- Matthew 25:46
- "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment."
- This passage is used to prove the eternal torment of the wicked. It is argued, that since the same Greek word, "aionios" is used for the duration of life for the righteous as for the punishment of the wicked, therefore the wicked are subject to eternal torment.
- The punishment is everlasting, but it is not conscious eternal torment. The punishment will be final and complete cutting off. (Psa. 37:9, 34). Life eternal is reserved for the righteous, but the wicked are to die "the second death" (Rev. 21:8) which in Scriptural terms means to be without thoughts. (Psa. 146:3,4; Eccl. 9:5). The word "everlasting" is used of a result, not a process. Similarly, "eternal judgment" (Heb. 6:2) and "eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12) do not mean that judgment and redemption will continue throughout eternity, but rather that their results are eternal.
- The wicked are to suffer torment at the Judgment Day (Matt. 8:12; 13:30, 40-42, 49-50; Luke 12:47,48), but this is not eternal torment. Other Scriptures either state or imply a termination of the torment. For example:
- Speaking of those who "know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ", the Apostle Paul states that they "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." (2 Thess. 1:9).
- Jesus stated that "if a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." (John 15:6). To be "cast forth as a branch" and "burned" suggests termination of the burning when that which is burnable is consumed.
- "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake . . . to shame and everlasting contempt." (Dan. 12:2 cf. Jn. 5:29). It is the contempt or damnation which is everlasting, not the conscious torment.
- Even if by "everlasting punishment" is meant "everlasting conscious torment", this passage in itself does not prove the eternal torment of the wicked since the Greek word, "aionios", can mean either limited or unlimited duration.1 Although the New Testament nearly always uses "aionios" with the meaning of unlimited duration,2 there are a number of occurrences in the Septuagint3 (where the Hebrew equivalent "olam" is translated "aionios") in which a limited duration is obviously intended. For example:
- "The lasting [aionios] hills"; "The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting [aionios] arms." (Deut. 33:15,27). The intended meaning of "aionios" is limited duration in the first reference whereas in the same chapter the second reference is to unlimited duration.
- The Aaronic priesthood is termed, "an everlasting [aionios] priesthood throughout their generation." (Exod. 40:15). Limited duration is intended in this reference since the Aaronic priesthood was later to change (Heb. 7:12) when that which "waxed old" was ready to "vanish away". (Heb. 8:13).
- See also Gen. 49:26; Exod. 12:17; 21:6; Jonah 2:6; Hab. 3:6 ("perpetual" hills = "aionios" hills).
- Many passages in Scripture teach that eternal life is the reward for the righteous (e.g. Luke 20:35,36). There are also many passages which teach that the ungodly and wicked will be destroyed or perish (e.g. 1 Thess. 4:13 cf. John 3:16; 2 Thess. 1:9). It is not therefore, merely an arbitrary decision to choose endless duration for "aionios" life of the righteous and limited duration for "aionios" punishment of the wicked. The decision has been based on the use of the Greek word elsewhere in Scripture and the teaching of other passages on the respective rewards of the righteous and wicked.
- The word "punishment" is translated from the Greek word, "kolasis" which means "a pruning". It comes from the verb, "kolazo" which means "to curtail, dock, prune, but usually like Lat., 'castigare' to keep within bounds, check, chastise."4 This denotation is in complete harmony with the Scriptural teaching on the punishment of the wicked. Jesus said that the wicked would be cast like branches into the fire. (John 15:6). The Psalmist said they would be "cut off" (Psa. 37:9) and "shall not be". (Psa. 37:10). Malachi states that the wicked will be burnt like stubble leaving them "neither root nor branch" (Mal. 4:1), like "ashes" to be trodden under foot. (Mal. 4:3). This is not the kind of language one would associate with immortal souls in torment for eternity.
- "Aionios" means "age-lasting", Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible, (London: Lutterworth Press, 1965). Return
- Two N.T. passages should be noted: The "eternal fire" (Grk: aionios) which consumed Sodom and Gomorrha (Jude 7) is not now burning. (cf. Lam. 4:6; 2 Pet. 2:6; Deut. 29:23). Similarly, Philemon is instructed to receive Onesimus "forever" (Grk: aionios). (Philemon. 15). Return
- In the 3rd century B.C., the Greek king Ptolemy of Egypt commissioned the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This translation is now known as the "LXX" or the Septuagint Version. Return
- Ethelbert S. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek Testament, (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd., 1957), p. 612. "Kolasis" is translated "torment" in 1 Jn. 4:18 and "torment" is one of the meanings given for "kolasis" in James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (New York: Abington Press, 1951). Return