Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Eternal Punishment

This post arises out of a discussion on the Facebook Group "The Bible Study Facebook Group" on the Existance of Hell and Eternal Punishment. If you have a Facebook account you can check it out at: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=6405009186&topic=4746 - Oh join the group while you're there.

As some of you are aware, this “essay” has been worked on over a few days and as such, some of the points that are mentioned here may in fact have been made by other contributors. My objective in writing this is to examine the idea put forward by Nicole that at some point the souls of those who are lost will cease to exist, and consequently to research what seems to be an inconsistency is what Scripture teaches in regard to the fate of those who are not saved. I apologise for the length of this post but it is necessary to do justice to what is a very serious matter.

I have found in my study of the Bible, that from time to time one will come across, or have pointed out to you by a skeptic, a prima facie contradiction in what is said in one part of the Bible in relation to another, and between what is recorded in the Bible and what appears to be the facts in reality. There are “theologians” – albeit non-believing ones, who make it their life’s work to disprove the Bible. A case in point is Richard Dawkins who wrote The God delusion. There are issues such as:
  • “The Problem of Evil” – in other words: if God is omnipotent and all-loving, how could he allow the existence of evil.
  • There is the whole “Predestination versus Free-Will” discussion that has resulted in schisms in the Church.
  • You may be asked if you are amillennialist, premillennialist or postmillennialist – and you may be justified in saying that is a preposterous question. (get it? A – PRE – POSTerous: Thanks David Pawson.)

The point is that all of these discussions including the one that is exercising our minds here: namely the meaning of ETERNAL PUNISHMENT is that they are based on our understanding of what the Bible teaches. As Nicole said, many people claim to be basing their theologies on the Bible, but since people are coming to conclusions that are diametrically opposed, it must mean that one or both of the parties are mistaken about what the Bible is saying.

If, as we do in this group, we agree that the Bible is God’s inerrant word – in other words there are no mistakes and we understand that if there were contradictions in the Bible they would represent a mistake, we have to come to the conclusion that THERE ARE NO ACTUAL CONTRADICTIONS IN THE WORD OF GOD.

I used the expression prima facie before – this is a legal term meaning “on the face of it” – A prosecutor can take an accused to trial based on prima facie evidence that the accused committed the crime, however, it is up to the court to determine if in fact that prima facie evidence is true before they can convict the accused of the crime. In the same way, when we come across what appears to be a contradiction we must not accept it at face value but research more deeply and really understand what the Bible is saying, and we will then, I am confident, see that there was no contradiction after all, but that we had misunderstood what the Bible was saying.

Since we are discussing the nature of eternal punishment, let us look at a very well known verse: John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him (the Son) shall NOT PERISH but have ETERNAL LIFE.

Looking at this verse and seeing what we can learn from it I discover that there are two possible outcomes spoken of here: 1) Perishing 2) Eternal Life. It would seem therefore that since the “reward side” is ETERNAL LIFE that the “punishment side” would be exactly opposite to eternal life. Well, one could conclude that therefore it is, if you’ll the excuse expression “non-eternal death”. I am however making too many suppositions here. It is not necessarily “non-eternal death” but ETERNAL DEATH that is the opposite of ETERNAL LIFE. However, the question remains, and cannot be answered by this verse alone, what is the nature of this death? Does death really mean one ceases to exist?

Based on Hebrews 9:27, which says, “It is appointed unto man ONCE to die and THEN the judgment, we can ascertain that DEATH is not the endpoint in a human’s existence. We know that in physical death, a corpse does not dematerialize. It remains and those who are nearest and dearest have to dispose of the corpse, either by burial or by cremation. As the years go by, that body breaks down and gradually over many years, becomes part of the environment it has been placed in. A basic knowledge of science states that matter is not destroyed. It changes but it does not simply disappear. God does have the right to eradicate the souls He has created, but the Word of God suggests that this He has not done and has no intention of doing.

It is appointed unto man that he should die once and then face the Judgment. The questions remains, “What about after the Judgment?” If we look at the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus says in Matthew 25:46 “And then they (the “goats”) will go away to eternal punishment but the righteous to eternal life.” Here we have a juxtapositioning of eternal life with eternal punishment.

J.C. Ryle, commenting on this verse says

The state of things after the judgment is changeless and without end. The misery of the lost and the blessedness of the saved are both alike for ever. The eternity of God and of heaven and hell all stand on the same foundation. As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night and hell an endless night without day.” Ryle J.C. (Sheehan R. ed.) Daily Readings from all four Gospels for Morning and Evening, 1998, Evangelical Press, Darlington, England, November 3 Morning

As David has already indicated in other passages so it is here – the same word “eternal” describes both the punishment of the wicked and the life of the righteous – and thus in regard to the dimension of time, the property of both of these outcomes is alike.

I wanted to come back to the use of the word “perish” as it appears in John 3:16. Watching a DVD the teaching on the End Times, David Pawson said that that word – “Perish” does not mean – to be destroyed, but to become useless. A tyre-tube that perishes becomes unusable – you can’t pump it up as it has holes, and so you chuck it out. Jesus spoke about the Salt and the Light. He said it the salt loses its saltiness it becomes useless – you chuck it out. The actual Greek word for perish is not used in that context. However, I have done a word study on Perish and I find something rather interesting.

The Greek word for “Perish” in John 3:16 is “apolaetai” and appears seven other times in the New Testament and it is used twice in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament).

  • Matthew 5:29 + 30 “It is better for you to LOSE (destroy) one part of your body than…”
  • Matthew 18:14 “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones PERISH” (Parable of the lost sheep)
  • Luke 21:18 “But not a hair on your head will be DESTROYED” – context Jesus was prophesying what would happen to us at the end of time.
  • John 3:15 + 16 – We know what it says there – it is interesting however that verse 15 says virtually the same thing as verse 16 – verbatim.
  • John 6:12 “Let nothing be WASTED” – context after feeding 5000.
  • John 11:50 “Do you not realise it is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation PERISH.”

    Old Testament
  • Deuteronomy 22:3 – Speaking of animals that had STRAYED or any item that had clearly been MISLAID and the responsibility of a person finding the animal or item to return it to its rightful owner.
  • Isaiah 38:17 – “Pit of CORRUPTION” – also pit of DESTRUCTION –


Looking at the use of these words the general idea of “apolaetai” is “to be lost” - Therefore applying this meaning into John 3:16 – “Shall not be lost, but have eternal life.” Removing thus the incorrect notion of obliteration – which I find nowhere in Scripture, we have the idea that the two possible outcomes described in John 3:16 are: Eternal life for the righteous or being lost forever for those who do not believe.

I therefore conclude that John 3:16 does not preclude an eternal punishment for those who do not believe. In the light of other scriptures, I feel that an eternal lake of fire does await those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of Life.