WILL GOD UTTERLY DESTROY?
God has spoken to us in the Hebrew language, and in the Greek language, but there is no revelation from Him in the Latin tongue.
We must therefore watch very carefully all theological terms which have reached us through the medium of the Latin. This was pointed out by the Rev. Professor Henslow in 1909 in his small work, "The Vulgate the Source of False Doctrines." In many cases the inspired Greek terms have been brought over into English through a Latin word which is quite different in form from the Greek one which it is supposed to represent. Examples are the words justification, salvation, reconciliation, communion, punishment, propitiation, redemption, repentance, predestination, judgment, eternal, faith.
But there is another word derived from the Latin which is of very great importance, namely, destruction. No term exists in the Hebrew of the Bible, or in the Greek of the Bible, which answers to the real meaning of this Latin word, as it is now understood. The word destroy is said to come from Latin de-struere, through the Old French, meaning originally to pull down, unbuild, overthrow, the root being strues , meaning a pile or building. The word is now defined as "Pull down or demolish, so that as a structure it no longer exists; ruin or annihilate by demolishing or burning; overthrow and put an end to; lay waste; slay; extirpate; resolve a body into its parts or elements."
Another important term, perish, comes from the Latin perire, meaning originally to go completely. It is now defined as "pass away completely; waste away; decay; lose life; be destroyed; be ruined or lost." Weekley says the sense is like that of the German vergehen (to pass away, fade, languish).
Another term, perdition, has become invested with a most dread theological and teleologic significance. It is defined as, "utter loss or ruin; the utter loss of happiness in a future state." Its derivation is stated as being Latin per, through or completely, and dare, to give or put. Actually its primitive meaning was only lostness, which is the meaning of the Greek word (apOleia) for which it stands eight times in the 1611 version. The French word perdu means simply "lost."
In the 1611 version at John 17:12 we read, "None of them is lost, but the son of perdition." In the Revised Standard Version this actually remains unaltered. This reading is derived from the Wycliffite version of 1389, "No man of hem perischide, no one but the sone of perdiciouri." This in turn was copied from the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, and it is doubtful whether Wycliffe understood the Latin term perditio as we now understand it. Tyndale (1526) is the best translator of this verse, "None of them is lost, but that lost chylde."
Tyndale saw, what others have been too blind to see, that in the Greek text, we have one word which means "was lost" (apOleto) and another word which means "lostness" (apOleia). Why being lost should signify being destroyed or perishing is a mystery. It is well nigh impossible to get students to see that Jerome's Latin version introduced many new terms which were not inspired as the Greek terms were, and that not only so, but these Latin words have in the course of centuries shifted as regards meaning. If "destruction" originally meant to be undone, taken to pieces, or dissolved, why should it now have come to mean a state of endless death?
Wulfila's Gothic version of about 350 A.D. is entirely innocent of the theological tinge produced by the Dark Ages or the Reformation in matters of human destiny. Wulfila says nothing about a son of perdition. His words are sunus fralustais, "son of away lostness" (lost away son). Here we note the ancient primitive root LU, meaning loose, lost, dissolve, found in many old languages. This forms part of the important Greek word apollumi, occuruing about ninety times in the N.T., rendered lose, perish, destroy; and of the Latin word solvo (so-luo), 'meaning to set loose.'
The Old English version of about a thousand years ago reads forspilledysse bearn, "bairn of waste-away-ness."
One notes the utter simplicity of meaning shewn by these two versions as contrasted with theological sophistication which has been injected into the terms perdition and destruction. what a contrast to all the translations of the Scriptures made within the past fivehundred years, in which the translators; through misplaced zeal; haye soughtto emphasize the force of many terms used in revelation, as though they could "help out" God in His task. The employment of such terms as hell, damnation, bottomless pit, world without end, for ever and ever, eternal, everlasting punishment, throws a lurid light on the mentalities of those who made our English versions. Each of these terms shews gross exaggeration of the truth meant to be conveyed. The great enemy of God and mankind has succeeded, only too well, in getting his own vocabulary used and perpetuated in Holy Writ.
My present purpose is to demonstrate that the word destruction in the Bible has been given a meaning never intended by God, and that the expression utter destruction or utterly destroy is not to be found at all in the original Scriptures.
The Scriptures never once bring before us the idea of such a destruction as is beyond the power of God Almighty to undo. Nor does "destruction" in the Scriptures ever denote a fate or doom enduring longer, or more dire and dreadful, than death.
God's fiat in Gen. 2:17, "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (margin: dying thou shalt die) is not made any stronger by the addition of the word surely. The Hebrew uses but two words, muth thamuth (death thou shalt die, or dying thou shalt die). There is no word in the Hebrew for "surely." God's statements were not so uncertain of fulfilment that they require to be buttressed by the employment of emphatics. Sometimes we say a person is half dead. But if a medical doctor requires to certify a person as dead, he does not state that the deceased is wholly or completely dead, or "surely" dead. The Greek version here says "by death: ye shall die."
In the case of a few other Hebrew words occurring in double form like Gen. 2:17, one of the two is rendered by "surely" or "utterly." Thus, the word abad, meaning to lose, or get lost, at Deut.4:26, "ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land." What the Hebrews, read, was merely, "To be lost, ye shall soon be lost from off the land." That is, they would soon disappear from off the, land, nothing more. Nothing whatever more than death is implied. This is exactly the same word that is used of asses "that were lost" (1. Sam.9:20). But the naive and native sense of this simple Hebrew word has generally been, completely hidden by the translation "perish" and "destroy."
In the Old Testament the Hebrew word charam is found about fifty times, with its noun cherem about forty times. The verb form, charam, is rendered about forty times as "utterly destroy," being rendered otherwise as consecrate, devote, make accursed, forfeit, utterly make away, utterly slay, and have a flat nose. Strange to say, of the noun occurrences, only three are rendered by "utter destruction." Six times it is devoted or dedicated; twenty times it is cursed or accursed; and nine times it is net. Adding everything up, we find a strange compound in meaning of net, flat nose, devote, forfeit, accursed, and utter destruction. What does this all mean? It means that some or all of these terms are wrong translations. Actually the word signifies to DEVOTE, destine, or doom. If the word qodesh signifies holy, in the sense of set apart (for God, or for a pagan deity), cherem means devoted or set apart for death ; or it can mean a net, by which fish may be set apart, for use. The same root is found in the word harem, in which women are set apart for their "owners." In a way, we might say they are doomed to such a life. But a harem is not a place where women are "utterly destroyed." Briefly, the Hebrew expression means destined seclusion for some purpose. The name Hiram comes from this root, meaning one destined or dedicated. Our word doom comes from the same source as our deem, and originally meant no more than to judge. A doomsman was a judge, not a condemner.
Possibly the dread name Harmageddon is related to charam, in which case it might mean "the doom of troops, or divisions." Bullinger's "Apocalypse" connects the name Megiddo with Hebrew gad, a troop. As Har-Megiddo the name would signify "Hill of Megiddo," but as "Harmah Geddon it would mean "doom of divisions."
The marginal references in our Bibles connect Rev. 22:3, "There shall be no more Curse" with Zech. 14:11, "There shall be no more utter destruction." The former verse should read, "And there will be no more any doom," while the latter should be "and doom no more is coming to be."
The chief prop in favour of "utter destruction" in the sacred writings therefore collapses. The concordant evidence destroys this presumed meaning. Human beings are death-doomed. They cannot escape it. During Old Testament times many were doomed to death in warfare: But we must not assume that these Hebrew words we are studying speak of a state after death which might be called "perdition." Why must words such as "perish" and "destroy" necessarily convey to our minds the thought of finality and utter hopelessness?
Those who declare that they cannot believe God will reconcile everyone of His creatures to Himself have been stumbled by the words "utter destruction" and "perdition," as I once was stumbled. I therefore challenge any such person to prove from a Concordance of the Hebrew that any term really signifies either eternal death or eternal destruction. For over forty years I have lived among Concordances and in the Hebrew tongue. Immediately following my spiritual enlightment in the year 1910 I was called distinctly by God to seek to master the tongues of inspiration. And now for years life has largely consisted of continuous researches into the concordant meanings of Greek and Hebrew words. Our old versions contain far too many terms which really belong to the vocabulary of the Mischief-maker, terms which we ought without hesitation to discard at once and finally.
I have referred above to Deut. 4:26. But I ask, read the passage carefully. Here is Rotherham's version: "I take both the heavens and the earth to witness against you today, that ye shall perish speedily from off the land which ye are passing over the Jordon to possess,—ye shall not prolong your days thereupon; for ye shall surely be laid waste; and Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples,—and ye shall have left remaining of you men easily counted, among the nations whither Yahweh will drive you."If the Hebrew word here for "perish" (abad) means what it says, how could there be even "men of number" (i.e. few men) left at all, and how could these be scattered among the Gentiles? And if they were all to perish completely, how could Messiah ever have been born? The 1611 version says "Ye shall soon utterly perish," and "shall utterly be destroyed." Yet Moses goes on to hint that the Nation might even turn back to Jehovah in the latter days (vv. 29-30). Is there not a well known expression used of some of the Israelites, "the lost ten tribes"? The Hebrew word abad means exactly "lost" or "lose." When it has been rendered as "destroyed" the true meaning is simply "made lost," which of course is not good English! though quite good Hebrew sense.
Another terrible picture of destruction to overtake the disobedient nation is found at Deut. 28:20-61. They were to be wiped out, destroyed and consumed. Nevertheless, v. 62 states that "Ye will be left few in men, whereas ye became like the stars of heaven for multitude." Once more there follows the dispersing among all nations, and the serving of other gods.
Ezek. 25:7 contains a most remarkable statement by the prophet, concerning Ammon. "I cut thee off from the peoples, and I destroy thee from the nations. I am wiping thee out." Then Ezekiel adds some extraordinary words, "And thou gettest to know that I am Jehovah." For a time Ammon was not to be remembered among the nations (v. 10), yet Jeremiah assures us that their captivity will be turned "afterward" (ch. 49:6). Elam is to be consumed, says Jeremiah (49:37), yet he adds that in the latter days their captivity also is to be restored. Ch. 48 gives a hideous catalogue of the crimes of Moab. Not a word can be said in extenuation of his wrongdoings, so that his sentence may be mitigated. Doom is pronounced: "And Moab shall be wiped out from being a people, because he magnifies himself against Jehovah" (v. 42). Does this doom not seem to be positively final? Yet it is not. Verse 47 declares that in the latter days Jehovah will restore Moab's captivity also. There must be in existence now on earth somewhere a remnant of Moab.
There is no term in all Scripture which signifies total and final annihilation or extermination. Even in 2 Peter 2:12 where we read of some who "shall utterly perish in their own corruption," what the Greek says is very different, "in their spoiling shall also be made a spoil" (Rotherham 1872), or "shall be corrupted even in their corruption" (Concordant Version).
In our next chapter something will be said regarding the common Hebrew word abad, meaning to lose or be lost. It is high time that Satan's doctrinal masterpiece was "utterly destroyed," and this we seek to do.
The character of a human being may be generally summed up by watching the kind of company he or she keeps. The same is true regarding words and their meanings. Watch their synonyms and their neighbours, as these will to some extent help to explain them. If the company kept by the words said to signify lost, perish, and destroy (Hebrew abad; Greek apollumi) denotes final and utter destruction, then I have lost my case.
Abad and its noun occur nearly two hundred times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet a strange feature is that not once does it appear to be associated with the word usually taken to be the strongest term indicative of utter destruction, charam, the meaning of which is to devote or doom.
ASSOCIATES OF ABAD ("LOSE")
This word is used in the same context with words expressive of:
(a) death or slaying, as follows:—shamad, to obliterate or wear out, rub out by attrition, 24 times; muth, to die 9; harag, slay 7; qatal, kill 3; nakah, smite 3; chalal, break through, wound 3; gava, expire 2.
(b) Words expressing desolation, spoiling, overthrowing: karath, cut off 10; shabar, break 6; nathash, uproot 5; nathatz, dismantle 4; naPhal, fall 4; charab, dry up, drain 4; tzamath, efface 3; haras, demolish 3; hamam, discomfit 2; gada, hew down 2; shammah, desolate 3; shadad, spoil 1. (c) Words expressing ending, finishing: kalah, finish, consume 7; shabath, cease 2; suph, terminate 1; thamam, come to an end 1; daak, be extinguished 1.
(d) Words expressing disappearance, &c.: lo matza, not found 3; kachad, be out of sight, suppress 1; shakach, forget, overlook 1; sathar, conceal 1; sarach , be luxurious, extensive 1; ain, no, none, wanting 5; ePhes, limitation 1.
(e) Words expressing straying, scattering, &c.: Phutz , disperse 5; asaPh, gather 2; nasha, lift, bear, carry 1; nasach, lifted,carried 1; zarah, winnow 1; nadach, expel, impel 1; shagah, err 1; thaah, stray 1 ; pharad, part 1.
(f) Sundry words: raa, cause evil 1; kana, humiliate, humble 1; akal, eat up 1; shalak, fling 1; yatzath, inflame, kindle 1; qut, loathe, nauseate 1; balah, fail, use up 1; chalaPh, pass on, succeed 2.
That is to say, the above words are associated with abad in 146 of its occurrences, and it will be noted they are all terms which apply to physical existence in some way or other. None of them approaches the dread theological conception which has been injected into the expression "utter destruction." In no case is there depicted a doom deeper than death, or a demolition or devastation which will defy the dynamic might of Deity to redintegrate.
The same is true regarding the noun abaddon, which only occurs eight times in the Old Testament, meaning "lostness," but rendered "destruction." It is found in association with death, hades, the grave, and slaughter. But I can find no definite reference in any of the contexts of this word or its root abad to judgment, or to the state which succeeds death. True, the psalmist seeks to penetrate the veil by asking, "Wilt Thou be doing a marvel for the dead? Should they be raised up (as) healed-ones, will they acclaim Thee? Shall Thy loving kindness be recounted in the grave? And Thy faithfulness in destruction?" (abaddon: Psalm 88:10-11).
Here I adapt a suggestion by Bishop Myles Coverdale (1535), who reads "Can the physicians (Hebrew: Rephaim) rayse them up agayne, that they maye prayse thee?" The common rendering "the shades" for Rephaim is far from being helpful.
Verse 11 does not mean that God is faithfuJ in destroying people, but, as Boothroyd reads (1836), "can His faithfulness be declared in (the state) of destruction"? In other words, will God exhibit His faithfulness while human beings remain in a state of lostness? As verse 12 asks, "Will Thy marvels be known in darkness? And Thy righteousness in the land of oblivion?"
Dead people are in a state of lostness, but that does not mean that anyone can ever be lost to God. What God creates, He can never lose, especially if all creation is out of Himself. God cannot in any way be the loser.
A few cases of contexts will now show some of the associates of the word abad, and how these help to explain the translations perish and destroy:
Num. 17:12-13: "Lo; we expire, we perish, we all perish; everyone drawing near, drawing near unto the tabernacle of Jehovah is dying; do we come to an end to expire?"
Jer. 50:6: "A lost flock My people become; their shepherds cause them to stray." For obvious reasons, the translators could not have said in this case, "A destroyed flock."
Esther 7:4: "For we are sold, I and my people, for obliterating, for slaying, and for destroying."
Jer. 31:28: "To uproot and to dismantle and to demolish and to destroy and to cause evil"
Dan. 2:12-13: And the King "says to destroy all the wise of Babylon, and the decree goes forth, and the wise are being killed. "
In each case the destruction or perishing was nothing more than death.
Sometimes we read in the Bible about the righteous perishing. But how can this be? Do they suffer the same fate as the wrongdoers? Isa. 57:1: "The righteous perisheth. . . . the merciful are taken away. . .." Eccl. 7:15: "There is a just (or righteous) one perishing in his righteousness, and there is a wrongdoer lingering on in his evil." Here once more the perishing means nothing more than dying or disappearing, that is, becoming lost to his relatives and friends.
When Jacob went down to Egypt, because there was a sore famine where he lived, he was "a Syrian ready-to-perish " (Deut. 26:5). The Hebrew here is very simple, Armi abd abi, "Aramean (or Syrian) perishing my-father." Sometimes a person who is lost is wandering, so perhaps this is why the Revised Standard Version and Moffatt turn Jacob into "a wandering Aramean." Without sufficient food Jacob and his family were lost. They were not lost in any theological sense. See Gen. 42:1-2. The Hebrew Lexicon of Gesenius, who died in 1842, introduced Jacob as "a wandering Syrian," while Benjamin Davies in his Lexicon of 1871 copied this false idea, having taken the word abad to signify "stray." But to stray is not necessarily to get lost, or to perish, or to be destroyed.
We must not permit the Dark Age conception of the Latin term perdition to usurp the very simple Greek conception of mere lostness . In all the Bible, to perish means nothing more than to become lost.
THE ASSOCIATES OF THE GREEK WORD APOLLUMI
This term is the counterpart of the Hebrew abad, meaning to lose. Its synonyms are well worth study. It would be folly to ignore them.
2. Cor. 4:9: Paul and his fellow helpers were "being cast down, but not being destroyed" (or, lost, as in v. 3). They were afflicted, perplexed, and persecuted, but surely Paul never meant by the word destroyed that they were not being put out of existence, finally and eternally. They were not put to death.
James 1:11: "For the sun. . . . withers the grass, and its flower falls off, and the comeliness of its aspect perishes." Thus the rich also in his goings will fade. Here the perishing is simply the natural process of physical decay. Just as the beautiful flower must wither and die, so must the wealthy man die also. In v. 10, the rich, like the flower of grass, must pass away.
Rom. 14:15: "Be not, in connection with your food, destroying that one for whose sake Christ died." This is explained in v. 20, "On account of food do not be demolishing the work of God." Way reads, "Do not unbuild what is God's work." Rotherham reads, "Do not be undoing the work of God." Very literally, however, the simple sense would be, "Do not be losing that one. . .." You have put a stumbling-block before your brother. He is now sorrowing because you have hurt him, all over food. You have not been walking in love. The probability is that you may lose him altogether. Is there here the slightest chance that anyone for whom Christ died, a believing brother or sister, might suffer what we understand by perdition? We must do nothing which might undo or destroy the faith and conscience of others.
Acts 5:36-37: Gamaliel informs the Council of the case of Theudas, who termed himself a somebody, but was assassinated, while his four hundred followers were disbanded, and "came to nothing." After this one, Judas arose, but "that one also perishes," while his dupes were scattered. Gamaliel's argument was sound: Leave these (Christian) men alone, for if their work is of God, you cannot "down-loosen" them. Here the final term is kataluO, often rendered "overthrow." Demolish hardly suits here. The proper sense seems to be dissever, disintegrate, or disunite. These people cannot be scattered or broken up if their work is of God.
In Gamaliel's mind there was not the slightest notion of hopeless perdition, or even judgment. He sees no farther than death.
1. Cor. 10:9-10: "Some of them put Him on trial, and were destroyed by the serpents. . . . Some of them murmur, and were destroyed by the desolator (olothreutos)." Other Israelites, not thus destroyed, were strewn along in the wilderness (v. 5), and 23,000 others fell in one day, because of their iniquity. Yet all this destruction leads no farther than death. Such destruction is simply dissolution. Compare Luke 15:17 in the common versions, "and I perish with hunger." Does this imply lying in a grave for a long period, with eternal punishment or eternal destruction? Tyndale and the Geneva version, four hundred years ago, did not think so. They render, "and I dye for honger."
1. Cor. 1:19: "I shall be destroying the wisdom of the wise, and the understanding of the intelligent shall I be repudiating." The last word means literally, un-placing, or we might say, displacing, setting aside. The verse is a couplet with two parallel members, which, as in Hebrew poetry, explain each other. The two verbs might be exchanged without harming the sense. They are synonyms. We might even be more literal, and say that "I am making lost the wisdom of the wise," as in course of time, all purely human wisdom will vanish. Here we might compare Psalm 5:6, which in the Revised Standard Version reads "Thou destroyest those who speak lies." In the King James 1611 version this is, "Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing." The final old word here is a relic from Wycliffe, who produced a play upon words, "Thou shalt leese (make lost) alle that speken leesyng (falsehood)." Elsewhere Wycliffe uses leese, but it is most unfortunate that this word slipped out of use soon after his time, as it would have been extremely useful, and might have prevented the word destroy from being used so commonly to represent many Hebrew words and some Greek words.
In verse 8 of Luke 15, "if she lose one piece" does not mean "destroy" one piece, but rather, if she renders one piece "lost," through her own carelessness, or actions.
Matt. 2:13: "Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." This is explained by verse 16, where Herod slew all the children. In verse 18 Rachel did not wish to be consoled, because her children "are not." Nothing more than death is meant here.
Matt. 12:14: The Pharisees took counsel how they might destroy the Lord. From ch. 27:1 we learn that the chief priests and the Jews took counsel to put Him to death, while John 5:18 says the Jews sought the more to kill Him. The three expressions are synonymous.
Matt. 8:25: The disciples cry, "Lord! Save us! We are perishing!" In other words, they were about to become lost. They wanted deliverance from an untimely death, not from final extinction or permanent annihilation.
John 10:27-28: "My sheep. . . may by no means be destroyed, (or, perish, become lost) for the age." Lostness will only obtain during the eon or obscure time period. There is an implication that other "sheep" not at present belonging to Christ, will, during the eon, be destroyed or lost. When the Lord sent out the Twelve He instructed them to go rather to "the lost sheep of the House of Israel" (Matt. 10:6). To go to "destroyed" sheep would be useless. To go to sheep that were already irretrievably lost or annihilated would have been stupidity. The Greek word means "having become lost" (apolOlota). It is evident that great blessing awaited some of these same lost sheep. Some of them must have been "found" and saved.
Can an Almighty God not reach all lost sheep? Suppose God leaves the ninety and nine, including yourself, and goes out after the lost one, would that make you jealous?
We return to this chapter, as it provides a splendid and complete answer to those who insist on the eternity of destruction. Observe how often we find the words "lost" and "found" in the same verse. In vv. 4, 6, 8, 9, 24 and 32.The Lord throws out a strong hint in verse 10, in connection with being lost, and becoming found, when He says God's angels have joy over one sinner who changes his mind.
But a much stronger hint is thrown out in verses 24 and 32. "This my son was dead and revives, lost he was and is found." What was in the Lord's mind in saying this? He was replying to the Pharisees and scribes, who had grumbled because the Lord received tax-gatherers and sinners, and even ate with them. They were hurt and they were jealous. Why should the Lord specially favour sinners, obvious sinners?
The Lord was trying to make them see that a man must be lost before he could be found; he had to be dead in some sense before he could get the real life. Further, it is most likely that the Lord was thinking of those who were not only dead as the Prodigal was to his father, but those who are physically dead to His Father.
Would there be great sorrow among the angels if God did bring all the lost (or destroyed) dead back to life some day?
I have been reading a book in which it is suggested that the, Lord brought forth the germ of all that was later revealed in the New Testament. Perhaps Luke 15 contains the germ of 1. Cor. 15:26, "A final enemy is being undone—Death."
Whom had the Lord in mind when He told how the Prodigal's father ran to meet him? Probably no specific person, but it never could be any human father who was any whit more magnanimous and gracious than the Lord's own Father, could it?
In conclusion I quote from Dr. Hermann Cremer's famous Lexicon of New Testament Greek (English edition, 1872): "hardly any even of the commonest New Testament conceptions has received any adequate investigation, biblical or theological, at the hands of commentators." Concerning the Greek word ollumi Cremer says, "The fundamental thought is not by any means annihilation, but ruin ." Concerning the longer word apollumi (lose, perish, destroy), he says, "The application of the word (in the Middle Voice) which is peculiar to the N.T. and is without analogy in classical Greek, is to the future and eternal doom of man."
Cremer, therefore, clearly believed in destruction as being eternal. Yet he says the word is in most places. "simply a strong synonym for apokteinein (to kill off) or apothnEskein (to die off). In the Apocrypha too the word is only used thus." He then sums up in the following extraordinary statement, one of those bewildering and incomprehensible paradoxes which are sometimes encountered in Lexicons: "The most probable conclusion is that the New Testament use especially of the intransitive apollusthai (infinitive verb) denotes utter and final ruin and perdition. Nevertheless we must always keep in mind the expression 'lost sheep,'—this illustration warrants us in regarding the apollusthai as a state which may be reversed."
Here a great scholar has the honesty to admit a truth in spite of his own inclinations. May others follow him.
Having discussed the associates and synonyms of the Greek word apollumi (lose, perish, destroy), we must go a little farther afield and observe what the contexts have to say. Are there any expressions in the neighbourhood of this Greek verb which might colour it to some extent? That is to say, words which in themselves could be understood in the sense of the medieval doctrine of everlasting hell-fire, misery, or death?
Right away the Concordance seems to raise a strong protest, stating that Matt. 5:29-30 contradicts our views. "And if thy right eye offend thee (margin: do cause thee to offend), pluck it out. . . . for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" Verse 30 says the same regarding the right hand. The Revised Standard Version makes an ungrammatical improvement, by putting "that you lose one of your members," where it ought strictly to have read, "that one of your members should be lost," yet it retains the impossible translation "hell," pointing out that this is really for the Greek word Gehenna.
Gehenna was a deep and narrow gorge to the south of Jerusalem, into which carcases of criminals and animals and all sorts of filth were cast and burned. Verse 22 of Matt. 5 mentions some who will be liable to the Gehenna of the Fire. Fires were always smouldering there in the period before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. Verses 29 and 30 refer to "the whole body" being cast into Gehenna. Matt. 10:28 mentions Him who is able to render lost ("destroy") "even the soul and the body in Gehenna." That means those who will be put to death with ignominy in Jerusalem. God's saints, when they die, will temporarily lose both soul and body, but without condemnation.
Josephus tells how during the siege of Jerusalem it was reported to him that eleven hundred thousand Israelites perished, of whom great numbers were carried out of the City, doubtless into Gehenna. Many were thrown over the walls into the gorge. Within two and a half months, Josephus writes, through only one of the gates of Jerusalem, were carried 115,880 carcases, an average of almost 1,525 a day.
Little wonder then that the Jews came to look upon their Gehenna as typical of a place of future punishment. But the Lord never said it was a place where the dead would be judged after death. Bluntly and with indignation He asked the Pharisees how they could flee from the judgment of the Gehenna (place; Matt. 23:33), and in v. 36 He solemnly warns them that all these things would be arriving upon that generation. Many of these wicked Pharisees and scribes must have perished in the siege by Titus and his Romans, and were no doubt literally cast into Gehenna, as God's stern judgment upon them.
DESTRUCTION NEVER LASTS BEYOND THE AGES
Where a time is stated in connection with the destruction of human beings, it is expressly limited to the Ages. By contrast, we find a notable exception in the case of the overthrow of the future City of Babylon. Six times in Rev. 18:21-23 occurs the solemnly impressive "nevermore" (or, in no wise any more; Gk. ou mE eti, not no still), in place of the usual expression, "for the Age" (eis ton aiOna). "Thus Babylon, that great city, will be hurled down, and may be found nevermore ." This expresses absolute and final ruin, unrelieved by any limiting term. This throws into sharp relief the expression "for the Age." What is nowhere stated is that any human beings will nevermore exist or be found.
THE KING OF TYRE
The doom of this covering or guardian cherub is stated to be, "Thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more" (Ezek. 28:19). The R.S.V. reads "you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more for ever." There is doubt concerning the first clause, but the second clause is very clear. The Hebrew states very distinctly that the meaning is, "thou art wanting (or non-existent) until eon," that is, for an obscure time.
Many years ago, not long after he had commenced "The Berean Expositor," our friend Mr. Charles H. Welch quoted this verse as it stands in the 1611 King James version as proof that the doom of the wicked is utter destruction for ever. Yet only a few pages previously he had stated that "There is no doubt whatever but that the word aiOn means an 'age,' and therefore to interpret it as 'for ever' is not a translation, but a human comment, which may be wrong" (1911, page 90). This is thoroughly true. He also agrees that the Hebrew word olam is the equivalent of the Greek aiOn. This is confirmed in the volume for 1916, page 71, "What we have to learn is that the Bible does not speak of eternity. It was not written to tell us of eternity." Further on he speaks of "the absence of teaching concerning eternity " (page 72). This is slightly modified in 1920, page 62, "The Bible practically says nothing about eternity." With these remarks we agree. Nevertheless, the Editor does not hesitate to declare that the final and eternal doom of the lost and the "impenitent" is hopeless and irretrievable destruction.
In support of the rendering "never shalt thou be any more" (Ezek. 28:19), an attempt is made in the volume for 1925, page 132, to shew that "to translate ou mE eis ton aiOna (not at all for the eon) with an age meaning is to miss the mark." It is contended that the meaning of such a construction as "shall in no wise perish unto the age" (John 10:28) is really "shall never in any wise perish," while John 8:51 would mean, "shall never see death." But were this correct, we should require to render John 8:35 as follows: "Now the slave is never remaining in the house; the son is remaining for the eon." This, however, makes the slave a runaway, while it makes the Scriptures ridiculous. The proper sense is, "Now the slave is not remaining in the house for the eon (or, to obscurity) . . . ." Isa. 57:16 reads in the 1611 King James version, "I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth." Suppose we change this to "I will never contend, and I will never be wroth." The Hebrew says, "Not to the eon am I contending, nor continually am I being wroth." Similarly, in Lam. 3:31, we could not substitute "For the Lord will never cast off," where the Hebrew says, "For Jehovah is not turning away for the eon." Yet again in Psalm 104:5, "He founds the earth upon its bases; it is not giving way, eon and beyond." To substitute "It is giving way never and beyond" would flatly contradict the clear prophecies regarding the burning up of the earth, and would not even make sense.
I do not overlook that Mr. Welch may have changed his mind in the past thirty years, although I know he has made it clear that he has not changed in any important point for forty-five years.
AGE-LASTING CHASTENING AND FIRE
Matt. 25:41-46 is a passage of Scripture we cannot do without. When the Son of Mankind comes in His glory, all the Gentiles will be gathered in front of Him, and He will separate them into two classes. Those who have succoured the Lord's physical brethren, "righteous" people, will obtain eonian life; whereas those who have abandoned the Israelites to their fate, "cursed" people, will be dismissed forthwith into "the fire, that eonian fire, made ready for the devil and his messengers." This fire, however, is explained in verse 46 as consisting of "eonian chastening," and as the fire whereinto the devil and his entourage will be cast is the Lake of Fire, we must assume that the fire is mental agony-that kind of "torment.". The age-lasting chastening which many Gentiles will suffer will be disciplinary. Probably it will be a form of living death. It may take a long time to bring these Gentiles to their senses. God must have a purpose in the chastening. None of His plans are vindictive. Why did He not kill them right away? Because He wishes to teach them what they need, to know. Why does God never kill Satan and his followers in the Lake of Fire? Because the mental agony of that fire is intended to teach them and change them.
I have been most deeply shocked to find that the Revised Standard Version of 1953 mentions at Matt. 25:46 the intolerable and satanic dogma of "eternal punishment," while verse 41 mentions "eternal fire," These are doctrines which form Satan's masterpiece. God uses no term in His human vocabulary which human beings cannot grasp. To use an incomprehensible term such as "eternal" would not constitute revelation. In preserving medieval terms, the R.S.V. has made understanding of the passage quite impossible.
John M. Patton of Alexandria, Virginia, in his clear and clever book, "The Death of Death" (1878), quotes another thus: "The Scriptures, which speak freely of aeonian sin, judgment, fire, destruction, never use the expression aeonian death." Even in using the expression "second death" four times in the Revelation, Scripture avoids deliberately the term "eonian death." Why? Yet Scripture does mention "eonian life."
That "eonian life" which the righteous ones obtain in Matt. 25:46 is a gift from God, so must be worth obtaining. The cursed ones will not obtain that form of life, yet they cannot be dead while being chastened. In both cases the life and the chastening are for a limited period, eonian.
1. John 4:18 tells us that "fear has chastening." Might we then assume that those "cursed" ones who will undergo eonian chastening by learning to know just what the fear of God really is? The Greek word (kolasis) only occurs twice. It appears to express curbing, restraint, limitation. Strong's Concordance sums up the meaning as curtailment. This is fairly close to the idea contained in olethros, generally mistranslated as "extermination," but really signifying something like a disaster.
Matt. 25:41-46 says nothing about destruction, but whatever suffering or loss is incurred is confined to the Ages.
HAVE BIBLE WORDS SECONDARY MEANINGS?
Years ago I read a review of words such as we are studying, in "The Berean Expositor." The Editor gave the "unmistakeable meaning" of the Hebrew word abad as "destroy," and elsewhere he found the "unequivocal and true rendering" to be "perish." Nevertheless, it was interesting to note that this word" may not mean utter extinction" in Lev. 26:38, where the context mentions" they that are left." Not only so, but he shewed that the word is "used synonymously with dying" in Num. 17:12-13, and that in Jonah 1:14 it refers to nothing subsequent to death. In order to illustrate the meaning of the corresponding Greek term (apollumi) he quotes six of the stronger terms given by Liddell & Scott's Lexicon, but, strange to say, omits three of the less harsh "meanings" shewn—ruin, spoil, and waste. Finally, he sums up by saying, "We believe sufficient has been shewn to establish the fact, that in the usage and meaning of apollumi and apOleia, destruction, utter and real, is the true meamng, and that this is the wages of sin." But does he mean that destruction is merely death, which we are told is the wages of sin?
He then proceeds to claim that "the primary meaning 'perish' or 'destroy' becomes changed in the transition of language to the derived and secondary meaning 'lost.'" Further, "Secondary meanings cannot ever lessen the bearing of the primary sense, or alter their original force." In this case, however, one would think that the primary and primitive root and idea must be lostness. Citing the case of the "lost" sheep and the "lost" son in the parable of Luke 15, and the "lost" sheep of the house of Israel in Matt. 10, he says, "It is pitiable to hear those, who should know better, arguing that because we read of a 'lost' sheep, which could not mean a 'destroyed' sheep, that therefore the plain, primary meaning of the word must be ignored and the secondary derived meaning be understood in such plain, solemn passages as John 3:16, etc."
The above views may be taken as typical of the writings of those who adhere to the somewhat artificial and never satisfying doctrines of Conditional Immortality, or those who maintain that God will destroy for ever the bulk of the human race.
I must once again protest against that form of reasoning which makes God so equivocal that some of the terms He utilizes can possess both "primary" and "secondary" meanings. If God can speak with two voices, then it may be true that He will consign the greater part of His own human creation to unending death or misery. But in that case, no one in heaven could ever attain true happiness, not even God Himself. If all His words have been purified seven times, can there still exist so much uncertainty as to their real meaning that it is left to sinful human beings to decide what He intended to reveal? The idea is preposterous, and unworthy of any believer. In fact, this is just what all Lexicons do. Their pages are swollen unnecessarily because one and all they allow to each Hebrew or Greek word as many derived or secondary "meanings" as may be found expedient or requisite to make some sort of English sense.
At one time I collected every possible Hebrew and Greek Lexicon, until I possessed about one hundred, of all ages and sizes. Most of these had to be put away as only producing confusion and breeding sheer error, although a few were retained as curios. Not a single one of these books shewed the results of The larger and thicker the Lexicon was, the more "secondary" equivalents it contained.
We must not be deceived by the admitted fact that Modern English contains many words to which may be given various "meanings." But mark this, that in the Hebrew Scriptures, written over a period of many hundred years, no term has changed its meaning with the passing of time. Further, if to fifty or sixty Hebrew verbs we are entitled to attach as either primary meaning or secondary meaning our English conception of "destroy" or "destruction," did the Hebrews use all these words indifferently, without making any distinction whatever?
No human being is his or her closest relative. Each human being possesses his own personality, although meantime some persons have very little of it.
We all differ one from another, and God desires and requires such differences and variety. Each Bible term likewise differs in meaning, but no single word can differ from itself in meaning.
There may be loss without destruction, but all destruction implies loss. One morning when a sixpenny piece rolled away from me into a syver (street sewer), I mourned its loss all day, but never thought of its escape as destruction.
Finally, it is a complete reversal of the facts to maintain that "lose" or "lost" is the secondary "meaning" of the Hebrew and Greek words we have been discussing. It is the primary or "Qal" conjugation of the Hebrew verb abad which is generally rendered "perish" or "lost," whereas the causative conjugations have to be rendered as "destroy," simply because in English we do not speak of an article being "made lost."
To those who may still think that God can ever be a Loser, that He may lose a part, and a large part, of His own Kin (Acts 17:29), I would say solemnly, "Harden not your heart!" Perfect Love can never lose those whom He loves.
We now arrive at the culminant example in the New Testament of the Greek term which is said to mean lose, perish, or destroy (apollumi). I have sought to demonstrate that destruction in all the Bible never signifies anything more than death, or worse than death.
If any reader is not yet satisfied that I have proved my case, then I would beg him or her to take a look at Luke 13:31-34. The Pharisees had brought the Lord the information that Herod was wishing to kill him. In reply the Lord tells them that it was incumbent upon Him to be journeying for three days, towards Jerusalem, adding, "because it is not admissible for a prophet to be destroyed outside Jerusalem," as Rotherham reads. Perhaps it might be better to read, as the Revised Standard Version and others, "away from Jerusalem," as Golgotha was just outside the city.
Here the plain inference can only be that the Lord meant that He was about to be "destroyed," or about to "perish." In at least five different verses do we read that the Pharisees wished to "destroy" the Lord (Matt. 12:14; 27:20; Mark 3:6; 11:18; Luke 19:47). I do not suppose they meant anything more than having Him put out of the way by killing Him. Nor could the Lord mean anything more in saying that He too must be "destroyed" at Jerusalem.
Some of the versions, indeed, exhibit a little nervousness regarding the term destroyed or perish here. To those who assume that destruction must be final and eternal, it must give a severe shock.
Goodspeed says, "it is not right for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem." The Twentieth Century version has it,"it cannot be that a prophet should meet his end outside Jerusalem." Fenton reads, "it cannot be expected that a prophet should be murdered outside Jerusalem." The Lord certainly meant nothing more than these three versions state. In the next verse the Lord explains the word (be destroyed or perish) by saying "Jerusalem! killing the prophets." The Emphatic Diaglott in v. 34 continues the word "destroying" instead of killing, as though the two words are the same in meaning. Bilton renders in the same way in v. 34.
Alford, however, will not have it that the Lord was destroyed. "Our Lord would never place himself in such a category" (as perishing). Many may say the same, but if they do, they will be contradicting the Lord's own words. The Lord Himself sets a clear definition on the Greek word we have been considering. Destruction can cover as brief a period as one evening, one whole day, and one morning. It can cover a death in which the Lord's body did not even decay. During that very brief period the Lord was simply lost to the world, and to the Pharisees.
It is my earnest hope that Luke 13:33 may demonstrate finally that in the Greek word rendered as lose, perish or destroy, there is no necessary implication of coming judgment, suffering, punishment, or anything ignominious. Even "the righteous perisheth" (Isa.57:1), while the Sinless One declared that He was to perish too.
We have become so accustomed to thinking of perishing or destruction as part of the process which usually follows, namely, the judgment and sentence pronounced, that we have been blinded to the simple meaning of the Greek terms we are considering. Yet the righteous one likewise perishes, but does not come into the judgment.
I appeal once more to those who find an impassible barrier in the thought of destruction, or "utter destruction," to face anew the fact of Colossians 1:20. Within the past forty-five years I have read no explanation of this verse, apart from the literal sense, which is anything but insipid and artificial.
Near the end of the year 1912 I sent to Dr. E. W. Bulllnger of "Things to Come" a long handwritten paper of about 17,000 words dealing with Col. 1:20. In addition I had asked him to consider the new magazine "Unsearchable Riches." But alas, here is part of his reply, dated 10th. December, 1912: "As to 'Unsearchable Riches,' you surely cannot have read it carefully, for it teaches the final salvation of Satan himself and therefore utterly denies the force of such words as 'destruction,' etc. Believe me, Yours sincerely, E. W. Bullinger."
Within six months Dr. Bullinger had passed away, and it is most unlikely that he had changed his mind. How unfortunate that he never realized the limitations of the words rendered destruction and perish.
Quite apart, however, from Col. 1:20, I do not think that we allow nearly enough room for the knowledge surpassing love of the Christ (Eph. 3:19). Do we not sometimes think that Paul was exaggerating here? "Do we accept his statement as a divine fact of inspiration? To be sure the Divine Love must ever greatly transcend the best human love. It is often contended that those who ignore or reject the Divine Love render themselves liable to destruction for slighting God's Love. But would not such destruction be a slight upon the value and quality of the Divine Love? And would it not set the quality of the Divine Love far below the quality of the very best of human love? The finest of human love, though very rare, is a God-given gift. Were your love perfect, you would never observe the faults and shortcomings of the one you loved. Any such faults would only increase your love, and strengthen it. Nay, rather, such shortcomings would impel you to make every sacrifice possible with a view to the welfare and well being of the loved one. You are misunderstanding your God altogether if you think His great Love will ever fall or fail (1. Cor. 13:8). "Love goes on being patient, goes on being kind" (v.4). The Love that cannot fail always succeeds because it cannot be defeated.
And mark, such love is not conditional. We should love our enemies (Matt. 5:4). Why? Is it not because God still loves His enemies? But you would draw the line at the Arch Enemy? That, however, would mean that God was not impartial and we cannot think of God loving some of His creatures and not others, because "God IS love" (1. John 4:8). From John 3:16 one would imply that God's love for every human soul in all the world was equal that is a perfect Love. He did not give His Son because He loved some better than others, but because all humanity is His creation, and belongs to Him. Nor would we be wrong in inferring that such a Deity must love all His celestial creatures, even the Arch Enemy. What is your objection to God having a deep interest in Satan? If you had created such a being, would you feel proud of annihilating him when you found you could not make him anew? We are never told of his death or his annihilation. What we are told is that he will suffer a real ordeal for Ages. But while men are vindictive, God is never so. The ordeal must be for a good purpose.
James W. Barlow of Dublin, in his Essay on "Eternal Punishment and Eternal Death" (1865), although he knew nothing about the Ages, and certainly did not believe in Universal Restoration, could yet say, "None can perish eternally who have not wearied out Love surpassing the fondest earthly love." He points out what we generally do not sufficiently realize, that the redeemed would be morally worse in heaven than they were on earth it they forgot one who truly loved them in the world, but who knew not the Christ and continued alive in hopeless torment or in endless death. It is just here that Christians are hopelessly illogical, and selfish. They are too good at counting their own blessings, thinking that their having been blessed so highly means that they are favourites of God.
The flimsy and ridiculous argument has often been used that sin against a Deity who is infinite demands an infinite punishment or endless death. Would it make any difference did we argue that sin committed by a finite creature requires only a finite and limited punishment?
The Fall of mankind did not bring confusion of the moral judgment to the race. What it brought was depravation of the will. Paul says that the Gentiles were a law to themselves (Rom. 2), even though they were deep dyed in sins. The Creator has formed us in such a manner that we are capable of pronouncing certain acts to be right and others to be wrong. It was God who implanted the moral faculty which would at once condemn, as a punishment, endless death or endless torture. The soul that sinneth shall die. But it is never stated that he shall die for ever. Christ died, as Sin and for Sin. But not eternally. No moral being could ever consent to purchase eternal happiness at the price of eternal misery or eternal death of any sentient creature. If, in this life, we can ever say, "O for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still!" can it be, in the future life, we shall have become so wrapped up in our vast blessings that we have completely forgotten those we once loved, or thought we loved?
"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." But your neighbour might be an unbeliever or an atheist. To love does not mean merely to admire. It means to feel for them, to do to them what you would like them do to you. In the home of my youth there hung a motto, "Aye do unto yer neighbour as, Ye would hae tae yersel." To do that would be to possess real Love. Could it be true of God? Are mankind God's neighbours? Are they His associates? We are far more, we are God's own Kin, His Race (Acts 17:29), His close Relatives and Family, something which no other creation can lay claim to being. If God did not create the Earth waste and void, it is not likely that He has created Mankind, in His own Image, to become eternally dead and useless.
Let us measure up the unscriptural term destruction by the death of the Lord, who was "destroyed" by His nation. Destruction will never be eternal, nor will it be anything Worse than death. It will cover a period of lostness, but God will revendicate all His lost ones. ALEXANDER THOMSON
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