PUNISHMENT, EVERLASTING (αιώνιος κόλασις).
The Biblical references.
The term aiōnios kólasis (“eternal punishment” in RSV, “everlasting punishment” in KJV) is used once in the Bible (
The meaning of “eternal.”
The Biblical doctrine is that the ungodly are subject to punishment without end after death. The important question is this—Does aiōnios mean “endless”? Aiōnios comes from aiōn, which means “the age.” Plato, however, used it of the Eternal Being compared to Time. The LXX used it to tr. the Heb. ’ōlām, which contains both the idea of a long time and the metaphysical idea of eternity in the sense of unending. Whether or not aiōnios indicates a long period of time or endlessness therefore must be determined by the context. For example, when the term is used by John to speak of eternal life, the emphasis is on the qualitative rather than the quantitative, although the very nature of the quality of the life being described would presuppose its being unending. A passage where it is clearly used in contrast to that which only lasts for a time is
There are a number of NT passages that do not use the word aiōnios, but nevertheless confirm the fact that endlessness is involved. For example, the punishment is described in terms of “unquenchable fire” (
The nature of the punishment.
It is generally accepted that the descriptions of fire and darkness are symbolic—symbolic of a terrible reality! The Bible does not specifically describe the nature of the punishment, which can be inferred only from the total Biblical picture. Since the punishment is the result of sin, it must bear certain similarities to the consequences of sin that take place already in this life. If eternal death is the opposite of eternal life, it must contain elements that contrast with those the Bible includes in its picture of eternal life. The essence of life is life lived in loving relationship to God; therefore eternal punishment includes the absence of this great blessing. Life apart from God is existence filled with guilt, hollowness, despair, meaninglessness, and hopelessness. The agony of eternal punishment apparently involves both body and soul because Scripture says both are ultimately cast into hell. Apparently this would involve inner anguish as well as detrimental effects upon the body. It may involve the torment of being cut off from fellowship with one’s fellow man, and also the results of living within a society of men from which the grace of God has been completely withdrawn. It must be admitted that the above is somewhat speculative, although based on Biblical inferences, since the Bible is silent when it comes to specific information as to the nature of the punishment, being satisfied simply to emphasize the horror of its reality (see Hell).
The alternative views.
There are basically two alternative views to eternal punishment. One view is that either after no punishment following death or after a limited period of punishment, the lost cease to exist. This view is called annihilation. The other view is that, following death either after a period of punishment or with no punishment, all will eventually be saved. This is called universalism.
Annihilation (also called).
This is the official position of theAdventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and some individual Bible students. They claim that the words “destruction” and “death,” which sometimes are used in the Bible to describe eternal punishment, are to be understood as involving the complete cessation of existence. Arguments against this position are as follows:
(2) The Bible describes destruction as punishment, but if it means annihilation, in many cases it would actually be a happy relief from punishment and therefore no punishment at all.
(3) Life as described in the Bible is not simply existence, it is existence in fellowship with God. The death that the Bible describes as the alternative to life need not mean the cessation of existence, but rather continued existence cut off from the fellowship of God.
(4) The practical effect of this doctrine undermines morality. In making light of the results of moral choices, it therefore makes light of the moral choices themselves.
Arguments that are put forth by those who believe that ultimately all will be saved are as follows:
(1) There are Scripture passages, such as
(2) God would be unjust to punish men for all eternity for sins they committed within a span of a few years. This argument fails to recognize the seriousness and the true nature of sin. Sin is rebellion against God Almighty, a horrible action that deserves the most drastic punishment. Furthermore, the nature of sin is such that it produces abiding consequences. God is just, for sin produces the very results that the sin deserves—results that are abiding except for the intervening grace of God.
(3) A loving God would not punish His creatures for ever. Those who advance this argument say: “A good man would not punish his enemies forever; surely a good God will not do this either.” But God is not man; He is loving, but He must also be just. He is the gracious Creator, but He is also the just Judge. The fact is that sin does produce horrible consequences in this life, and the loving God does not prevent this. What is the basis for assurance that He will prevent these consequences hereafter?
(4) A sovereign God will not be defeated. Some recent theologians who take sin and judgment much more seriously than did the older liberals still tend toward universalism on the basis of the sovereignty of God. Who is man to say how God should exercise His sovereignty? The same Bible that reveals God as sovereign also reveals punishment as eternal.
L. Townsend, Lost Forever (1875); J. Hanson, Aion-Aionios (1880); E. Pusey, What is of Faith as to(1880); J. Reimensnyder, Doom Eternal (1880); W. Shedd, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1886); C. Mann, Five Discourses on Future Punishment (1888); H. Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (1957).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. PRELIMINARY ASSUMPTIONS
1. Survival after Death
2. Retribution for Sin
3. Conscious Suffering in Future
II. SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT
1.and Jewish Conceptions
(2) Equivalent Expressions
3. Teaching of Analogy
III. DIFFICULTIES AND OBJECTIONS--RIVAL HYPOTHESES
1. Universal Salvation
IV. NATURE, CONDITIONS AND ISSUES
1. Mystery of the Future
2. Nature of Punishment
3. Range of Divine Mercy
4. Gradation of Punishment
5. God "All in All"
I. Preliminary Assumptions.
(For "everlasting," where used in theas the rendering of aionios, the (British and American) substitutes "eternal.") It is assumed in this article that Scripture teaches the survival of the soul after death, the reality of retribution and of judgment to come, and a shorter or longer period of suffering for sin in the case of the unredeemed in the world beyond. Only a few words need be said, therefore, in preliminary remark on these assumptions.
1. Survival after Death:
Whatever view may be taken of the development of the doctrine of immortality in the Old Testament (see Eschatology of the Old Testament), it will scarcely be doubted that it is throughout assumed in the New Testament that the souls of men, good and bad, survive death (see Immortality). Two passages only need be referred to in proof: one, Christ’s saying in
2. Retribution for Sin:
3. Conscious Suffering in Future:
The conscious endurance of punishment for sin in the future state is already implied in the preceding. The parable of the Rich Man speaks of it as following immediately on death in Hades; all the descriptions of the judgment imply pain and anguish as the result of condemnation (compare
These things being assumed, the questions that remain are: Is the period of suffering for sin eternal, or is it terminable? May it be cut short by repentance or by annihilation? Is there any final solution of the discord it implies in the universe? It is maintained here that the punishment of sin, in the case of the finally impenitent, is everlasting.
II. Scriptural Support.
The doctrine that the punishment of sin is everlasting is sustained by many plain testimonies of Scripture.
1. Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions:
The doctrine of future punishment is not prominent in the Old Testament, where rewards and punishments are chiefly connected with the present life. In a few passages (
See Eschatology of the Old Testament. 2. New Testament Teaching:
In the New Testament, the strongest language is used by Jesus and the apostolic writers on the certainty and severity of the punishment of sin in the future state, and always in a manner which suggests that the doom is final.
The reply made by Maurice (Theological Essays, 442 ff) that aionios in such passages denotes quality, not duration, cannot be sustained. Whatever else the term includes, it connotes duration. More pertinent is the criticism of other writers (e.g. Cox, Salvator Mundi, 96 ff; Farrar, Eternal Hope, Pref., xxxiv, pp. 78 ff, 197 ff; compare his Mercy and Judgment, passim) that aionios does not necessarily mean "eternal" (according to Cox it does not mean this at all), but is strictly "age-long," is therefore compatible with, if it does not directly suggest, a terminable period. Cox allows that the term is "saturated through and through with the element of time" (p. 100,), but he denies its equivalence with "everlasting." The sense, no doubt, is to be determined by the context, but it can hardly be questioned that "the eons of the eons" and similar phrases are the practical New Testament equivalents for eternity, and that aionios in its application to God and to life ("eternal life") includes the idea of unending duration (compare
(2) Equivalent Expressions.
The New Testament doctrine of the last judgment leads to the same conclusion. Two things seem plainly taught about this judgment: the first, that it proceeds on the matter of the present life--"the things done in the body" (
3. Teaching of Analogy:
In corroboration of this Scriptural view analogy might be pleaded. How constantly even in this life is the law illustrated of the tendency of character to fixity! The present is the season of grace (
III. Difficulties and Objections--Rival Hypotheses.
What, it will now be asked, of the tremendous difficulties which inhere in this doctrine, with their undeniable effect in alienating many generous minds from it and from Christianity? The lurid rhetorical picturings of the sufferings of the lost, too frequent in the teaching of the past, may be discounted; it is not necessary to go beyond the inexpressibly solemn words of Christ Himself and His apostles. But even with this limitation, does it not seem as if, by this doctrine, a reflection was cast on the righteousness and mercy of God in creating such multitudes of the human race, as, on any showing, are outside the pale of Christ’s salvation--the countless generations of the heathen, with the masses even in Christian lands who have not received or do not obey the light--only to doom them to endless misery? Before attempting a positive answer, it is proper that a glance be taken at the rival theories put forth in alleviation of the difficulty.
1. Universal Salvation:
The view favored by another class is that of the annihilation of the finally impenitent. The type of doctrine called "conditional immortality" includes other elements which need not here be discussed (see Immortality). The annihilation theory takes different forms. So far as the annihilation is supposed to take place at death, it is contradicted by the Scriptures which support the soul’s survival after death; so far as it is believed to take place after a longer or shorter period of conscious suffering (which is White’s theory), it involves its advocates in difficulties with their own interpretations of "death," "destruction," "perishing," seeing that in Scripture this doom is uniformly represented as overtaking the ungodly at the day of judgment, and not at some indefinite period thereafter. The theory conflicts also with the idea of gradation of punishment, for which room has to be sought in the period of conscious suffering, and rests really on an unduly narrowed conception of the meaning of the Scriptural terms "life" and "death." Life is not bare existence, nor is "death" necessarily extinction of being. Assaid earlier, the language of many parts of Scripture implies the continued existence of the subjects of the divine wrath.
3. Second Probation:
It is significant that on the side alike of the advocates of restoration and of those of annihilation (e.g. E. White), refuge from the difficulties is frequently sought in the hypothesis of an extended probation and work of evangelization beyond death. This theory labors under the drawback that, in marked contrast with Scripture, it throws immensely the larger part of the work of salvation into the future state of being. It is, besides, apart from the dubious and limited support given to it by the passage on Christ’s preaching to "the spirits in prison" (
See Eschatology of the New Testament, sec. X.
IV. Nature, Conditions and Issues.
1. Mystery of the Future:
While dogmatisms like the above, which seem opposed to Scripture, are to be avoided, it is equally necessary to guard against dogmatisms of an opposite kind, as if eternity must not, in the nature of the case, have its undisclosed mysteries of which we here in time can frame no conception. The difficulties connected with the ultimate destinies of mankind are truly enormous, and no serious thinker will minimize them. Scripture does not warrant it in negative, any more than in positive, dogmatisms; with its uniformly practical aim, it does not seek to satisfy an idle curiosity (compare
2. Nature of Punishment:
As respects the nature of the punishment of sin, it cannot be doubted that in its essence it is spiritual. Everything can be adopted here which is said by Maurice and others--"The eternal punishment is the punishment of being without the knowledge of God, who is love, and ofwho has manifested it; even as eternal life is declared to be the having the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ" (Theological Essays, 450). The supreme penalty of sin is unquestionably the loss of God’s life and love--the being sinful. Environment, indeed, may be expected to correspond with character, but the hell is one the sinner essentially makes for himself, and, like the kingdom of God, is within. The fire, the worm, the stripes, that figure its severity, are not physical. Even should the poena sensus (were that conceivable) be utterly removed, the poena damni would eternally remain.
3. Range of Divine Mercy:
It is a sound principle that, in His dealing with sin in the world to come, God’s mercy will reach as far as ever it can reach. This follows from the whole Scriptural revelation of the character of God. What may be included in it, it is impossible for anyone to say. It should be noticed that those of whom it is said that they shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on them, are those who "obey not" the truth (
4. Gradation of Punishment:
5. God "All in All":
There remain those passages already alluded to which do seem to speak, not, indeed, of conversion or admission into the light and fellowship of Christ’s kingdom, but still of a final subjugation of the powers of evil, to the extent, at least, of a cessation of active opposition to God’s will, of some form of ultimate unification and acknowledgment of Christ as Lord. Such passages are
Against: Maurice, Theological Essays, "and Eternal Death"; S. Cox, Salvator Mundi; F. W. Farrar, Eternal Hope; Mercy and Judgment; A. Jukes, The and the Restitution of All Things; E. White, Life in Christ; H. Constable, Duration and Nature of Future Punishment. For: Pusey, What Is of Faith as to , H. N. Oxenham, Catholic Eschatology; C. Clemance, Future Punishment; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah, Appendix, xix, "On Eternal Punishment, according to the Rabbis and the New Testament "; The , A Defence of the Orthodox View, by the Most Eminent American Scholars; S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality, Book VI; Orr, Christian View of God, lecture ix; Luthardt, Saving Truths (English translations), lecture x. See also the various works on Dogmatic and Biblical Theology.