WILL GOD PUNISH?

Volume 19, Numbers 1 & 2, February & April 1959

Part 1

In the Old Testament ten terms are used in Hebrew to represent "punish" or "punishment," but only one of these (phaqad) has the least right to be so used. It is rendered "punish" 31 times in the King James Bible, "number" 119 times, "visit" 63 times, and otherwise it is rendered by about 45 English words. In the Septuagint, 45 Greek words are used to represent it.

The other nine Hebrew words signify to keep back, to discipline, to smite, to fine, to exact or receive retributian, to sin, depravity, evil, and correction or setting right. None of these words is found often, six of them being found only once.

In order that we may arrive at the true meaning of the word phaqad, we must discover a thought which is common to the three expressions, number, visit and punish. Thus, in the first occurrence, Genesis 21:1, we read "the Lord visited Sarah." But we could not say that He numbered Sarah, or that He "punished" her.

In fact, we might well leave out altagether the term punish, as in 24 out of the 31 occurrences of this word, the King James version sets in the margin "visit upon." Unfortunately the Revised Standard Version clings mainly to the translatian punish, without a marginal alternative. Rotherham occasianally uses visit, but in the main uses punish or bring punishment, which is a serious defect.

The real meaning of phaqad is to take note of, to take account of, to pay attention to. In the causative conjugatians the meaning is given as overseer and oversight; while in the passive the meaning is to be overlooked, or missed, missing, lacking.

Jehovah not only had Sarah in mind, and gave heed to her in due course, but He exercised oversight and took note of her by visiting her. There is not the slightest suggestian that this meant punishing her.

Psalm 8:4 reads, "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" We find much the same in Heb. 2:6, where the Greek word means "Thou art taking note of," which is parallel to the word "mindful."

The result of this examination is clearly that the words punish and punishment ought to be removed from the Old Testament. They are merely an inference, due to the fact that the human idea of punishment does not enter the heart and mind of God. The use of the word punish in the Old Testament is quite misleading and dishonest.

We observe that the Oxford Gesenius Hebrew Lexicon states the true meaning of the word phaqad as attend to, visit, muster, appoint, although it gives punish later as a subsidiary meaning.

PUNISHMENT HUMAN AND DIVINE

Why must we assume that human forms of punishment are similar to God's methods of disciplinary treatment? Our word "punish" is derived from a Latin or Greek word, and is not necessarily a Divine thought. Human methods of punishment generally make men and women worse, and often degrade their character instead of improving it. The result is that criminals and wrongdoers seldom become better human beings. There is far too little real conscience in mankind, and because it is not easy to find a truly conscientious person, it is all too easy to find wrongdoers. The natural result is that mankind has failed to establish a system of treatment which will improve and benefit delinquents. In fact, the mass of human beings become quite unconcerned about the morals and principles of delinquents.

But are we to assume that God will treat wrongdoers in the same fashion? God might be able to produce a system which would effect a profound improvement in all those whom we generally term "the lost."

At one time the bulk of God's people on earth believed, or thought they believed, that God would punish eternally all who did not believe the Gospel. Anselm (1033-1109), Arch­bishop of Canterbury in England, could be so wildly illogical that he believed that because human sin was a sin against an infinite God, it was an infinite sin, and therefore demanded an infinite satisfaction. Had he utilised his brains more cautiously he might have reasoned that the greater God was, the more insignificant was man.

Such a dogma was a masterpiece of the Devil, but few believe it now. Why should we then not advance a step further and discover that God's system of discipline is just that which human society has all along failed ignominiously to attain to? Have we any assurance that twentieth century opinions concerning destiny will last long? It is very probable that they will alter, just as opinions have changed in every century.

How can it be possible for God's people to arrive at the truth concerning destiny when we find the dread word "final" used in connection with death, doom, annihilation, judgment, state, separation, destruction? We read of "the final and absolute extinction of life in the case of the wicked;" "the final determination of the destinies of all mankind;" "the final destruction of the impenitent;" "He sweeps impenitent sinners to destruction," etc. Who are we that we should talk about "the incorrigibly wicked"? Where are we told that there will be "finally impenitent" sinners?

Is it not of great significance that almost everyone who uses terms such as the above completely ignores or skips lightly over one of the most profound texts in Scripture—: Colossians 1:20?

It is freely admitted, of course, that God will render retribution to sinners, so long as it may be necessary to do so. But the use of the word punishment aggravates the whole position, and shews God in an entirely wrong light. When we think of God punishing, we cannot but connect it with human methods of punishment. This totally prevents us from seeing that the Divine methods of retribution are vastly different from human punishments. That is why, in the Old Testament, where we read the harsh term punishment, God uses a word which means something like a visitation, a very much more gentle term.

Anyone who has studied foreign languages soon learns that practically every word in one language differs to some extent from its corresponding term in another language. Thus we should not be surprised to find that God's methods of expression are different from our ways of thinking. Consider terms expressive of time. For centuries theologians have insisted that certain Hebrew and Greek words signify "eternity," whereas in God's vocabulary they never meant more than "obscure time" or "ages." And in the field of doctrine, one needs only peruse Prof. G. Henslow's little volume on "The Vulgate, the Source of False Doctrines" to perceive how the Latin Bible greatly altered the meaning of many important terms, such as the Greek word metanoia, usually rendered as "repentance," or change of mind, and inward, spiritual change, which was represented by the Latin word poenitentia (derived from poena, penalty, and connected with punire, to punish), which led the sinner to outward forms of penance only, and not to heart repentance and sorrow. Henslow remarks that by this change "the whole force of the Greek word has become inverted." He adds that "True Christianity has no system of external punishments or rewards."

COULD GOD BE HARSH?

In Old Testament times there were Divine "punishments" which at first sight might seem to be harsh or even brutal, which, however, could only have been retributive and perfectly fair. Even though God was on occasion obliged to shew His wrath, so that He might be feared, it was impossible for Him to "lose His temper." Rather did He temper His wrath with mercy. In every case retribution must have fitted and suited the crime. Yet there have always been theologians and others who have charged God with being cruel, and have compared Him with His Son. Although shewing themselves to be much wiser than God, they have not been wise enough to recognise that the Deity who was revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ is that same Deity whom we see in Old Testament times. The Divine Son did not have a cruel and heartless Father. "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isaiah 63:9).

On the other hand there are some who have opposed the truth of 2. Thess. 1:7-9, maintaining that it would be very unlike the Lord Jesus to appear from heaven in flaming fire dealing out retribution to those not acquainted with God, and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who indeed, will incur justice-eonian calamity (olethron), (or, as Bentley suggests in Critica Sacra, following Irenaeus, will incur eonian justice of calamity). But here certainly some have been grievously misled by the harsh translations found in the passage, e.g., vengeance, punished, everlasting destruction, termination, for none of which there is the slightest foundation. We may be sure that the Lord will deal out justice which will be fair and adequate in every case, and also remedial and beneficient in the long run.

Well do I remember a lady who was connected with the pentecostal movement telling me about thirty years ago that 2Thess. 1:8 could not be Scripture, and that the Greek text must be corrupt. She had the temerity to pass judgment on this verse as it has always stood, as though she knew better than everyone else. Yet I have no doubt that she believed Jehovah poured down fire upon Sodom and Gommorrah. But 2. Thess. 1:8 does not state that flaming (literally, in fire of a blaze; or Codex Vaticanus, in a blaze of fire) will burn up anyone.

I have never known anyone who is connected with a sect which denies the literal fact of Colossians 1:20, who has heralded a warm Gospel. The reason for this is that their deity does not seem to be eager to win back all those souls whom He has lost. He is indifferent to their fate.

Those who advocate Annihilation and Conditional Immortality seem to be blind to the fact that the statement, "God is Love" cannot be wholly proven until God wins back every human soul and every celestial being. God is not meantime the God of Love to the vast majority of our world's population, because they deem Him harsh and cruel in not coming to their aid and delivering them from evil. But God will yet demonstrate His great Love to them all. In fact He is under obligation to accomplish this.

One does not wonder that Frank Ballard (The Miracles of Unbelief) describes the theory of Annihilation as "at once the most pitiful, the most repulsive, the most degrading. In such a case a man might well envy a cabbage." Dr. Fair­bairn in "Christ in Modem Theology" deals with the expulsion of Sin from the Universe, thus:

A little farther on he continues: Dr. Salmond wrote that "The dogma of Annihilation or Conditional Immortality is an artificial and makeshift answer to the questions of the end, which is not likely to commend itself permanently to many minds." Then he contrasts it very unfavourably with Universalism or Restorationism. Artificial and makeshift the former doctrines certainly are, and their protagonists know that full well, but must handle a weapon of some sort, even though very frail and weak, so as to give them some little assurance.

Vivid still in my mind has remained an article published in "Unsearchable Riches" in April, 1916, dealing with Colossians 1:20. It was not a very long article, only about seven pages, but it seemed to me, at the age of twenty-six, to cause a rout as thorough as there was at the famous old battle of Brunanburh, near Sheffield in 937, or the battle of Bannock­urn in 1314, where the English army was completely routed by the Scots. Anyone who thinks that Col. 1:20 refers only to a past reconciliation should try to obtain that article.

Any Divine "punishment" exists not as an absolute end, but always as a means. If God does punish men, it must be subject to the fact that He shews "kindness and fondness-for­humanity" (Titus 3:4), at the same time. But do we think of that kindness and fondness as being only intermittent or spasmodic? Assuredly it must be permanent, and quite unaffected by circumstances. To reason that God wills that punishment must exist for ever, is to affirm that He fatally dooms the bulk of mankind to evil, thus making Him similar to the Devil. The perpetuation of a state of sin and punishment, in a person fatally doomed to it, is a conclusion altogether inconsistent with the moral character and fatherly rule of God the beneficent. Punishment, in the form of real suffering, inflicted merely for its own sake, or upon a being fatally doomed to evil, is essentially brutal, harsh, devilish, and cannot for one moment be attributed to Him whom we worship as the Father. In connection with the general subject of future judgment and the various processes connected with it, whereby God will bring every human soul back eventually to Himself, I would strongly recommend that chapters 17, 18 and 19 of Mr. Melvin E. Johnson's book, dealing with Judgments; The lake of Fire, The Second Death, Salvation of Former Unbelievers; and The Scriptural Ages, should be read and carefully studied. One cannot read this book, "The Image and Likeness of God" without learning something new. These three chapters especially open up a whole new vista of the future, hitherto largely hidden by false translations and hideous doctrines.

In another chapter I hope to examine the Greek word timOria, said to mean "punishment," found only at Hebrews 10:29, and its verb, found only at Acts 22:5 and 26:11. All other Greek terms in the New Testament rendered "punish" mean something else. The true meaning of timOria is something very unusual.

WILL GOD PUNISH? Part 2

The punishment of young children may often be salutary and beneficial, but the punishment of grown up persons is a very different matter. It is far more likely to brutalize them to some extent and harden their nature. Very often the criminal thinks he had a perfect right to commit his offence, and his pride makes him think he is clever enough to do what others cannot do. If he escapes capture, he is almost certain to make other attempts and commit worse crimes. But even if he suffers punishment he often goes back to his wrong­doing.

I was once asked, during an evangelical campaign in the town of Berwick-on-Tweed in the year 1912, to go with the evangelist and some friends to the house of a man who had once committed murder. It was hoped that he might be ready to hearken to the Gospel. But I soon saw that it was useless to talk to him. He had suffered his period in jail, but his conscience seemed to be completely atrophied. No doubt he still thought the murder was quite justified.

Nearly always the human punishment fails to work an improvement. Nor does it compensate for the sin. Besides, what was wrong in one generation is often not wrong in another generation. At one time in Scotland a man could be put to death for stealing a sheep.

God has two methods by which He brings on what we call "punishment" of human beings. In the Old Testament the usual method was by sending calamities, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Flood was another example, but we might at the same time say that it was due to the natural consequences of the sins of the race. All flesh had corrupted its way on earth, except for eight persons who were saved. In Revelation also we find direct calamities sent by God, wars, pestilences, famines, drought, torments, and even at one time the killing of one-third of all human beings (ch. 9:18).

In the New Testament, however, we find that the main idea of Paul concerning God's wrath is simply that God permits the natural consequences of sin to operate. To a great extent He allows mankind to carryon in their own way. Mankind must learn through their own folly. Romans 1:18 makes this clear: "For God's indignation is being revealed from heaven on all irreverence and unrighteousness of human beings who are holding down the Truth in unrighteousness, because what is knowable of God is apparent among them, for God makes it manifest to them."

This was also the view of the Rev. William Law (1686­1761), based upon the mystical works of Jacob Boehme. Law maintained that the wrath of God was not a display of temper, but simply the resulting state of those who disobey God and thus separate themselves from the Divine life. It is not an infliction of pain or evil directly sent on them by God, but the state of evil they bring upon themselves by neglecting God and ignoring His Word and work. God cannot become wrathful in our human sense. His attitude to all humanity is ever undeviating Love, even though it often seems to be the very opposite.

In 1. Cor. 3:16-17 we find a case where believers can bring upon themselves God's wrath. "Are you not aware that you are a temple of God and the spirit of God is making its home in you? If anyone is corrupting the temple of God, God will be corrupting this one, for the temple of God is holy, which indeed, you are." That is to say, if any believer wilfully misuses or injures his body, which is God's temple, God will repay him for it in that his or her conscience will become seared. His conscience will gradually become atrophied, until God is obliged to give him up to a disapproved mind and the recompense of his error (Romans 1:27-28).

DOES GOD REALLY PUNISH SIN?

Does He inflict upon sinners calamities, evils, suffering, pain, terrors, sorrow, disgrace, and spiritual degeneration as it were to balance the amount of sin committed, as though this was necessary to justice? We must bear in mind that God is presented in Scripture, and in the life of Christ, as being one who is yearning always and eagerly for the salvation of human beings. He did not create our race, and in His own image, all for no purpose. This salvation implies the removal and banishment of Sin, by means of complete filling up of all defects and shortcomings, through His Holy Spirit. Now Sin means disrespect for God, a serious lack of honour shewn to Him. This makes us ask, can God recover or restore the respect of the race? Is there any way or method whereby He can regain the honour of the race originally created in His image? Is there any method whereby He will guard or safeguard His own honour and the great honour of His name? To answer this question, I would ask you to put yourself, as it were, in God's place, and ask yourself what you would do if you were in His place.

This brings us to the Greek term timOria, which strictly signifies honour-guard. But here we encounter a strange phenomenon. This word is rendered commonly as meaning "punishment." How then are we going to connect punishment with the idea of guarding or safeguarding one's honour? Might this not be through God safeguarding His honour and reputation by bringing sinners through a very beneficial course of chastening and mental suffering, until every sinner bows the knee and confesses with acclamation the Name which is over every name, thus honouring God.

During the time I have been connected with The Differentiator, I have found that quite a number of those who read it have suffered some mental agony or distress, due to having to face and endure the world's wretched and miserable standards. Lot was not happy in Sodom. Lonely believers cannot be quite happy while living in the midst of worldlings. We are despised and rejected of men, men and women of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. This is our time of chastening. Those who do not in this age love God will have their period of chastening later.

SAFEGUARDING THE HONOUR OF GOD

The Greek word timOria is only found in the New Testa­ment at Hebrews 10:29. Its verb, timOreO occurs only twice, at Acts 22:5 and 26:11. The common "translations" are punishment and punish. But actually, these are not translations at all. The two terms occur six times in the Greek version of the Old Testament, where they have been loosely done into English as meaning punish, punishment, vengeance, take vengeance, and even revenge. It may seem very strange that the etymologists and the scholars give the proper etymological meanings of these two words, yet the "translators" unanimously give the meaning as "punish." Thus the only conclusion one can come to is, that there was no adequate English equivalent of these Greek terms, so the miserable word "punish" was made to suit. During the time when the old English versions were made, theology was dominated by the idea of punishment. Unfortunately, many students are still thus dominated, because they fail to recognize that God's Love must be permanent, or it is not Love at all. And let me point out, that if God's love for all sinners is not permanent, neither will it remain permanent for His Saints. This is only logical.

Dr. Bullinger explained these Greek terms as "watching one's honour, vindication of it, avengement of it."

Trench (Synonyms) says "guardianship or protectorate of honour."

Curtius says "guardian of honour, avenger, honour­guard. "

Schaff says "punishment in vindication of the honour of a broken law."

Thayer-Grimm says of the verb, "to be a guardian or avenger of honour; to succour, come to the help of, to avenge." In the N.T. "take vengeance on one, punish." Of the noun, "a rendering help; assistance; vengeance, penalty, punishment."

Pape's German-Greek Lexicon says "to help, to come to the help of, to stand by or assist; vengeance, chastisement, torment."

Dunbar says "to avenge another (for injury done to him), hence to aid, succour, assist; defend; to punish, torment, take vengeance."

There is, however, one commentary on Hebrews, by C. J. Vaughan, D.D., which at least has the temerity to speak out and say that the sense of vindication of honour, or of the honour of the broken law, "may be present in Scripture." This is much better than the painful timidity of scholars and translators, who, like sheep, have preferred to copy the errors of past generations. Why should a term not be allowed to express its proper meaning? Evidently the safeguarding of God's honour has not been of enough importance, and the meaning of the Greek word has degenerated into the common but most unsatisfactory idea of punishment by God.

Moulton and Howard's Grammar of N.T. Greek explains thurOros (originally thura-Voros) as door-guardian; kEpouros (originally kEpo-Voros) as gardener (garden-keeper); oikouros as house-guardian; and timOros as honour-guardian.

Now that we are in possession of the root meaning of timOria, honour-guard, we ought to dispense with all the other terms which have no vital connection with the original meaning. Human ideas have introduced the idea of "punishment" and obliterated the true meaning.

I now quote from "Unsearchable Riches" of November, 1943, on "What is Judgment?" page 317: "Punishment" is a word that I have come to hate, for men have so fearfully misused it of God's operations. Once we see that all of God's dealings are with a view to the eventual reconciliation of all, the idea of punitive retribution, introduced by corrupt theology, will become abhorrent.

We too, ought all to detest the idea of Divine punishment. God will discipline so as to safeguard His honour. But He will do so by means of chastening (kolasis), which we might describe as a "beneficial ordeal." God will defend or safe­guard His own honour, or the honour of violated law. But He will never inflict more suffering than is necessary.

Our difficulty here is to discover an English word or expression which will suit the true meaning of the Greek timOria. There are words in German, such as Ehrenstrafe, said to signify "punishment with loss of honour," and Ehrenrettung, a better term, said to signify "honour rescue, honour saving."

THE DERIVATION OF "PUNISH"

Latin Dictionaries will shew that the word poena (in Greek poinE), related to poenitentia (repentance), is related to the Sanskrit root pu, the purifying or acquitting thing (Latin purificare). Hence came the meanings indemnification, compensation, satisfaction, expiation, penalty and punishment. Skeat gives the root pu the meanings purify, cleanse, make clear or evident, while Max Muller gave the meaning as "not striking or torture, but cleansing, correcting, delivering from the stain of sin." In Hebrew the word bar means pure or clean; barar means to purify or cleanse; and bor means purity or cleanness. In the Dead Sea scroll of Isaiah the last named word is missing from verse 25 of chapter 1, where it would certainly have been spelt as bur.

In "The Dawn of European Civilization" G. Hartwell Jones explains that the Greek and Latin terms which came to mean punishment were originally understood as meaning a removal of guilt. But we have seen that the Hebrew and Greek terms which have come to signify punishment really meant and mean something very different—in the Hebrew a Divine visitation of some kind, in the Greek something which safeguarded the Divine character. Here it ought to be explained that when Paul was persecuting the saints he honestly thought all along that he was faithfully doing the God of Israel noble service. In 1.Tim. 1:13 he says he was formerly "a calumniator and a persecutor, and an outrager. But I was shewn mercy, seeing that ignorantly I did it in unbelief." He even says in Phil. 3:6 that in accord with righteousness which is in Law he "became unblameable."

But Paul was poignantly pained and perturbed when he perceived that in persecuting the saints he was also persecuting Him who was God in human form. "Saul, Saul, why ME do you go on persecuting? Yet I answered and I say, Who art Thou, Lord? And He says to me, I am Jesus, the Nazarene, whom YOU go on persecuting" (Acts 22:7-8).

Paul reckoned the sect of the Christians to be blasphemers of Jehovah, God of Israel. He was determined to compel them to honour Israel's God. His business was to see that God's honour was safeguarded. This is what he was endeavouring to accomplish in Acts 22:5 and 26:11. To us human beings no doubt it would seem a form of severe punishment, but that is certainly not the sense of the Greek. Paul's motive could not be a cruel one. Paul was honestly seeking to safeguard or vindicate the honour or God. God has never yet converted any human being who is in the process of doing a cruel deed.

Acts 26:10-11 shews that Paul, throughout all the synagogues often "punished" the saints, compelling them to blaspheme. And at their being put to death he voted against them. He considered their dishonouring of God to be so evil that they deserved to die the death. He honestly thought they were quite mistaken, false deceivers, utter heretics.

The proper sense in Acts 22:5 is "that they may be made to safeguard (or vindicate) (God's) honour. In ch. 26:11 the sense is, "often making them safeguard (or vindicate) (God's) honour, I compelled them to be blaspheming." The true sense of Hebrews 10:29 must be, "of how much sorer (or severer) safeguarding of (God's) honour are you supposing he will be counted worthy, who, on the Son of God tramples, and the blood of the Covenant, in which he is hallowed, deems common, and the Spirit of grace outrages?" The important factor is the satisfying of the injured party, namely, God, whose Son was trampled underfoot, whose hallowing blood was reckoned as common, whose gracious spirit was wantonly insulted.

But unfortunately, the Godward conception of the timOria idea was abandoned or forgotten, and the purely human idea of punishment alone was set in its place.

So far only one translator have I found who even mentions "honour" in one of these three verses, and that is Dr. Robert Young in his "Concise Critical Comments" (1865), on Hebrews 10:29, on which his comment is, "seeing of weight (honour or vengeance), think ye, shall he be reckoned worthy. . .." Manifestly, Young was struggling to find a proper explanation of the Greek.

The Fathers of the early Greek Church saw God as the Saviour of all, whose discipline or chastening was remedial. But the Roman Church gradually blotted out the theology of Love and saw God in a magisterial sense, and viewed what they called "punishment" as something purely vindictive and frightening, as though God was like themselves, a mere human being.

Let us then think of divine "punishment" as some form of beneficial suffering, adapted to the state of the sinner. Divine discipline and chastening cannot operate outside of righteousness and grace, because God's grace can no more diminish than His vast love can.

Even though we cannot discover an English term which corresponds with the true meaning of the Greek word timOria, we ought to cling to the sense of the Greek, even if we render the idea by a paraphrase. God must be honoured, and He must see that He is honoured. Phil. 2:9-11 proves that He shall be honoured eventually by all. The undoing or reversal of the Second Death (Rev. 20:14), revealed in 1. Cor. 15:26, proves that God will at last have been fully honoured and acclaimed by all, because He then becomes ALL in every­body.

A.T.