who finds the whole idea of obeisance to deific tyrant kings utterly repellant.

    Anyhow, thanks for a good convo from Jayman, DD and the crew.

  2. Jayman Says:

    Eternal torment is not universally considered more embarrassing and disturbing than universalism and therefore we cannot conclude opinions on hell progressed from eternal torment to universalism. The existence of different views of hell can conceivably be explained in a number of ways. I see no way to reach a conclusion solely by looking at the different opinions. Rather, we should start by looking at what the New Testament says and work from there.

    You claim that universalism is not clearly taught in the New Testament. I grant that the New Testament documents do not give detailed accounts of what happens to people after death but I think certain passages clearly point to universal salvation and no passage requires belief in eternal damnation.

    I disagree with you when you say, “All NT descriptions of souls entering hell end with the soul still in hell, with no mention of purging or relief or hope.” I apologize ahead of time for how condensed this argument will be (see chapter 5 of the The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald for more details). Read Revelation 20-22 very carefully. Humanity is still divided between the saved and the damned at the New Creation (21:6-8). Those inside the New Jerusalem are the saved (22:14-15). “The nations” have been deceived by Satan and are in the lake of fire (20:7-10). However, in 21:23-27 we read of members of “the nations” and “the kings of the earth” (both of which are always depicted negatively in Revelation) entering the New Jerusalem. The gates to the New Jerusalem are never closed. Revelation 22:2 states that the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations, who are in the lake of fire.

    Moving on to Acts, I agree that “all” can be limited by the context. However, Acts 1:6 is a rather distant context, especially when Peter has in mind the blessing of all nations through Abraham’s offspring (3:25). And the passage from Revelation above shows that one could conceive of the coming of the Lord as occurring before everyone is saved. Many early Christians held to a realized eschatology which speaks of salvation as being as good as done in the present.

    I cited Romans 5:18 because it speaks of the justification of all men (the parallelism here requires “all” to truly mean all). Paul does speak of punishment elsewhere, so it is short-sighted to think that this one verse rules out hell in Paul’s theology. Thus we have Paul believing in punishment of sinners but also justification of all men. The only solution to this “problem” is universalism. The same goes for Colossians 1:19-20.

    Regarding Matthew 25:46, translation is not an issue. The Greek word for “age-during” is used throughout the LXX for the Hebrew equivalent (olam). Chayei Olam is the Hebrew for “eternal life.” The New Testament is consistent on this usage throughout. You also seem to miss the elasticity in the term “age.” An age can be finite or infinite depending on the context. For example, the age of cheap gasoline may be finite while the space age may be without end. Eternal life is described as putting on immortality and other adjectives that necessitate it being eternal. There is no such necessity with age-during punishment and the verses speaking of universal salvation rule it out.

    I also think you overblow the torture aspect of punishment. The Bible is very imprecise on what the punishment consists of, using mainly stock imagery. And then there is also the “healing” of Revelation 22:2.

    I would be interested to hear how you would rehabilitate a criminal with evil desires. For example, suppose there is a criminal who desires to kill people in the most painful way possible and that this desire trumps all other desires he has. How do you approach his rehabilitation?

  3. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I think if you look at the arguments of people who defend the doctrine of eternal punishment, you’ll find that their primary justification is that it must be right because God commanded it. Significantly, their argument is not, and never has been, “I know God only called for temporary punishment, but I think eternal torment is required by extrabiblical factor X.” It’s always the other way around: “I know the Bible says ‘The fire is not quenched and the worm doesn’t die,’ but I think extrabiblical factor X (fairness, compassion, humanitarianism, reason, etc) requires a more moderate view of Hell.”

    You think that certain passages “point to” universal salvation and that no passages require eternal damnation, but you could just as easily turn that around and say certain passages point to eternal damnation and no passages require universal salvation.

    For example, I don’t believe that Rev. 20-22 supports universal restoration, due to verses like these:

    Rev. 21:23The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp… 26The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

    Rev. 22:1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations…14″Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

    Seems pretty clear to me that John is portraying an odd sort of eternity where pure and immortal saints are surrounded by nations that are still impure, immoral, and occasionally in need of medical treatment. And the “new heavens and new earth” hearken back to Isaiah 65, which says:

    20″No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
    Or an old man who does not live out his days;
    For the youth will die at the age of one hundred
    And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred
    Will be thought accursed…
    23″They will not labor in vain,
    Or bear children for calamity;
    For they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD,
    And their descendants with them.

    Based on the allusions and quotations, John was quite familiar with Old Testament apocalyptic prophecy, so it’s no great stretch to interpret Rev. 20-22 in the context of a future that includes both immortal saints and mortals who are still having children and dying, above and beyond those that have been cast into the lake of fire, who are obviously neither the pure saints nor the mortals having children. The context would thus implicitly exclude those in realm of (the second) death (Rev 20:14). It’s just talking about the living, in and around the New Jerusalem, and not those who are in some other realm (i.e. Hell).

    And, contra your suggestion that people go from the lake of fire to the New Jerusalem, the text does specifically state

    But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death…

    Nothing impure will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life…

    Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

    Since the text emphasizes multiple times that there will be impure and immoral people in eternity who will be excluded from entering the city, and that these qualities are also those of the people who get thrown into the lake of fire, I’d tend to reject the idea that the Bible says people will go from the lake of fire into the New Jerusalem. John seems a lot more concerned with denying that specific possibility than he is with deliberately opening a loophole for it. You could suppose that a new generation of sinners would be born outside the gates, and that these immoral people would be neither in Hell nor in Heaven, but John just doesn’t seem to want to leave room for the trip from one fate to the other.

    Obviously, we could argue about the interpretation just as Christians have done since the book was written, but the point is you could just as easily say that the Bible seems to point to eternal damnation, and contains no passage that says universal restoration. Universal restoration is a commentary on the Bible, not something that is explicitly written in the Bible, which is odd considering how simple and obvious it would have been to come right out and say so if that had been what they meant.

  4. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I don’t think that Acts 1:6 is a distant context at all, since Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question was to predict the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It would be perfectly natural for Peter, in the midst of a predicted miracle, to refer back to the original prediction in his remarks about the significance of the miracle.

    As for Rom. 5:18, I agree that ruling out hell would be inconsistent with other things that Paul said. Nevertheless, my point still stands: if the one sacrifice is the converse of the one sin, and applies in a universal fashion just as the sin did, then Hell is superfluous. You are assuming that Paul must have a self-consistent position because he was an inspired apostle, however this is not necessarily the case. The argument in Romans 5 proves, perhaps better than Paul intended, that no one should ever need to go to Hell, any more than they would have to eat the fruit of the tree to become sinners.

    Regarding Matt. 25:46, I think the most immediate context is Matt. 25:46, and that’s the context in which we ought to understand the parallelism between “eternal punishment” and “eternal life.” The point of setting up a verbal parallel is to emphasize the qualities they have in common, specifically in terms of the parallel. If Jesus believed that punishment was to be only temporary, there are much better ways to express the idea than to describe its duration with the exact same phrase, in the exact same sentence, as he used to describe the duration of eternal life. You say that there is no necessity for “age-during” to mean “everlasting” in the case of punishment, but if that wasn’t the whole point of what Jesus was trying to say, then why make such a misleading comparison in the first place?

    As for rehabilitating criminals with evil desires, I’d want first of all to understand where these desires were coming from. You may have heard of a particular genetic condition that causes some children to continuously injure themselves, actively seeking out self-inflicted pain. It’s a malfunction in their nervous system, and requires medical care (not punishment!) to correct. I would think that evil desires of a more sociopathic bent would be likely to have a similar cause, e.g. brain tumors.

  5. Jayman Says:

    (1) Nearly all Christians point to the Bible to support their views on the afterlife. Justice and compassion are in the Bible so you can’t call them extra-biblical factors. You can’t go to a site like http://www.tentmaker.org and say the Bible is not playing the primary role in the arguments of Christian universalists.

    (2) I should have been more clear. I think certain passages require universalism.

    (3) The verses you cited from Rev. 20-22 are the same verses I cited:

    (a) Rev. 21:24 has the kings of the earth, sinners, entering the New Jerusalem from the lake of fire. Yes, v. 27 says nothing impure will ever enter and that your name must be in the book of life to enter. However, this merely shows that the kings of the earth become pure and now have their names in the book of life.

    (b) The nations do not need healing from disease or injury but from their sins. I see no basis in the text for thinking they need medical treatment as we commonly think of it. There is no mention of mortals living normal lives around the New Jerusalem. Judgment is passed on everyone (Rev. 20:11-15). Rev. 22:15 does say the sinners are outside the city, but v. 14 describes the path into the city.

    (4) I think Acts 1:6 is distant because nothing in Peter’s speech in Acts 3 concerns the kingdom being restored to Israel.

    (5) I give every person the benefit of the doubt that they are not contradicting themselves. Paul’s ideas on how Christ’s death provides salvation are a can of worms I have no intention of opening. The more interesting point for our discussion on hell is that you don’t seem to be able to find a way to square Rom. 5:18 (and Col. 1:19-20?) with the doctrine of eternal punishment.

    (6) Though I am no expert on Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, I think Jesus was pretty much required to use olam/aionios to describe both the punishment and the life in Matt. 25:46. I say this because I am unaware of a different phrasing to describe these concepts in Jewish or Christian literature of the time. If I am correct on this point the parallelism is merely the result of language restrictions. However, the term for “punishment” could have been different. Matt. 25:46 uses kolasis which, according to Thayer’s lexicon, means “correction, punishment, penalty.”

    Clement of Alexandria (c.150-211/216), a universalist, makes use of this word in the following ways:

    “For there are partial corrections (padeiai), which are called chastisements (kolasis), which many of us who have been in transgression incur, by falling away from the Lord’s people. But as children are chastised by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish (timoria), for punishment (timoria) is retaliation for evil. He chastises, however, for good to those who are chastised, collectively and individually.” (Stromata 7.16)

    “Wherefore I will grant that He punishes the disobedient (for punishment (kolasis) is for the good and advantage of him who is punished, for it is the correction of a refractory subject); but I will not grant that He wishes to take vengeance (timoria).” (Paedagogus 1.8)

    Why is this word being used for “punishment” if the damned have no hope?

    (7) I’m wondering what you would do if you have exhausted all means of rehabilitation except punishment. Would you try to use punishment or would you give up? Suppose there is nothing mentally, physically, or genetically abnormal about him.

  6. John Morales Says:

    Biblical hermeneutics is really boring stuff.

  7. » The Power of Positive Linking Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] Comments John Morales on Hell againJayman on Hell againDeacon Duncan on Hell againDeacon Duncan on Hell againJayman on Hell […]

  8. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Jayman, to respond to your points:

    (1) I’ve responded to in a separate post.

    (2) There are others who will say that there are passages in the Bible (like Hebrews 10) which, in their view, require eternal damnation. If you take the Bible as a whole, the best you can say is that it gives you a mixed message that lets you pick and choose whatever interpretation seems right in your own eyes.

    (3) I think it’s only fair to point out that none of the things you ascribe to Rev. 20ff are actually written in the text. You seem to assume, for example, that the “kings of the nations” that enter the New Jerusalem are the same kings as those thrown into the lake of fire, but the text does not say they are the same, and since it was customary in John’s day for dead kings to be replaced, there’s no reason to assume the nations of the earth would have to be led by the kings who had suffered the second death. Likewise, there’s nothing written in the text to say that leaves of the trees are for “healing” sins. That’s simply an extrabiblical interpolation on your part. At best you can say that the text is ambiguous as to what, exactly, is being healed. It looks to me like the leaves are portrayed as being used therapeutically for all eternity, which would imply an eternal need for healing, contra the implications of universal restorationism.

    (4) You’re assuming that “the restoration of all things spoken of in the prophets,” prior to the Second Coming, is not referring to any of the numerous prophetic predictions of the exaltation of Israel on the Day of the Lord. The New Testament had not been written yet, so the reference can only be to the OT prophecies, not to Colossians or Romans or anything else.

    (5) Rom. 5 and Col. 1 can be “squared” with eternal punishment by assuming that they only apply to all those they apply to. Even universal restorationists, for example, don’t believe that Col. 1 is predicting that literally all things (torture, disease, pain, sorrow, rape, parasitism, sadism, etc) are some day going to be brought back into full communion with Jesus. Then again, we can rationalize anything if we try hard enough, so just squaring things with some extrabiblical conclusion doesn’t mean that it’s biblical. The question is, if a loving and almighty Father is willing and able to reconcile all things to Himself, and is the most powerful force for good in the cosmos, why would there even be a Hell at all? Hell shouldn’t be better at redeeming people than God is. Rom.5 and Col. 1 argue against the need for Hell, and if Paul elsewhere argues for it, he needs more than just the benefit of the doubt. How are we ever going to detect an untruth if we respond to all inconsistencies with “the benefit of the doubt”?

    (6) You can’t claim both that Jesus taught a temporary Hell, and that there was no way, in his language, to express the concept of a temporary Hell. Even if there had been no way to express such a concept, you’d think the holy Son of God could have invented one. But in fact, I don’t think you can blame the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek language for Jesus’ failure to describe Hell in temporary terms. They certainly had no trouble expressing the idea that mortal life is brief, for example. Jesus could have compared the sufferings of Hell to the pains of childbirth, to use a metaphor that appears elsewhere in the Bible. But he didn’t; he created his parallel between eternal life and eternal punishment. You can try and soften the implications of this, as Clement did, by selecting an alternate definition for the word, but in practical terms a “correction” that lasted as long as eternal life would not be significantly different from eternal punishment.

    (7) I can’t give you a real-world answer to a hypothetical scenario that is not based on real-world conditions. It’s unrealistic to propose both that someone has an uncontrollable desire to kill people, and that there’s nothing wrong with him. If there’s an argument to be made for Hell being real, it ought to be based on real-world evidence, not on arbitrary hypotheticals constructed specifically to advance a predetermined conclusion.

  9. Jayman Says:

    (1) I’ve responded to in a separate post.

    I don’t find that post to be an accurate description of how Christians interpret the Bible (or how texts are interpreted in general). I may provide additional comments in that thread.

    (2) There are others who will say that there are passages in the Bible (like Hebrews 10) which, in their view, require eternal damnation. If you take the Bible as a whole, the best you can say is that it gives you a mixed message that lets you pick and choose whatever interpretation seems right in your own eyes.

    Hebrews 10:26-27 does not require eternal damnation. I have already granted that the New Testament does not give detailed accounts of the afterlife but this does not mean all interpretations are equal.

    (3) I think it’s only fair to point out that none of the things you ascribe to Rev. 20ff are actually written in the text. You seem to assume, for example, that the “kings of the nations” that enter the New Jerusalem are the same kings as those thrown into the lake of fire, but the text does not say they are the same, and since it was customary in John’s day for dead kings to be replaced, there’s no reason to assume the nations of the earth would have to be led by the kings who had suffered the second death. Likewise, there’s nothing written in the text to say that leaves of the trees are for “healing” sins. That’s simply an extrabiblical interpolation on your part. At best you can say that the text is ambiguous as to what, exactly, is being healed. It looks to me like the leaves are portrayed as being used therapeutically for all eternity, which would imply an eternal need for healing, contra the implications of universal restorationism.

    You stray further from the text on both points you mention. First, prior to Revelation 20, the “kings of the nations” are always depicted as sinners. I follow this depiction through to the end of the book. The text gives no indication that there are two groups known as the “kings of the nations” yet you suggest that two such groups do exist and that living kings are replacing dead kings.

    Second, I think the leaves are for healing sins because sins are the only problem that the text associates with the nations. You insert a narrative about people living outside of the New Jerusalem and needing medical attention, none of which is mentioned in the text.

    (4) You’re assuming that “the restoration of all things spoken of in the prophets,” prior to the Second Coming, is not referring to any of the numerous prophetic predictions of the exaltation of Israel on the Day of the Lord. The New Testament had not been written yet, so the reference can only be to the OT prophecies, not to Colossians or Romans or anything else.

    I think Peter is referring to Old Testament prophecies, though I can’t claim exactly which ones. But since he refers to the restoration of all things and Abraham’s blessing to all nations it must mean something more than a reconstituted Israelite monarchy.

    (5) Rom. 5 and Col. 1 can be “squared” with eternal punishment by assuming that they only apply to all those they apply to. Even universal restorationists, for example, don’t believe that Col. 1 is predicting that literally all things (torture, disease, pain, sorrow, rape, parasitism, sadism, etc) are some day going to be brought back into full communion with Jesus. Then again, we can rationalize anything if we try hard enough, so just squaring things with some extrabiblical conclusion doesn’t mean that it’s biblical. The question is, if a loving and almighty Father is willing and able to reconcile all things to Himself, and is the most powerful force for good in the cosmos, why would there even be a Hell at all? Hell shouldn’t be better at redeeming people than God is. Rom.5 and Col. 1 argue against the need for Hell, and if Paul elsewhere argues for it, he needs more than just the benefit of the doubt. How are we ever going to detect an untruth if we respond to all inconsistencies with “the benefit of the doubt”?

    You’ll have to explain how the parallelism in Romans 5:18 allows for one to interpret “life for all men” to refer only to the saved, especially when grace abounds all the more than sin (5:20). Colossians 1:20 is speaking about things that occupy space (“things on earth or things in heaven”) and not the kinds of things you mention. You also unnecessarily separate God’s redeeming power from hell when they can be linked.

    When I said I give people the benefit of the doubt, I did not mean that you can never say there is a contradiction in their writings. Rather, I think we should have very good reasons for thinking two ideas are unreconcilable.

    (6) You can’t claim both that Jesus taught a temporary Hell, and that there was no way, in his language, to express the concept of a temporary Hell. Even if there had been no way to express such a concept, you’d think the holy Son of God could have invented one. But in fact, I don’t think you can blame the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek language for Jesus’ failure to describe Hell in temporary terms. They certainly had no trouble expressing the idea that mortal life is brief, for example. Jesus could have compared the sufferings of Hell to the pains of childbirth, to use a metaphor that appears elsewhere in the Bible. But he didn’t; he created his parallel between eternal life and eternal punishment. You can try and soften the implications of this, as Clement did, by selecting an alternate definition for the word, but in practical terms a “correction” that lasted as long as eternal life would not be significantly different from eternal punishment.

    I did not say that there is no way to express the concept of temporary punishment in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. I said that the adjective “age-during” appears to be formulaic when describing eschatological life or punishment (even when the concepts are not side by side) and that this renders the parallelism insignificant.

    The passages from Clement are not interpretations of Matthew 25:46 so he was not trying to soften the implications of the passage. His usage shows that the term refers to corrective punishment and not vengeful punishment. You admit that corrective punishment does not make sense if the punishment is eternal and so you undermine your own position.

    (7) I can’t give you a real-world answer to a hypothetical scenario that is not based on real-world conditions. It’s unrealistic to propose both that someone has an uncontrollable desire to kill people, and that there’s nothing wrong with him. If there’s an argument to be made for Hell being real, it ought to be based on real-world evidence, not on arbitrary hypotheticals constructed specifically to advance a predetermined conclusion.

    This section was about rehabilitating prisoners, not hell. There may be something morally wrong with a person who has the desire to kill people, but he could still be normal in terms of physical and mental health (which is all I claimed in my post). How would you do a better job with his rehabilitation than Chuck Colson (whatever his approach may be)? Is all punishment off the table or just certain types?

  10. Deacon Duncan Says:

    (1) I’ve responded in the other post.

    (2) If you do not believe that Hebrews 10 requires eternal damnation, then how can you justify claiming that any other passage requires universal restoration? Any hermeneutic flexible enough to reconcile universal restoration with Hebrews 10 would have to be just as capable of reconciling Colossians and Romans with eternal damnation. (If it were a consistent hermeneutic, that is.)

    (3) I mention no “two groups” of kings. It is the normal and natural usage of the language to mean “living kings” and not “dead kings” when referring to the actions of “the kings.” When Jesus speaks of “the kings of the earth” collecting taxes, it is quite clear that he is not speaking of hordes of dead monarchs rising from their graves to go around collecting the money! Nor does the death of the ancient kings mean that now the nations have no kings at all. And besides, if all the previous dead kings were brought back from the dead and made kings of the nations once again, there’d be all kinds of problems. Which one, for instance, would be the real king? Who would be the king of Austria-Hungary, Persia, Assyria, or Phoenicia? The last few chapters of Revelation make a lot more sense if we simply assume a normal and natural usage than if we add a speculative assumption about an extrabiblical resurrection and redemption.

    (4) I don’t think you’ve really substantiated your claim that “the restoration of all things” must mean something more than what it usually meant in the OT prophecies that specifically speak of the consequences of “the Coming of the Lord.”

    (5) The parallelism in Rom. 5 is a much greater problem for the idea of a temporary hell, unless all men also go to hell regardless of their belief. Those who believe in eternal damnation, however, say that, though the cross made life available to all men as a free gift, God would not force it on anyone who does not want it. Then they’d quote Hebrews 10 to say that if you do reject the offer, you’re not going to get another one.

    There’s nothing in Colossians about “only things that take up space are redeemed.” Torture, rape, incest, disease, injustice, and so on most certainly are things on earth. If God can throw Death into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), then He can deal similarly other intangibles as well. What gets thrown in can be pulled out again—unless of course it’s designed to be the kind of place that nothing ever comes out of.

    No two ideas are ever irreconcilable—you can always rationalize them somehow. The question is, which is the simplest and most straightforward explanation: that a benevolent and almighty God has come up with some kind of complicated eschatological scheme that allows Him to temporarily torture sinners without being guilty of the injustices of eternal punishment, or that Paul is trying to build a coherent theology and can’t do it because he’s working from a combination of inconsistent axioms? Remember, no Biblical prophet ever revealed the doctrine of Judgment and Hell. Before the Captivity, nobody in Israel ever heard of the notion; after they came back from Persian realms, everybody had heard about it. Seems a lot more plausible to me that Paul’s inconsistencies are rooted in the mismatch between ancient Judaism and various pagan mythologies that got absorbed into the popular religion.

    (6) You overlook the fact that Jesus didn’t have to create the parallelism at all. If there are ways to express the idea that Hell is only temporary and Heaven is eternal, Jesus could have used those expressions to teach that Hell is only temporary. Instead, he created a very explicit parallel between the duration of the punishment and the duration of the blessing. The best explanation for why he would want to do this is that he believed it was true. This also explains why so many Christians believe that eternal damnation must be true, even though they’re uncomfortable with it. Jesus went out of his way to construct a parallel that made damnation as eternal as eternal life, and for a lot of Christians, that outranks any amount of philosophizing, theologizing, and re-interpretation.

    (7) It seems inconsistent and unrealistic to me to say that a person can have something “morally wrong” with them and yet not have any physical, psychological, or mental health issues. Blaming bad behavior on some kind of magical “sin nature” is superstitious, and explains nothing about the mechanisms of cause and effect involved. If you want to propose a specific, verifiable cause for your prisoner’s bad behavior, then I can comment on whether or not I think torture would be therapeutic.

  11. Jayman Says:

    I’ll agree to disagree on certain matters as I think we’ve made our respective points.

    (2) If you do not believe that Hebrews 10 requires eternal damnation, then how can you justify claiming that any other passage requires universal restoration? Any hermeneutic flexible enough to reconcile universal restoration with Hebrews 10 would have to be just as capable of reconciling Colossians and Romans with eternal damnation. (If it were a consistent hermeneutic, that is.)

    Hebrews 10:26 states there is no longer a sacrifice for sin for the habitual sinner who was once a believer. It does not say this sinner will be punished for an eternity nor does it claim there is no non-sacrificial path to restoration.

    (3) I mention no “two groups” of kings. It is the normal and natural usage of the language to mean “living kings” and not “dead kings” when referring to the actions of “the kings.” When Jesus speaks of “the kings of the earth” collecting taxes, it is quite clear that he is not speaking of hordes of dead monarchs rising from their graves to go around collecting the money! Nor does the death of the ancient kings mean that now the nations have no kings at all. And besides, if all the previous dead kings were brought back from the dead and made kings of the nations once again, there’d be all kinds of problems. Which one, for instance, would be the real king? Who would be the king of Austria-Hungary, Persia, Assyria, or Phoenicia? The last few chapters of Revelation make a lot more sense if we simply assume a normal and natural usage than if we add a speculative assumption about an extrabiblical resurrection and redemption.

    Rev 20:11-15 explicitly mentions the judgment of the dead. These individuals held the title of king in their earthly lives. After the judgment only God has the actual power.

    There’s nothing in Colossians about “only things that take up space are redeemed.” Torture, rape, incest, disease, injustice, and so on most certainly are things on earth. If God can throw Death into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), then He can deal similarly other intangibles as well. What gets thrown in can be pulled out again—unless of course it’s designed to be the kind of place that nothing ever comes out of.

    Checking the Greek I realize that the term “on” does not necessarily denote physical location of a physical object as I thought. My mistake.

    No two ideas are ever irreconcilable—you can always rationalize them somehow. The question is, which is the simplest and most straightforward explanation: that a benevolent and almighty God has come up with some kind of complicated eschatological scheme that allows Him to temporarily torture sinners without being guilty of the injustices of eternal punishment, or that Paul is trying to build a coherent theology and can’t do it because he’s working from a combination of inconsistent axioms?

    I did not say we should always rationalize away all perceived contradictions. Our knowledge is limited and we are prone to misinterpret others. We should use some caution before saying there is a contradiction.

    (6) You overlook the fact that Jesus didn’t have to create the parallelism at all. If there are ways to express the idea that Hell is only temporary and Heaven is eternal, Jesus could have used those expressions to teach that Hell is only temporary. Instead, he created a very explicit parallel between the duration of the punishment and the duration of the blessing. The best explanation for why he would want to do this is that he believed it was true. This also explains why so many Christians believe that eternal damnation must be true, even though they’re uncomfortable with it. Jesus went out of his way to construct a parallel that made damnation as eternal as eternal life, and for a lot of Christians, that outranks any amount of philosophizing, theologizing, and re-interpretation.

    The only way I think Jesus could have avoided the parallelism is if he had not stated the fate of the righteous or the unrighteous. But I’m not sure the story could even work then. Parallelism seems necessary to tell the reader the right action to take.

    (7) It seems inconsistent and unrealistic to me to say that a person can have something “morally wrong” with them and yet not have any physical, psychological, or mental health issues. Blaming bad behavior on some kind of magical “sin nature” is superstitious, and explains nothing about the mechanisms of cause and effect involved. If you want to propose a specific, verifiable cause for your prisoner’s bad behavior, then I can comment on whether or not I think torture would be therapeutic.

    I did not mention a “sin nature” nor does such a thing have to be “magical” (e.g., you seem to believe in a “sin nature” that is rooted in physical and mental health problems). Regarding cause and effect, I would say all intentional actions are caused by a combination of our desires and our beliefs. For example, if a murderer has a desire to kill and believes shooting a gun at someone’s head will kill that person then he will shoot a gun at that person’s head. In order to rehabilitate someone you must change their desires.

    I do not have a specific criminal in mind and don’t see why it’s difficult to answer a hypothetical question. I even allowed you to assume that you had exhausted all means of rehabilitation except punishment (which is not the same thing as torture). I’m essentially asking you whether you would abandon someone or try punishment. There’s nothing difficult about answering the question.

  12. Deacon Duncan Says:

    (2) The non-sacrificial path to forgiveness, however, opens up a whole new can of worms, since it makes the Cross unnecessary.

    (3) You skipped Rev. 20:10, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

    (5) It is not incautious to observe the contradictions between the idea that God is an omnipotent and unsurpassed force for good and the idea that blind and brutal torment can accomplish more good than God can by direct application of His alleged power. Nor, IMHO, is it particularly incautious to point out any of a number of other contradictions inherent in the various doctrines that have been assimilated into the Judeo-Christian tradition over the years.

    In any case, it is by no means unfair to point out that these contradictions exist, and that the simplest explanation with the fewest gratuitous assumptions is to conclude that the writers of the Bible were presenting doctrines that are not based on real-world truth.

    (6) You overlook the very obvious possibility that Jesus could just as easily have said, “Then the righteous will go away into eternal life, but the unrighteous will have to be purged by fire before they can enter into the glory of the Father,” or something similar. There is absolutely nothing mandatory about what Jesus said, nor is there anything about the doctrine of temporary Hell that would require anyone to set up a parallel between the duration of punishment and the duration of blessing. Such a parallel is, in fact, one of the best ways to contradict the idea of a temporary Hell, because a temporary Hell is distinct from eternal damnation chiefly in that its duration is not parallel to that of eternal reward.

    (7) I thought we were talking about a criminal who, for no natural cause, had a desire to kill others, painfully, that trumped all other desires (including, presumably, the desire to avoid future punishment). That one is difficult to answer because it seems to be contrived to render any effective resolution impossible. Punishment won’t work, because his desire to kill trumps all other desires.

    But ok, let’s suppose that we’re talking about a more realistic scenario, with more realistic criminals, and let’s suppose that, in the absence of a divine power for good, we find that some people respond to punishment by changing their behavior for the better. That is, after all, the basis of our current criminal justice system.

    I’m willing to support that system, for lack of a better way, but I’m doubtful that this approach is the best possible solution. A person whose only motivation for good is fear of retaliation, is a person whose bad behavior is inversely proportional to his estimate of the chances of getting caught. They’re not really changed, they’re just beaten down.

    One of the things that Colson’s prison ministry does is to pour lots of personalized attention and encouragement on individual prisoners. Immersing them in a supportive and well-behaved peer group does a great deal to rehabilitate them, especially when it features the kind of knowledge transfer that teaches prisoners the skills they need to succeed in life without resorting to crime and violence. Incarceration might be necessary to safeguard the public during the rehabilitation process, but I believe it is the support, and not the punishment, that does the greater good. After all, if punishment alone were more efficient at rehabilitating criminals, we would have seen better results from the prisons of the past (*cough*Inquisition*cough*), and wouldn’t need “prison ministries” to pick up the slack.

    So yes, in an imperfect world, in the absence of God, there are circumstances under which I would support punishment as a practical deterrent to crime, though I think it is an inferior means of achieving its goals. It wouldn’t be necessary if there were an omnipotent deity Who loved us enough to die for us, since such a being would be willing and able to give potential criminals that intense, individualized guidance and support that would rehabilitate them before they even went astray. But in the absence of such a being, we have to resort to the less effective methods.

  13. Jayman Says:

    (3) You skipped Rev. 20:10, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

    Literally, to the ages of the ages.

    (5) It is not incautious to observe the contradictions between the idea that God is an omnipotent and unsurpassed force for good and the idea that blind and brutal torment can accomplish more good than God can by direct application of His alleged power.

    The problem is that you and I don’t know the full purpose of the punishment (or many other things for that matter). You pass judgment from a position of ignorance.

    (6) You overlook the very obvious possibility that Jesus could just as easily have said, “Then the righteous will go away into eternal life, but the unrighteous will have to be purged by fire before they can enter into the glory of the Father,” or something similar.

    I’ve already pointed out the word used for “punishment” has the notion of correction in it, which you admit does not make sense for eternal torment.

  14. Deacon Duncan Says:

    (3) That’s how you do a superlative in Hebrew. If you want to say “this place is the holiest possible place,” you call it the Holy of Holies. If you want to portray someone as having ultimate authority, you call them “King of kings” and “Lord of Lords.” The longest possible age (i.e. eternity) is the “age of ages. Standard Hebrew idiom.

    (5) Ah, the argument from agnosticism. But if none of us knows the full purpose of punishment, that tells us two things: the Bible never said the purpose was to purify and redeem sinners, and universal restorationists have no basis for claiming that they know the ultimate purpose of punishment is to redeem. And in any case, it’s not parsimonious to interpret the punishment verses as implying anything more than punishment. We know that the Bible portrays both the intention and the effect of punishment as being to cause suffering for the sinner. If we don’t know that it has any purpose beyond that, then we have no reason to add universal redemption to our interpretation (except, of course, to try and rationalize Hell with God’s character somehow).

    (6) Just because punishment sometimes can be associated with correction doesn’t mean that it always must be. People who believe in eternal damnation would classify Hell as a punishment, without necessarily assuming that any correction was involved. And by making such a clear parallel between the duration of the punishment and the duration of eternal life, it seems much more likely to me at least that Jesus would have to fall into that same camp. Some punishments may have correction in mind, but a punishment that is explicitly defined as enduring for as long as eternal life is a punishment of a different kind.

  15. Jayman Says:

    (3) That’s how you do a superlative in Hebrew. If you want to say “this place is the holiest possible place,” you call it the Holy of Holies. If you want to portray someone as having ultimate authority, you call them “King of kings” and “Lord of Lords.” The longest possible age (i.e. eternity) is the “age of ages. Standard Hebrew idiom.

    Actually it means the age par excellence.

    (5) Ah, the argument from agnosticism. But if none of us knows the full purpose of punishment, that tells us two things: the Bible never said the purpose was to purify and redeem sinners, and universal restorationists have no basis for claiming that they know the ultimate purpose of punishment is to redeem.

    That’s incorrect because one can know a purpose of punishment without knowing all purposes of punishment.

    And in any case, it’s not parsimonious to interpret the punishment verses as implying anything more than punishment. We know that the Bible portrays both the intention and the effect of punishment as being to cause suffering for the sinner. If we don’t know that it has any purpose beyond that, then we have no reason to add universal redemption to our interpretation (except, of course, to try and rationalize Hell with God’s character somehow).

    It is parsimonious when the Greek term used for punishment has the sense of correction (see below).

    (6) Just because punishment sometimes can be associated with correction doesn’t mean that it always must be.

    But I’m not talking about the English definition of “punishment” but the definition of the Greek term kolasis, which is corrective punishment. As Aristotle (certainly not a Christian universalist) states: “But there is a difference between revenge and punishment (kolasis); the latter is inflicted in the interest of the sufferer, the former in the interest of him who inflicts it, that he may obtain satisfaction” (Rhetoric 1.10.17).

  16. Deacon Duncan Says:

    (3) “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for the age par excellance” ?

    (5) We do not, however, know that in this case a purpose of punishment is correction, since the references to punishment neither describe the punishment as corrective, nor do they ever describe the punishment as having corrective results. Hence the argument from agnosticism, right?

    (6) The Greek of Aristotle is not quite the koine Greek of the New Testament. It’s true that Aristotle was not a Christian universalist, and neither was Jesus an Aristotelian. It’s risky hermeneutics to build an entire doctrine on the presumed definition of a word that only appears two times in the New Testament, and it’s especially risky when those two times are Matt. 25:46 (where Jesus draws an explicit parallel between eternal punishment and eternal life) and 1 John 4:18 (which seems to contrast God’s love with the sinner’s fear of punishment). Of these two references, the one that is least ambiguous is the one that most clearly specifies a punishment that lasts as long as eternal life. Contradicting that clear statement just because “correction” is allowed by an archaic usage from a non-Christian philosopher—well, it just doesn’t convince me that the straightforward interpretation of Matthew 25 is wrong.

  17. Jayman Says:

    (3) “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for the age par excellance” ?

    To the age par excellence. As your other examples (holy of holies, king of kings, lord of lords) show, a quality is being emphasized. The age in question has qualitative properties that differentiate it from other ages.

    (5) We do not, however, know that in this case a purpose of punishment is correction, since the references to punishment neither describe the punishment as corrective, nor do they ever describe the punishment as having corrective results. Hence the argument from agnosticism, right?

    Obviously we disagree on whether the punishment is described as corrective.

    (6) The Greek of Aristotle is not quite the koine Greek of the New Testament. It’s true that Aristotle was not a Christian universalist, and neither was Jesus an Aristotelian. It’s risky hermeneutics to build an entire doctrine on the presumed definition of a word that only appears two times in the New Testament, and it’s especially risky when those two times are Matt. 25:46 (where Jesus draws an explicit parallel between eternal punishment and eternal life) and 1 John 4:18 (which seems to contrast God’s love with the sinner’s fear of punishment). Of these two references, the one that is least ambiguous is the one that most clearly specifies a punishment that lasts as long as eternal life. Contradicting that clear statement just because “correction” is allowed by an archaic usage from a non-Christian philosopher—well, it just doesn’t convince me that the straightforward interpretation of Matthew 25 is wrong.

    I have no intention of doing a word study on kolasis in these comments. I’ve cited a couple writers and a lexicon showing why I think it has correction in mind. One writer was from before the time of Christ (Aristotle) and one was from after the time of Christ (Clement of Alexandria). One writer was not a Christian and one was. I see no reason to think they were wrong or that the NT authors would not use the definition of the term that apparently spanned centuries.

  18. Deacon Duncan Says:

    (3) No, that’s not quite right. The text has them being thrown into the lake of fire at the beginning of the “age par excellence.” If you translate the verse as meaning that at the beginning of the age they’re thrown into the lake of fire until the beginning of the age, it’s kind of nonsensical. There’s a reason that Bible translators prefer the rendering “for ever and ever,” and I’m inclined to respect their expertise here.

    (6) You overlook the fact that the same word can have different definitions and can vary in meaning depending on context. Whether you say “punishment” or whether you say “correction,” Jesus still set up a parallel that equated the duration of the “eternal correction” with the duration of eternal life. In that context, the word clearly means punishment, since there is no subsequent phase, after eternal life, for the sinner to live as a reformed character.