The Origin and History of the
Doctrine of Endless Punishment
RECAPITULATION OF THE SCRIPTURAL ARGUMENT.
Thomas B. Thayer, 1881: Briefly, our argument stands, thus far, as follows: 1. If Endless Punishment be a truth, and the actual purpose of God from the beginning; and if it exerts the salutary and restraining influence claimed for it, then assuredly it ought to have been revealed at the earliest possible moment. This both Justice and Mercy required, as well as the moral and religious welfare of mankind.
We may, therefore, expect to find it announced in plainest language at the very beginning - certainly on those occasions of sin and crime which could not fail to call out some declaration of it, some threat or warning in regard to it.
But not a word do we hear of it on any such occasion. The first transgression, Cain, the Deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, are all passed without a single line in the sacred record respecting it. The just inference is that it cannot be true, or God would certainly have said something about it, in the course of the two thousand five hundred years of the Patriarchal Period.
2. We next examined the Law of Moses, the entire catalogue of its penalties and threatenings; but in no case did we find the least allusion to the doctrine of endless punishments, or any punishments or rewards beyond death. And we showed by the acknowledgments of the most learned critics and theologians, themselves believers in the doctrine, that it was not taught in the Law of Moses, but that the Old Testament dispensation was wholly a dispensation of temporal rewards and punishments.
This portion of the inquiry covered fifteen hundred years more, the period under the Law, during which we have no revelation from God of the awful dogma, but a studied and most remarkable silence in reference to it, if true; a silence wholly unaccountable, and which shrouds the divine character in an impenetrable darkness, and accuses beyond defence his justice and goodness.
This is the position of the question at the end of four thousand years, which brings us to the close of the Old Dispensation and the opening of the New. The inquiry now arises, Is the doctrine in review, so long concealed, brought to light in the Gospel? The very statement of the question seems almost to carry its answer with it, As if God could keep such a tremendous fact under cover for forty centuries, and then announce it in a revelation called preeminently good-tidings, or Gospel!
But let us see what is involved in such a supposition. If the doctrine be true, then the old patriarchs and prophets, and the chosen people of God, were all wrong some thousands of years; and the Egyptians, and Greeks, and all the heathen, were right. Those who enjoyed divine instruction were in error, while those who only had the light of nature for a guide found the truth.
But, on this supposition also, God makes a special revelation, through Christ, of what everybody knew before, Jews and Gentiles; for, as we have seen, the Jews had adopted the doctrine from the Pagans before Christ came. Heathenism had anticipated Christianity, and there was no need of a supernatural revelation of that which the Pagans had shrewdness enough to invent without any help.
Again; John says (1:17), "The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." This is intended to show the superiority of Christ's mission and revelation. But which is preferable, the Law with temporal punishments, or that grace which brings in a dispensation of endless punishments? And Paul says that the Gospel is a "better covenant, established on better promises." [Heb. 8:6] But if it threatens this horrible judgment, not known to the Law covenant, it would be more fitting to say, it is a worse covenant established on worse threatenings. And how can Jesus be said to have "a more excellent ministry," [Heb. 8:6] if it involves consequences to the disobedient and unbelieving a million times more dreadful than any results of the ministry of Moses or Aaron? Heb. 8.
But let us proceed to the inquiry. Our limits will compel to utmost brevity, but we shall indicate the way with sufficient clearness.
SALVATION BY CHRIST NOT FROM ENDLESS PUNISHMENT.
If endless punishment really is the penalty of the Divine Law under the Gospel, and Christ came to save us from this, we may expect to have this fact announced in the most positive terms at the outset. God, so long silent, will now speak in thunder tones, and in language which all the world shall understand. Let us see if he has done so.
Luke 4:16-22. Here we have a statement from Christ himself, at the opening of his ministry, of what he was sent into the world for, and if the great purpose of his coming is to save men from endless misery, he will surely say so. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he bath anointed me to preach the Gospel (good tidings) to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister (of the synagogue), and sat down."
Not a word of his being sent to save from a future endless hell; and yet he professes to tell the very object for which God did send him! Now, if the doctrine be true, Jesus keeps up the same strange concealment which Moses maintained in the Law. He carefully enumerates all the lesser matters of his mission, but preserves a profound silence on the most momentous of all, the only thing, indeed, that brought him into the world; and this too, just when and where he should have declared it in boldest terms,
And what is more singular still is this; reading from Isaiah (61:1-3), he leaves out a most important expression, viz.: "the day of vengeance of our God." He reads down to these words, and then stops short in the middle of the sentence, closes the book, and sits down; as if he would say, "I have nothing to do with this; I did not come to proclaim the day of vengeance, but of deliverance. "Can anything be more significant than such an omission as this? And how is it possible to explain it, if Christ did really come to reveal the day of vengeance against the wicked, and the torments of an endless hell?
But there are other passages equally significant. "God, having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you," - Peter is telling the express purpose for which God raised up Jesus and sent him into the world, and, if this purpose is to save from endless punishment, we shall certainly have it now, "He sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of yon from his iniquities." Acts 3:25, 26. And this, remember, to the very murderers of Jesus, men fresh from the hill of Calvary! If ever there was a time for revealing the doctrine of woe without end, it was here. If true, could Peter have omitted all allusion to it?
"He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us" - from what? endless punishment? No; "that he might redeem us from all iniquity." Titus 2:11-14. "Our Lord Jesus who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from" - a future evil world? No: yet, if this be the fact, it ought to read so; but, instead of this, it reads thus: "from this present evil world" Gal. 1:4.
Now, is not this a most marvelous thing, if Jesus really came to deliver us from a future evil world - from the endless torments of a hell which begins only after death? Plainly; if it be so, this statement of the apostle is a deliberate deception; for it not only conceals the main fact, but it substitutes something else in the place of it, as if to draw attention away from the substantial truth in the case.
Again: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, [savior] for he shall save his people from their sins." Matt, 1:21. Note, in passing, that the people of Jesus are sinners, since he is to save them from their sins. Commonly it is believed that saints only are his people. Note, also, that the reason given for the name Jesus, is that he shall save them from sin, not from the vengeance of God, or the penalty of the divine law, or the horrors of endless punishment.
These passages might be greatly multiplied, but what have been cited are enough to show that we do not find the doctrine in review revealed in the New Testament in those places, where, of all others, we had a right to expect it, if true. And if we should find it elsewhere, these passages would still be a wonder and a mystery.
But there is another fact, of great weight in this inquiry, and one worthy of all remembrance. The original words translated "save" and "salvation," if I have counted rightly, occur one hundred and fifty-seven times in the New Testament. Of these, nineteen refer to the healing of bodily infirmities; as when Jairus besought Christ to lay hands upon his daughter, "that she might be healed" [Mark 5:23] - literally, "saved" - thirty-five of these refer to deliverance from danger or death, as when the mocking Jews said of Jesus, "He saved others; let him save himself." [Luke 23:35]
The remaining one hundred and three examples refer to spiritual or Gospel salvation. And yet in not one of these texts is it said that Christ came to save the world, or any part of it, from endless punishment, or even from "hell." But it is said repeatedly, and emphatically, that he came expressly to save us from something quite different from this. How shall we explain this, if the doctrine be true? What shall we say of those, who, speaking by the Spirit of God in exposition of Gospel salvation, never state the case as it really is, but spend all their words on matters of comparatively trifling importance?
THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCTRINE OF HELL,
Do we find the doctrine of endless punishment revealed in the use of the word Hell? Let the facts answer. There are three words translated "Hell" in the New Testament, Hades and Tartarus, which are Greek, and Gehenna, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew words Gee and Hinnom, meaning "the valley of Hinnom."
1. Hades, This word occurs eleven times, and is rendered "grave" once, and "hell" ten times.
It may be profitable first to consider what one of the most accomplished orthodox scholars says in regard to it, "In my judgment," says Dr, Campbell, "it ought never in Scripture to be rendered hell, at least in the sense wherein that word is universally understood by Christians, In the Old Testament the corresponding word is sheol, which signifies the state of the dead in general, without regard to the goodness or badness of the persons, their happiness or misery. It is very plain that neither in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, nor in the New, does the word hades convey the meaning which the present English word hell, in the Christian usage, always conveys to our minds. The attempt to illustrate this would be unnecessary, as it is hardly now pretended by any critic that this is the acceptation of the term in the Old Testament." (Prelim. Diss. vi., Pt. ii.)
1st. Hades is put for the grave, or the slate of the dead. Our translators have so rendered it in 2 Cor. 15:55, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave (hades), where is thy victory?" Let us look at some other passages where it is rendered "hell." "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption." "He spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption." Acts 2:27, 31. Was the soul of Christ ever in hell, in the orthodox sense of the word, as a place of endless torment? But the sacred writer himself explains the word, when he says he is speaking of the resurrection of Christ, that is, from the grave, or the dead.
"And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed him." Rev. 6:8. There is no necessary connection between death and a place of endless punishment, as all men die, good or bad; but there is a connection between death and the grave, or the state of the dead; and there is a propriety in representing the last as following the first. "And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them." Rev. 20:13. This is the reverse of what is usually taught and believed of hell; for the leading idea is that it will not give up those who are in it. Surely the hell the Revelator speaks of is not a place of endless torments. This is further confirmed by the next verse, where it is said, "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire," that is, utterly destroyed. Of course, then, this hell cannot be a place of endless woe, since it is not itself endless.
These passages, which are without point or meaning in the common view of hell, are full of significance when we give to hades, or hell, its true sense. For we know that the grave (hades) will deliver up its dead, and that death and the grave will be destroyed in the resurrection, when death shall be swallowed up in the victory of immortal life. Then with a meaning it will be said, "O grave (hades, hell), where is thy victory?" for then will be fulfilled the saying, "O grave (hades, hell), I will be thy destruction." Hosea 13:14.
2d. Hades is also used in a figurative sense to represent a state of degradation, calamity, or suffering, arising from any cause whatever.
"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell" (hades). Matt. 12:23, The parallel passage is in Luke 10:15. No one supposes that the city of Capernaum went down to a place of endless woe. The word hell here, as Dr. Clarke says, is a figure to set forth "the state of utmost woe, and ruin, and desolation, to which these impenitent cities should be reduced, This prediction of our Lord was literally fulfilled." Bp. Pearce says, "It means, thou shalt be quite ruined and destroyed," So also Hammond, Beausobre, Bloomfield, and others. The last named says it is a "hyperbolical expression, figuratively representing the depth of adversity."
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus furnishes another example. "And in hell (hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torment." It will be remembered that the Jews had borrowed their ideas of torment in a future state from the heathen, and of course they were obliged to borrow their terms to express this. Accordingly, after the manner of the Greeks, Hades, or the place of departed spirits, is represented as receiving all, as Sheol did, good and bad; but we have also the additional idea of separate apartments or districts, divided by a great gulf or river; on one side of which the blessed are located, and on the other side the damned, near enough to see each other, and converse together, as in the case of Abraham and the rich man.
It must also be remembered that this is only a parable, and not a real history; for, as Dr. Whitby affirms, "we find this very parable in the Gemara Babylonicum." The story was not new, then, not original with Christ, but known among the Jews before he repeated it. He borrowed the parable from them, and employed it to show the judgment which awaited them. - He represented the spiritual favors and privileges of the Jews by the wealth and luxury of the rich man, and the spiritual poverty of the Gentiles by the beggary and infirmity of Lazarus - and while the former would be deprived of their privileges and punished for their wickedness, the latter would enjoy the blessings of truth and faith.
The question may arise, "If Christ employed the language used by the Jews to express the torments of hell after death, did he not virtually sanction the doctrine? "
If so, then he sanctioned their views as set out in this parable, which, as we have already shown, they borrowed from the heathen. He puts himself on a level with the Pagan, poets, and teaches a heaven and hell in Hades, divided by a great gulf, torments by flame, conversational intercourse between the blessed and the damned, etc. [For a different interpretation see Lazarus and the Rich Man.]
Now no one believes in such a hell as this. A material hell of fire, and torments by flame, have been long ago abandoned. And the Saviour cannot be understood as believing or teaching future torments, by using this parable, any more than he can be supposed to believe and teach the existence of Beelzebub; the Philistine god of flies (or filth), when he alludes to him, and uses his name as if he were a real being. See Matt. 10:25; 12:24.
So he says (Matt. 6:24), "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." "Mammon" is the name of the god of riches: but surely no one would pretend that Christ, by speaking of serving him, sanctioned the doctrine that he was really a god. And yet he speaks of his service in the same connection, and in the same language, with that of the true God; showing the latitude with which these comparisons and figures are used, without sanctioning the errors on which they are founded. He takes their own language and opinions in both cases, without believing or approving, in order to teach and warn them.
Dr Macknight (Scotch Presbyterian) has spoken well on this point. "It must be acknowledged" he says, "that our Lord's descriptions (in this parable) are not drawn from the writings of the Old Testament, but have a remarkable affinity to the descriptions which the Grecian poets have given. They, as well as our Lord, represent the abodes of the blessed as lying contiguous to the region of the damned, and separated only by a great impassable river, or deep gulf, in such sort that the ghosts could talk to one another from its opposite banks. The parable says the souls of wicked men are tormented in flames - the Grecian mythologists tell us they lie in Phlegethon, the river of fire, where they suffer torments," etc. Then he adds, "If from these resemblances it is thought the parable is formed on the Grecian mythology, it will not at all follow that our Lord approved of what the common people thought or spake concerning those matters, agreeably to the notions of the Greeks. In parabolical discourses, provided the doctrines inculcated are strictly true, the terms in which they are inculcated may be such as are most familiar to the ears of the vulgar, and the images made use of such as they are best acquainted with." Whittemore's Notes.
The sum of the matter is, that Christ takes up a parable or story current among the Jews, and, without approving the heathen opinions on which it was founded, uses it to show that the Gentiles (Lazarus) would be received into the Gospel kingdom with Abraham and Isaac, while the Jews (the rich man) would be thrust out into darkness and desolation. And this judgment he represents by the figure of casting into hell, as he had described the destruction of Capernaum by saying it would be "thrust down to hell."
A perfect commentary on the parable is found in such passages as these: "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Matt 21:43, 44. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye see many coming from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and sitting with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, while you yourselves are thrust out." Matt. 8:11, compared with Luke 13:28, 29. "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but, seeing ye put it from you, and judge (show) yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles," Acts 13:46.
2. Tartarus. This word occurs only once, and then in a participial form, in 2 Peter 2:4, "If God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell," etc. Tartarosas. This is of the same character with the parable just considered, Tartarus being the place of torment in Hades, where the rich man was supposed to be. Bloomfield says that "Tartarus here is derived from the heathen, and chains of darkness from the Jewish mythology;" and adds "it is an expression truly Aeschylean," that is, dramatic, not literally true, a figure of something else.
It cannot be supposed that the divine apostle believed in the heathen hell or Tartarus, of which we have given some account in Chapter iii., and which the heathen themselves confess is a mere fable, an invention of legislators and poets. His use of the word does not prove his belief of the doctrine of torments after death, any more than Jude's mention of the dispute between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses, makes him responsible for the truth of that idle and ridiculous fable of the Jews. It might as well be argued that he believed the angels or messengers were bound in literal "chains of darkness," as that he believed they were literally cast into Tartarus or the heathen hell. Both expressions are figures to represent the desolation or destruction into which they were brought by their disobedience.
This is not the place to enter into the question of who are meant by the angels, or to give an exposition of the passage. Whether men or spirits, the word "hell" here furnishes no proof of their endless punishment - and this is all we are concerned with in the present inquiry.
3. Gehenna. This word occurs twelve times in the New Testament, and is always translated "hell." But as the Evangelists repeat the same discourses, the Saviour did not really use it more than six or seven times in all his ministry, The following are the texts: Matt. 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. By consulting these passages the reader will see how many of them are simply repetitions, and how very few times this word is used, on which, nevertheless, more reliance is placed than on all others, to prove that "hell" is a place of endless torment.
The following from Schleusner, a distinguished lexicographer and critic, will show the origin of the word, and indicate its scriptural usage:
"Gehenna, originally a Hebrew word, which signifies valley of Hinnom. Here the Jews placed that brazen image of Moloch. It is said, on the authority of the ancient Rabbins, that to this image the idolatrous Jews were wont, not only to sacrifice doves, pigeons, lambs, etc., but even to offer their own children. In the prophecies of Jeremiah (7:31), this valley is called Tophet, from Toph, a drum; because they beat a drum during these horrible rites, lest the cries and shrieks of the infants who were burned should be heard by the assembly. At length these nefarious practices were abolished by Josiah, and the Jews brought back to the pure worship of God. 2 Kings 23:10. After this they held the place in such abomination that they cast into it all kinds of filth, and the carcasses of beasts, and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Continual fires were necessary in order to consume these, lest the putrefaction should infect the air; and there were always worms feeding on the remaining relics. Hence it came, that any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death, was described by the word Gehenna, or hell." (Lexicon on Gehenna. The same statements are made by Prof. Stuart, Whitby, Clarke, and others.)
It is proper to add that Schleusner also says that it was used to represent the future torments of the wicked, and attempts to show it by quoting the texts given above. But this, as the reader will see, is assuming the whole question; it is taking for granted the thing to be proved.
In Jeremiah 19, it seems to be used as a comparative symbol of the desolation of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, or, as Dr. Clarke thinks, by the Romans. The Lord says to the prophet, "Go forth into the valley of the Son of Hinnom (Gehenna, hell), and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee, ... I will even make this city as Tophet (or Gehenna); and the houses of Jerusalem and the kings of Judah shall be defiled as the place of Tophet," etc. Here Tophet, or Gehenna, is employed in the way of comparison to set forth the utter overthrow of Jerusalem; as we say of a place, "It is barren as a desert," "It is silent as the grave," etc.
Isaiah says, "They shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." 66:23, 24. Here the unquenchable fire and the undying worm of Gehenna, or hell, are used as figures of judgment to happen on the earth, where there are carcasses, new moons, sabbaths, etc. Gehenna, with its accompaniments, was an object of utmost loathing to the Jew, and came to be employed as a symbol of any great judgment or woe.
We say of a great military or political overthrow, "It was a Waterloo defeat," So the Jews described a great desolation by a like use of the word Gehenna - "It was a Gehenna judgment;" that is, a very terrible and destructive judgment.
In Matt. 6:29, 30, there is mention of the "whole body cast into hell." No one supposes the body is literally cast into a hell in the future state. The severity of the judgments falling on those who would not give up their sins, is represented by Gehenna, which, as Schleusner says, was "a word in common use to describe any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death." These wicked people should perish in a manner as infamous as that of criminals, whose bodies after execution, were cast into Gehenna (hell), and burned with the bodies of beasts and the offal of the city.
The same thought is expressed in Matt. 23:33, where "the damnation of hell" is symbol of the tremendous judgments coming upon that guilty nation, when inquisition would be made for "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, slain between the temple and the altar," Vs, 34-39.
Mark 9:33, 45, 47, are repetitions of Matt. 6:29, 30, with the addition of "the undying worm and the unquenchable fire," which is a repetition of Isaiah 66:24. There is nothing in the passage to show that the Saviour used these phrases in any sense different from that of the prophet; who, as we have seen, employs them to represent judgments on the earth, where, "they shall go forth to look on the carcasses of the men who have transgressed against me .... for they shall bury in Tophet (the place of sacrifice in Gehenna or hell) till there is no place; .... and the days shall come that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the Son of Hinnom (the Hebrew for Gehenna or hell), but the valley of Slaughter." Jer. 7:19; Isa. 66:24.
"Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matt. 10:28, Luke says, "Fear him, which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell." 12:5.
Here is a mixed reference, figurative and literal, to the valley of Hinnom, Gehenna, hell. There is a literal allusion to casting the dead bodies of criminals into the valley, to be burned in the perpetual or unquenchable fire kept up there for this purpose; but the association of soul and body in the same destruction indicates the figurative use to represent entire extinction of being, or annihilation.
Isaiah employs the phrase in a similar way. "The Lord shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire, .... and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day; and shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body." 10:16-18. Dr. Clarke says this is "a proverbial expression," signifying that they should be "entirely and altogether consumed," So Christ represents God as able to destroy the wicked and apostate, "soul and body in Gehenna," the word familiarly used to express any great judgment or calamity.
(Our Lord may refer to that great day of wrath, when the Jews and apostate Christians (he is warning against apostasy) would be destroyed amid "tribulation such as was not from the beginning of the world to that time; no, nor ever shall be." Matt. 24:21. It is impossible to prove endless misery from this passage, for the soul is involved in the same destruction with the body. The advocates of an endless life of suffering find in this text a greater stumbling-block than any other class of believers; for, if it teaches what is certain and not what is possible only, it necessitates the doctrine of annihilation.)
But the Saviour is not to be understood as teaching that God will annihilate a soul and body, because he said he was able to do it, any more than he is to be understood as teaching that out of stones God would raise up children to Abraham, because he said he was able to. Matt. 3:9. And, moreover, he tells them in the very next words not to fear, because God watched over them, numbering the hairs of their head even, in his special keeping of them, and would surely protect them so long as they were faithful to him and his truth.
The method of argument seems to be the same as that pursued with the Pharisees, when they complained of his keeping company with publicans and sinners. Matt. 9. "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." If you are righteous, as you pretend, that is good reason why I should not keep company with you, for I came to save sinners. But he did not allow that they were righteous. He only admitted their premises for the time, in order to show the absurdity of their reasoning.
So, here, he says: If you are moved by the selfish consideration of fear to abandon the Gospel in order to save your lives (as Peter was afterward tempted to do), then, to be consistent, you ought to fear the power which can do you most injury. And this surely is God, who can bring destruction and death, not only on the body, but on the soul also, and that amid the most terrible of judgments. And to picture the dreadfulness of this destruction more vividly to their minds, he uses the well-known symbol of Gehenna, or the valley of Hinnom, the synonym of all that was horrible in the mind of a Jew.
(Dr. Albert Barnes says: "The extreme loathsomeness of the place, the filth and putrefaction, the corruption of the atmosphere, and the lurid fires blazing by day and by night, made it one of the most appalling and terrific objects with which a Jew was ever acquainted.")
Then, in the next words, he proceeds to tell them that really they had no cause to fear either God or men. So long as they did their duty, God, who provided for the sparrow (vs. 29), and numbered the hairs of their heads, in the watchfulness of his love (vs. 30), would surely protect them. And, then, as if to convince them that what he had said was only a supposition, and not a fact, he says "Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." (vs. 31.)
In the two passages following, Gehenna seems to be employed as a figure or symbol of moral corruption.
James says of the tongue, "It defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell" (Gehenna). 3:6. Here Gehenna, that place of filth and corruption and perpetual fires, is made a fitting emblem of the foul passions and corrupt appetites, set on fire by a foul and seductive tongue, which inflames in turn, to the defilement of the whole body.
So, in Matt. 23:15, 27, Gehenna or hell, and the whited sepulchre, "full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness," are fearful symbols of the moral foulness of the "Scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites," whom the Saviour was addressing. "Two-fold more the child of hell,"' signifying that they made their converts two-fold more corrupt than themselves.
The word Gehenna, or hell, then, in the New Testament is used as a symbol of anything that was foul and repulsive; but especially as a figure of dreadful and destructive judgments.
And, now, let us consider some of the facts connected with this word Gehenna. They are the more important because this word is specially relied upon as teaching the doctrine of endless torments, the doctrine of hell, as popularly believed. Whatever other forms of speech may be employed to express the thought, this is surely one of the terms clearly declarative of future endless punishment,
Admitting this statement for a moment, let us see what follows. If this is the word by which the tremendous fact is to be revealed, we shall have it notified to us in a fitting manner. We know with what solemn preparations, and awful accompaniments, the Law was introduced at Sinai; and we may certainly expect this doctrine will be announced with a solemnity and awfulness corresponding to its infinitely greater importance, and which shall concentrate upon it the attention of all the world. Neither the patriarchs, nor Moses, nor the prophets, have uttered a word on the subject - but now a new teacher is come from God, and he is to make known the dreadful doctrine -, and the words he selects for this purpose will be employed with a power of emphasis, with a marked distinction, which will shut out all possibility of mistake.
Let us see if it be so. The first time Christ uses the word Gehenna is in Matt. 6:22, 29, 30. But not a word of preparation or notice that now, for the first time, the terrible dogma is announced on divine authority. He speaks as calmly as if he were wholly unconscious of the burthen of such a revelation; and the people seem equally unmoved under the awful declaration. And what is singular, it is not presented by itself, in a positive form, unmixed with anything else, as its importance most surely demanded; but is slipped in merely as a comparative illustration, among other judgments, of the greater moral demands of the Gospel, and the strictness with which it enforced obedience.
They, the Jews, had said, "Whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment;" but Christ says, whosoever is angry with his brother without cause, is in danger of a punishment equal to that of the judgment (the inferior court of seven judges); and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (a term of contempt, shallow-brain or blockhead), shall be in danger of a punishment equal to that inflicted by the council (the superior court of seventy judges, which took cognizance of capital crimes); but whosoever shall say, "Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire," or of a punishment equal in severity to the fire of Gehenna.
Now, if Christ used the term Gehenna to reveal endless woe, and that for the first time, would he not have said this, and fixed forever the meaning of the word? And yet not the slightest intimation do we have of an such new and awful meaning. The Jews were familiar with it, and used it constantly to symbolize any great punishment or judgment coming on the earth; and they must of course suppose he used it as they did, since he gave them no notice to the contrary. If, therefore, he did give it the new signification of endless punishment after death, they could not understand him, and he failed of his purpose for want of such explanation as they, and we, had a right to expect.
But there is another consideration deserving notice, The difference between the sinfulness of saying Raca or Blockhead, and Fool, is hardly great enough to warrant such a difference in punishment as is involved in the supposition. Townsend justly says, to imagine that Christ, for such a slight distinction as Raca and Thou fool, "would instantly pass from such a sentence as the Jewish Sanhedrin would pronounce, to the awful doom of eternal punishment in hell-fire, is what cannot be reconciled to any rational rule of faith, or known measure of justice." There is no proportion between the slight difference in guilt and the tremendous, infinite difference in punishment. But if the comparison is between penalties symbolized by stoning to death, inflicted by the Sanhedrin council, and burning alive in Gehenna, then there is proportion, some relation of parts; because the difference between death by stoning and death by burning is not certainly very great; but the difference between death by stoning and endless torment is infinite.
It is impossible, therefore, to believe that Christ, in this first use of Gehenna, intended to reveal the doctrine, without an accusation against his fidelity and justice.
But let us note other facts equally pertinent.
1. Though Gehenna occurs twelve times, the Saviour actually used it only on four or five different occasions, the rest being only repetition. If this is the word, and the revelation of this terrible doctrine is in it, how is it possible that Christ, in a ministry of three years, should use it only, four times? Was he faithful to the souls committed to his charge?
2. The Saviour and James are the only persons in all the New Testament who use the word. John Baptist, who preached to the most wicked of men, did not use it once. Paul wrote fourteen epistles, and yet never once mentions it. Peter does not name it, nor Jude; and John, who wrote the gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelations, never employs it in a single instance. Now if Gehenna or hell really reveals the terrible fact of endless woe, how can we account for this strange silence? How is it possible, if they knew its meaning, and believed it a part of Christ's teaching, that they should not have used it a hundred or a thousand times, instead of never using it at all; especially when we consider the infinite interests involved?
3. The Book of Acts contains the record of the apostolic preaching, and the history of the firm planting of the Church among the Jews and Gentiles, and embraces a period of thirty years from the ascension of Christ. In all this history, in all this preaching of the disciples and apostles of Jesus, there is no mention of Gehenna. In thirty years of missionary effort, these men of God, addressing people of all characters and nations, never, under any circumstances, threaten them with the torments of Gehenna, or allude to it in the most distant manner! In the face of such a fact as this, can any man believe that Gehenna signifies endless punishment, and that this is a part of divine revelation, a part of the Gospel message to the world?
These considerations show how impossible it is to establish the doctrine in review on the word Gehenna. All the facts are against the supposition that the term was used by Christ or his disciples in the sense of future endless punishment. There is not the least hint of any such meaning attached to it, nor the slightest preparatory notice that any such new revelation was to be looked for in this old familiar word.
We have now passed in review, as far as our limits will permit, the New Testament doctrine of Hell, and we have not, surely, found it to be the doctrine of endless punishment, but something very wide from this. Let us now turn to other phraseology supposed to embody this thought, and to establish it as a doctrine of divine revelation.
"UNQUENCHABLE FIRE" AND "THE WORM THAT DIETH NOT."
These expressions are regarded as among the most terrible to be found in the Scriptures - and by a large portion of Christian believers are considered as decisive of the endless duration of the punishment of the wicked.
The phrase "unquenchable fire," or "the fire that shall not be quenched," occurs in the following passages of the New Testament: Matt. 3:12, Luke 3:17, Mark 9:43, 44, 45, 46, 48. In the passages from Mark it is found in connection with the phrase "the worm that dieth not." The repetitions of the same expression are obvious, the terms being thrice repeated (of the eye, the hand, the foot) simply for emphasis.
The origin of the phraseology in the desecration of the valley of Hinnom, or hell, making it a place for the deposit and burning of dead bodies and offal, has already been given in the previous section.
The Saviour borrows it from the prophet Isaiah; and it is important to observe that he uses the phrase "unquenchable fire" only on two occasions, and the phrase "the worm that dieth not" only on one occasion, that recorded by Mark. If the language implies as much as is affirmed, this is strange enough for a ministry of three entire years.
(Parkhurst says, "Our Lord seems to allude to the worms which continually preyed on the dead carcasses that were cast into the valley of Hinnom, Gehenna, and to the perpetual fires there kept up to consume them." Lexicon on the word Gehenna.)
Our first inquiry is into the Scripture usage of the language, and, this ascertained, we shall be able to decide how much it has to do with the question of endless punishment. "If ye will not hearken unto me .... then will I kindle a fire in the gates of Jerusalem, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched." Jer. 17:27. This unquenchable fire certainly belonged to this world, and lead relation to the destruction of the gates and palaces of Jerusalem.
"Therefore, thus saith the Lord God: Behold mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground, and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched," Jer. 7:20. No one, I suppose, would argue that the beasts of the field, and the fruits of the ground, were made endlessly miserable because it is said the anger and the fury of God were poured out upon them in fire unquenchable. Nothing can show more plainly that the expression is a figure, representing the severity of the divine judgments, in this case, on "the cities of Judah and Jerusalem."
The prophet Isaiah describes the desolation of Idumea in the following language: "The streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever." Isa. 34:5-10. This strong language is employed to set forth the destruction of a petty tribe, occupying a territory ten or fifteen miles square; and furnishes an important illustration of the elasticity with which the phrases in review are used as symbols of temporal judgments.
One more example: The overthrow of the Jews, and the laying waste of Judea, by Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans, is predicted by Ezekiel in the terms following: "I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree; the flaming fame shall not be quenched, and all faces from north to south shall be burned therein, And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched," Ezek. 21:47, 48. See, also, Isa. 2:31; Jer. 4:4, 31:12; Amos 5:6.
These passages are sufficient to show that the sacred writers used the phrases in review as figures of God's judgments in the earth, of the calamities which he sent upon wicked nations, through the agency of war, famine and desolation, In not one of the texts cited is the language employed as a figure of any judgments or sufferings but such as belong to time and earth: and these are all the passages in the Old Testament in which it occurs, with the exception of Isaiah 66:23, 24, which has been considered under the bead of Gehenna.
Now, if the Saviour used the same phraseology used by the prophets and the Jews, he would undoubtedly employ it in the same sense, if he wished or expected them to understand him. The prophets had employed these expressions, and the people were familiar with the use of them, as symbols of terrible judgments and punishments sent upon the guilty nations, falling on the transgressors in this life. Their Scriptures never use them in any other sense, and the significance of the language was in regard to the severity, and not the duration, of the punishment. Hence, as Hammond, an excellent commentator of the English church, says, "unquenchable fire" is simply "a fire never quenched till it has done its work," or, in other words, a thoroughly destructive fire.
Dr. Clarke says, on Matt. 3:12: "He will burn up the chaff, that is, the disobedient and rebellious Jews, with unquenchable fire, that cannot be extinguished by man." Le Clerc says: "By these words is signified the utter destruction of the Jews;" and Bp. Pearce remarks: "In this whole verse the destruction of the Jewish state is expressed in the terms of the husbandman [farmer]." [See Paige's Selections.] These eminent orthodox writers understand the scriptural usage of the language, and show us that the judgments symbolized by it are not endless in duration, nor located beyond the earth. It is plain, therefore, that the Saviour employed the phrases in question in the same sense in which the prophets had employed them, the sense which the people attached to them; that of a terrible and desolating judgment, without any reference to the time of its continuance. The idea of endlessness seems never to have been thought of in connection with the phraseology; nor duration of any length, indeed, but only the intensity and destructiveness of the punishment or judgment.
To illustrate the subject still further, and to show how utterly groundless is the assumption that these expressions necessarily imply endless duration, let us call in the testimony of some Greek authors, who certainly have a right to know the meaning of their own language.
1. Strabo, the celebrated geographer, speaking of the Parthenon, a temple in Athens, says: "In this was the inextinguishable or unquenchable lamp" (asbestos, the very word used in Mark 3:12, Luke 3:17, and Mark 9:43). Of course, all it means is that the lamp was kept constantly or regularly burning during the period alluded to, though extinguished or quenched ages ago.
2. Homer uses the phrase asbestos gelos, " unquenchable laughter." But we can hardly suppose they are laughing now, and will laugh to all eternity.
3. Plutarch, the well-known author of the biographies familiarly known as "Plutarch's Lives," calls the sacred fire of the temple "unquenchable fire" (pur asbeston, the exact expression of Jesus), though he says in the very next sentence it had sometimes gone out.
4. Josephus, speaking of a festival of the Jews, says that every one brought fuel for the fire of the altar, which "continued always unquenchable," (asbeston aei). Here we have a union of the word supposed to mean specially endless, when in the form of aionios, with the word "unquenchable," and yet both together do not convey the idea of duration without end; for the fire of which Josephus speaks had actually gone out, and the altar been destroyed, at the time he wrote! And still he calls the fire "always unquenchable."
5. Eusebius, the father of ecclesiastical history, describing the martyrdom of several Christians at Alexandria, says: "They were carried on camels through the city, and in this elevated position were scourged, and finally consumed or burned in unquenchable fire" (puri asbesto). Here, again, we have the very phrase employed by our Lord, and applied to a literal fire, which, of course, was quenched in the short space of one hour, probably, or two hours at the longest. All that is implied is, that it burned till it had consumed the victims. (Expositor for Sept. 1838; Schleusner's Lexicon on Asbestos; Iliad, lib. i. 599; Cruse's Eusebius, lib. vi., chap 41 Note on page 259.)
These authors, writing in their own tongue, must have known the value and import of the phrase "unquenchable fire;" and it is as clear as demonstration can make it that they did not use it to mean endless. And shall any one, however learned, presume to understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves?
Eusebius has given us a perfect illustration of the scriptural usage and just definition of the term, as relating to intensity and destructive severity, rather than to length of time. And the Saviour, in Mark 9, employs it as a figure of the terrible judgment which was to destroy the enemies and the false professors of the Gospel, without any more reference to duration than Eusebius had when speaking of the unquenchable fire that consumed the bodies of the martyrs.
The following facts, then, are established.
1. The whole Old Testament usage of the language in review is against the meaning of endless, as the passages cited and referred to fully show.
2. The Greek writers quoted above did not use it to signify endless; which gives us both scriptural and classical usage against it.
3. There is not one particle of proof to show that the Saviour used it in the sense of endless, or in any other sense than that of the prophets, viz., a figure or symbol of great temporal judgments.
We do not yet, therefore, find the doctrine of endless punishment revealed in the New Testament, nor in any way sanctioned by the authority or language of the blessed Saviour. There is one other class of phrases, or words, which will require attention; and this will close the inquiry on this head.
THE WORDS ETERNAL, EVERLASTING, FOREVER, ETC.
These words are regarded by many as settling the question of the endless duration of punishment - with how little reason the facts will show. It is remarkable that, though the original words rendered "everlasting," "eternal," etc. (aion and aionios), occur together one hundred and seventy- nine times in the New Testament, they are used only twelve times in connection with punishment. "Everlasting fire" occurs three times, and "everlasting punishment" once, "everlasting destruction" once, and "eternal damnation" once! Matt. 18:8, 24:41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:9; Mark 3:29. The other texts are Heb. 6:2; 2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 7, 13, Surely, if the words everlasting and eternal mean strictly endless by their own inherent force, this is very singular. The Gospel a special revelation of endless punishment, and yet the words expressing this awful fact, applied to it only nine times out of a usage of one hundred and seventy-nine examples!
(Twenty of these examples repeat the word, making its actual occurrence 199 times - eis tous aionas ton aionon.)
Let us now attend to the definition and usage of the words by lexicographers, and classical and scriptural writers, that we may be able to judge of its value in the present discussion.
1. Lexicographers and Critics. Schleusner, whose exact learning makes his authority of great weight, defines the noun aion, thus: "Any space of time, whether longer or shorter, past, present, or future, to be determined by the persons or things spoken of, and the scope of the subject -the life or age of man; any space in which we measure human life, from birth to death."
Donnegan. "Aion, time - a space of time; life time and life; the ordinary period of man's life, the age of man; man's estate; a long period of time; eternity. aionios, of long duration; eternal, lasting, permanent."
Schrevelius. "Aion, an age, a long period of time; indefinite duration; time, whether longer or shorter, past, present or future; life, the life of man. Aionios, of long duration, lasting, sometimes everlasting, sometimes lasting through life."
Authorities might be multiplied to any extent, but these are sufficient to show that the radical meaning of the Greek words translated "everlasting," "forever," etc., is not endless, but simply indefinite time, longer or shorter, past or future; and that they take their force as to duration from the subjects or persons to which they are applied. If they mean strictly endless in any case, it is not because that idea is in the words aionios, aion, "everlasting," "forever;" but because the being or subject qualified demands it, or is, of itself, necessarily endless.
Hence Dr. Macknight, Presbyterian, says: "These words, being ambiguous, are always to be understood according to the nature and circumstances of the things to which they are applied," And though he claims the words in support of endless punishment, yet he frankly adds: "At the same time, I must be so candid as to acknowledge, that the use of these terms forever, eternal, and everlasting, in other passages of Scripture, shows that they who understand the words in a limited sense when applied to punishment, put no forced interpretation on them." (Truth of Gospel History, p. 28.)
2. Usage of Greek Authors. The Greek writers constantly employ these words in a way to exclude the idea of endless, and to illustrate the meaning of indefinite time, the duration to be determined by the general scope of the subject.
Plato has the phrase "eternal (aionios) drunkenness;" but one can hardly believe he meant endless drunkenness.
Eusebius, one of the early Christian writers, speaking of the Phoenician philosophy as presented by Sanchoniathon, says of the darkness and chaos which preceded creation: "They continued for a long eternity" - (dia polun aiona). Here the word is qualified by long, showing that eternity means simply age or time indefinite, long or short.
"And these they called aionios, eternal, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations." In Solom. Parab. [Parables of Solomon]. This eternity was three generations long, or about one hundred years. "Alter not the eternal boundaries." If "eternal" implied endless, they could not be altered.
These examples might be multiplied, but my purpose is only to furnish the reader with a sufficient number to enable him to judge of the usage among the Greeks themselves, who, of course, will be allowed to understand the signification of words in their own language. I shall cite one more authority from classic usage, because his definition has been claimed as decisive of the meaning "endless," as the radical idea of aion, from which comes aionios, "everlasting, forever," etc.
"According to Aristotle, and a higher authority need not be sought, aion is compounded of aei, always, and on, being; that is, always existing, .... interminable, incessant, and immeasurable duration." Clarke on Gen. 21:33. Others also compel Aristotle into the same service.
Now, a single passage from the same work in which Aristotle is represented as defining aion to mean radically and strictly endless, duration without end, will show the uncertainty of such criticism, and the folly of attempting to press the great philosopher into the support of endless punishment. The passage referred to (De Mundo), has this expression: "from one interminable eternity to another eternity" - ex aionos atermonos eis eteron aiona.
Now, if Aristotle intended to define aion as signifying strictly endless, as Dr. Clarke affirms, why did he add another word to increase the force of it? Where the need or sense of saying from one interminable eternity to another? And even with this addition he does not convey the idea of duration without limit or end; otherwise there could not be another such period, which the sentence affirms! Plainly he uses the words in the ordinary sense, meaning by them only indefinite time, endless or limited, as the nature of the subject may require. And even when joined with the adjective atermonos, "without limit or termination," it is not to be taken too literally, as signifying a strict eternity.
In a poem ascribed to Errina Lesbia there is a similar use of the adjective "greatest" in connection with aion - "the greatest eternity that overturns all things," etc., ho megistos aion. The greatest eternity implies a less one; and is demonstrative proof that the noun aion and the adjective aionios convey the idea not of strictly endless duration, but only of duration indefinitely continued.
Philo and Josephus wrote in Greek, though Jews by birth. The former uses the very phrase found in Matt. 25:46, "everlasting punishment" - kolasis aionios - as follows: - Speaking of the manner in which certain persons retaliate an injury, he designates it as "a deep hatred and everlasting punishment." Of course the everlasting punishment in this case is inflicted by men in this life, and cannot, therefore, last much above "three-score years and ten.
Josephus employs the word in such phrases as these: "the everlasting name of the patriarchs;" "the everlasting glory of the Jewish nation," which ended two thousand years ago; "the everlasting reputation" of Herod; "the everlasting worship" in the temple, which also ceased nearly eighteen hundred years ago; the everlasting imprisonment" to which John, the tyrant, was condemned by the Romans, though it could not continue but a few years at most.
(Stephens' Thesaurus Graecae Linguae; Robert Constant's Lexicon; Universalist Quarterly, ii. 133, iv. 5-38; Expositor, iii., etc., have furnished most of the above examples. See, also, Christian Examiner, articles by E, S. Goodwin, from Dec. 1828, to May, 1838.)
These Jewish-Greek authors were contemporary with the New Testament authors, and are therefore good authority for the usage and meaning of the words in review, embracing both the Greek and Jewish elements. Philo and Josephus, Matthew and Luke, allowing for the difference in education, stood in the same relation to the Greek language, and the Jewish usage of it, and what may be affirmed of one may be affirmed with equal force of the others. And, surely, nothing is more obvious than that the first named did not understand the words aion and aionios as meaning anything more than indefinite time.
Another decisive fact is this: The Sibylline Oracles, Clemens Alexandrinus [Clement of Alexandria], Origen, and others of the Christian Fathers, who are acknowledged believers and teachers of the final restoration, often use the phrases "everlasting fire," "everlasting punishment," etc., in regard to the wicked. Nothing can more conclusively show that the expressions are not to be taken in the sense of endless; for, though they believed in everlasting punishment, they also believed it would end in the restoration of those who suffered.
3. Scripture Usage. The Scripture usage will be found in perfect harmony with the foregoing facts.
[Examples obsoleted by the return of Jews to Israel are omitted here.]
Jonah 2:1-6, is another illustration, where forever "lasted only three days and three nights! showing the folly of arguing for the endlessness of punishment on the strength of such elastic words as these. The punishment of Jonah is described by the term "forever," though it lasted only seventy-two hours; and there is no more reason for supposing the term to mean endless in other cases, when applied to punishment, than here. There is no more authority for saying the "everlasting punishment" of Matt. 25:46, is endless, than for saying the "forever" punishment of Jonah, or the "everlasting priesthood " of Exod. 40:15, is endless.
The word may sometimes be used to signify a strict eternity; but it takes its force in such cases from the subject or person to whom it is applied. For example, in the expression "everlasting God," everlasting means endless, because God is immortal, not by any force of its own. The word "everlasting" borrows its endlessness from God, not God from "everlasting."
So, in all cases, the adjective is modified by the noun. A strong horse, a strong mind, a strong chain, strong drink, strong language - in each one of these phrases "strong" has a different meaning, according to the nature of the subject or noun. So a wise man, a wise God - in the last case the word "wise" means infinite wisdom, but not in the first; and the meaning of infinite is not in "wise," but in "God." And it is the same with "everlasting" - it never has the force of endless in itself; and, in order to make it mean endless when applied to punishment, it must be shown that punishment is in its nature as necessarily endless and infinite as God is. It will probably take some time to do this.
It may be well to notice the argument that in Matt. 25:46, "eternal life" and "everlasting punishment" are set against each other, and that one is as long as the other. The reply to this is, that the life of the blessed is not presumed to be endless because of the word "everlasting," but because of God's infinite goodness; the same reason which weighs against the presumption that the punishment of the wicked is endless. [If you can] Show that there is as much reason from the nature of God to suppose that evil and suffering will be endless, as that good and happiness will be, and there may be some force to the argument.
Beside, Rom. 16:25, 26, Titus 2:2, Habak. 3:6, show that the same word may be differently applied in the same sentence, "Everlasting hills" are not of as long continuance as the "everlasting God;" and "eternal life" is not the same as the "eternal times" (English "world"), before which it was promised, Titus 1:2. (See Prof. Tayler Lewis on Olamic and Aeonian Words, chap. X., sect. iv.)
The following brief summary will illustrate the scriptural usage of the words "everlasting," "forever," etc., and show how impossible it is to build up the doctrine of endless punishment on terms so uncertain
We see the word everlasting applied to the priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the Jewish temple. We see the word forever applied to the duration of a man's earthly existence; to the time a child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi's leprosy; to the duration of the life of David; to the duration of a king's life; to the duration of the earth; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the time they were to dwell in Jerusalem; to the time a servant was to abide with his master; to the time Jerusalem was to remain a city; to the duration of the Jewish temple; to the laws and ordinances of Moses; to the time David was to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set up at Jordan; to the time the righteous were to inhabit the earth; and to the time Jonah was in the fish's belly. We find the phrase forever and ever applied to the hosts of heaven, or the sun, moon, and stars; to a writing contained in a book; to the smoke that went up from the burning land of Idumea; and to the time the Jews were to dwell in Judea. We find the word never [cease] applied to the time the fire was to burn on the Jewish altar; to the time the sword was to remain in the house of David; to God's covenant with the Jews; to the time the Jews should not experience shame; to the time the house of David was to reign over Israel, to the time the Jews were not to open their mouths because of their shame; to the time those who fell by death should remain in their fallen state; and to the time judgment was not executed.
"But, ... [obsolete examples omitted] ...; the man to the duration of whose life the word forever was applied is dead; David is dead, and has ceased to reign over Israel; ... ; the Jewish temple is demolished, and Jerusalem has been overthrown, so that there is not left "one stone upon another;" the servants of the Jews have been freed from their masters; Gehazi is dead, and no one believes he carried his leprosy with him into the future world; the stones that were set up at Jordan have been removed, and the smoke that went up from the burning land of Idumea has ceased to ascend; ... , and no one believes that the mountains and hills, as such, are indestructible; the fire that burnt on the Jewish altar has long since ceased to burn; ... ; and no Christian believes that those who fall by death will never be awakened from their slumbers. Now, as these words are used in this limited - sense in the Scriptures, why should it be supposed that they express endless duration when applied to punishment?"
Everlasting.- Gen. 17:7, 8,13; 48:4; 49:26; Exod. 40:15; Lev. 16:34; Numb. 25:13; Ps.24:7; Hab. 3:6.
Forever.- Deut. 15:17; 1 Sam. 1:22; 27: 12; Lev. 25:46; 2 Kings 5:27; Job 41:4; 1 Kings 1:31; Neh. 2:3; Dan. 2:4; Exod. 14:13; Eccl. 1:4; Ps. 104:5; 78:69; Ezek. 37:25; Gen. 13:15; Exod. 32:13; Josh. 14:9; I Chron. 23:25; Jer. 17:25; Ps. 48:8; Jer. 31:40; I Kings 8:13; Numb. 10:8; 18: 23; 1 Chron, 28:4; 1 Kings 9:5; Josh. 4:7; Jonah 2:6; Ps. 37:29.
Forever and ever.- Ps. 148:5, 6; Isa. 30:8; 34:10; Jer. 7:7; 25:5.
Never.- Lev. 6:13; 2 Sam. 12:10; Judges 2:1; Joel 2:26, 27; Jer. 33:17; Ezek. 16:63; Amos 8:14; Hab. 1:1. - Universalist Book of Ref., pp. 107-177.
The ground taken up to this time [by most interpreters], that the Hebrew olam and the Greek aionios represent a strict eternity, that this is the radical and inherent force of the terms, has been abandoned by Dr. Tayler Lewis, one of the most learned and exact critics of the orthodox school, in a recent dissertation of his in Lange's Commentary. His testimony is as follows: "The preacher, in contending with the Universalist or Restorationist, would commit an error, and, it may be, suffer a failure in his argument, should he lay the whole stress of it on the etymological or historical significance of the words aion, aionios, and attempt to prove, that, of themselves, they necessarily carry the meaning of endless duration."
Again: he says on the Hebrew word [olam] in Eccl. 1:3, "This certainly indicates, not an endless eternity in the strictest sense of the word, but only a future of unlimited length." On Exod. 21:16 he says, "Olam here would seem to be taken as a hyperbolical term for indefinite or unmeasured duration;" and then contrasts it with Deut. 32:40, as an example of the immense extremes which the context shows in the use of the word, "I live forever, spoken of God in such a way as to mean nothing less than the absolute or endless eternity. But it is the subject to which it is applied that forces to this, not any etymological necessity in the word itself."
This is the very ground we have always taken in regard to this entire class of words, that their meaning depends upon the connection, or the subjects to which they are applied. And Prof. Lewis, after stating that olam in Eccl. 1:3 (and the same is true of its Creek equivalent aionios) "cannot mean forever in the sense of endless duration," very properly adds, that "it may be used for such an idea when the context clearly demands, as when it is employed to denote the continuance of the divine existence, or of the divine kingdom." Again: he says on Eccl. 12:5, where the Hebrew of "long home" is beth olam, "it certainly does not denote an absolute endless eternity."
The proper meaning of the words, according to the professor, is world-time; "First, as expressive of some great period, cycle, or age, not having its measurement from without, but which goes beyond any known historical or astronomical measurement;" second, "in a lower or more limited sense, - an olam, aeon, age, world, or world-time, - which may be historical; indefinite periods coming one after another during the continuance of the same earth or kosmos. Thus we say the ancient world, the modern world, the Greek world, the Roman world, etc. This would correspond to our use of the word `ages,' and that would make a good sense, Eccl. 1:10, 'the worlds or ages that have been before.'"
On Matt. 25:46 he says, "aionios may perhaps mean an existence, a duration, measured by aeons or worlds (taken as the measuring unit), just as our present world, or aeon, is measured by years or centuries. But it would be more in accordance with the plainest etymological usage to give it simply the sense of olamic or aeonic, or to regard it as denoting, like the Jewish olam habba, the world to come. These shall go away into the punishment (the restraint or imprisonment) of the world to come; and these, into the life of the world to come. That is all we can etymologically or exegetically make of the word in this passage."
THE SECOND DEATH.
The phrase "second death" is peculiar to the book of Revelations, and is found here four times only. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8. It appears, from the context, that it is used as a figure of judgment, or punishment; and it is upon the context that we must chiefly depend, as there are no examples in the Old or New Testament, save those named, which may be appealed to as scriptural usage to determine the meaning of the expression. [ Remainder of this section omitted ....]
[ABCOG disagrees with the interpretation in this section, see The Resurrections of the Dead. Thayer substitutes a "figure of speech" for a simple direct meaning. This leads him to construct an idiosyncratic description of end-time events according to which the "Great White Throne" judgment of Rev. 20 occurred when the 2nd Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.]
by Thomas B. Thayer, New and enlarged edition. Boston: Universalist Publishing House. 1881.
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