Category Archives: Universalism

The Salvation Conspiracy

infernoHow Hell Became Eternal

by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

Universal Salvation is the theological position that ALL people will be saved. This concept, present from the earliest days of Christianity, is supported by numerous verses in the Bible , second in number only to those advocating Salvation by Good Works. Universalists do not reject the undeniable fact that Hell is in the Bible but contend that the function of Hell is for purification. Much later in the Christian story, when some claimed that Hell was a place for everlasting punishment, Universalists countered with their conviction that God was too good to condemn anyone to Eternal Hell! Today’s world news is saturated with the tragedies resulting from religions that insist on their own “exclusive” path to God, and Universalists are reasserting the relevance of that loving doctrine known to the earliest Christians – Salvation for ALL.

In this paper, I will attempt to make the following points clear: 1) For the first 500 years of Christianity, Christians and Christian theologians were broadly Universalist, 2) Translation/Mistranslation of the Scriptures from Greek to Latin contributed the reinterpretation of the nature of Hell, 3) Merging of Church and State fostered the corruption of Universalist thought, 4) Modern archeological findings and Biblical scholarship confirm Universalist thought among early Christians, and 5) Contemporary Christian scholars find Universalist theology most authentic to Jesus.

To examine Universal Salvation during the first 500 years of Christianity, the works of three scholars are indisputably the finest: Hosea Ballou II’s Ancient History of Universalism (1842), Edward Beecher’s History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution (1878), and John Wesley Hanson’s Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Church for its First 500 Years (1899). I have used all these resources but have broadened Universalist history to include 20 th Century discoveries and scholarship pertinent to Universalist Christianity.

IN THE BEGINNING

At its beginning, Christianity was a hopeful religion. In the words of St. Paul, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Communal meals, a culture of sharing and a tradition of helping others were the hallmarks of the early church. Despite a paternalistic culture, women were Apostles (Lk 8:2-3) and ministers (Rom 16: 1).

One of the best clues to early Christian theology is in artwork discovered at the Catacombs in Rome . Graves of common people were adorned with drawings of Jesus as the Good Shepherd – beardless and virtually indistinguishable from the Greco-Roman savior figure Orpheus. Other popular images there were the Last Supper and the Magi at the birth of Jesus. Occasionally in early Christian art, Jesus is shown working miracles using a magic wand! Significantly, the crucifix is noticeably absent from early art, as is any depiction of judgment scenes or Hell.

As we move into the middle of the 2 nd Century, a shift takes place from writing works considered “Holy Scripture” to interpretations of it. The first writer on the theology on Christian Universalism whose works survive is St. Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215CE). He was the head of the theology school at Alexandria which, until it closed at the end of the 4 th Century, was a bastion of Universalist thought. His pupil, Origen (185 – 254 CE), wrote the first complete presentation of Christianity as a system, and Universalism was at its core. Origen was the first to produce a parallel Old Testament that included Hebrew, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, the Septuagint, and three other Greek translations. He was also the first to recognize that some parts of the Bible should be taken literally and others metaphorically. He wrote a defense of Christianity in response to a pagan writer’s denigration of it.

Prior to the Roman Catholic Church’s condemnation of all of Universalist thought in the 6 th Century, Church authority had already reached back in time to pick out several of Origen’s ideas they deemed unacceptable. Some that found disfavor were his insistence that the Devil would be saved at the end of time, the pre-existence of human souls, the reincarnation of the wicked, and his claim that the purification of souls could go on for many eons. Finally, he was condemned by the Church because his concept of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did not agree with the “official” Doctrine of the Trinity formulated a century after his death! After the 6 th Century, much of his work was destroyed; fortunately, some of it survived.

According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years – four were Universalist ( Alexandria , Cesarea, Antioch , and Edessa ). One advocated annihilation ( Ephesus ) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa). Most of the Universalists throughout Christendom followed the teachings of Origen. Later, Theodore of Mopsuestia had a different theological basis for Universal Salvation, and his view continued in the break-away Church of the East (Nestorian) where his Universalist ideas still exist in its liturgy today.

“HARROWING OF HELL” IN CANON AND APOCRYPHA

One of the primary beliefs of the early Christians was that Jesus descended into Sheol/Hades in order to preach to the dead and rescue all of those, as it clearly says in I Peter 3:20, “who in former times did not obey.” This terminology is familiar to anyone who has recited the Apostle’s Creed which states that Jesus descended to Hell after his death, before his resurrection. Known as the “Harrowing of Hell,” this is a major theme in Universalism because it underscores the early belief that judgment at the end of life is not final and that all souls can be saved after death. Interestingly, in the early Church there were not only prayers for the dead, but St. Paul notes there were also baptisms for the dead (I Cor 15: 29).

In later times, the church attempted to reinterpret the text to narrow the categories of people saved from Hell to the Jewish prophets and the righteous pagans. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan take this approach in their latest book, The Last Week.(Curiously, they omit the key verse “those who in former times did not obey.”) However, in his earlier book, The Cross That Spoke , John Dominic Crossan is more favorable to the Universalist view. For example, he relates a story from the non-canonical Gospel of Peter in which two angels come down from Heaven to get Jesus out of the tomb on Easter morning. As they are carrying him out and are about to ascend to Heaven, a voice from Heaven asks them, “Hast thou preached to them that sleep?” The wooden cross that is somehow following them out of the tomb speaks and says, “Yes!” In discussing Jesus’ decent into Hell, Crossan also sites another classic Universalist text, I Peter 4:6 which says, “For this is why the Gospel was preached even to the dead, that though they were judged in flesh like men they might live in the spirit like God.” He also notes that in Colossians 2:15, Jesus, “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them,” and in Ephesians 4:8-9:

Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high, he made captivity   itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He   ascended,” what does it mean but that he also descended into the   lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who   ascended far above all heavens, so that he might fill all things.”)

Understanding the role of the “Harrowing of Hell” has been expanded by recent archeological findings and modern Biblical scholarship. Among the discoveries over the past 100 years is the Apocalypse of Peter , written about 135 C.E. (not to be confused with the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1947). For a time, it was considered for inclusion into the New Testament instead of the Revelation to John . It is referred to in the Muratorian Canon of the early Church, as well as in the writings of St. Clement of Alexandria . (It should be noted that the Universalist passage from theApocalypse of Peter is found in the Ethiopian text but is not part of the fragment text found at Akhmim , Egypt .) In the Ethiopic copy, Peter asks Jesus to have pity on the people in Hell, and Jesus says they will eventually all be saved. Later, Peter (who is writing to Clement) says to keep that knowledge a secret so that foolish men may not see it. This same theme is repeated in the Second Book of the Sibyline Oracles in which the saved behold the sinners in Hell and ask that mercy be shown them. Here, the sinners are saved by the prayers of the righteous.

Another 2 nd Century work, The Epistle to the Apostles , also states that our prayers for the dead can affect their forgiveness by God. The 2 nd Century Odes of Solomon , which was discovered in the early 20 th Century, was for a time considered to be Jewish, then Gnostic, and more recently, early Christian. Its theme is that Jesus saves the dead when they come to him in Hell and cry out, “Son of God, have pity on us!” In the 4 th /6 th Century Syriac Book of the Cave of Treasures , Jesus “preached the resurrection to those who were lying in the dust” and “pardoned those who had sinned against the Law.” In the Gospel of Nicodemus (a.k.a. Acts of Pilate ), a 4 th /5 th Century apocryphal gospel, Jesus saves everyone in the Greek version but rescues only the righteous pre-Christians in the Latin translation. In What is Gnosticism? , Karen King identifies the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Truth as teaching Universal Salvation; she states that The Apocryphon of John (a.k.a. The Secret Book of John ) declares all will be saved except apostates. In the Coptic Book of the Resurrection , all but Satan and his ministers are pardoned.

Interestingly, belief in the “Harrowing of Hell” has had some validation by modern day near-death experiencers (people who have been resuscitated following a period of clinical death). While most near-death experiencers report a “heavenly” experience of Light and overwhelming love, many of those whose experience begins in “hellish” turmoil and darkness say that their descent was reversed when they called out to God or Jesus.

THE CHURCH-STATE CONUNDRUM

Many think that Christianity was at its best during its first 300 years – a time of immense diversity of opinion, creativity, and expectation. Although the official sanction of governments provided the Church with some very critical benefits (like not feeding Christians to lions!), some of the vitality of the young Church was inevitably compromised. Its legitimization in the 4 th Century, first by the king of Armenia , then by Constantine of Rome, and finally by the king of Ethiopia , led to a new era for Christianity. Constantine , being a military man, wanted standardization in all things. The Emperor called the Counsel of Nicea because at the time, the Bishop of Rome was not yet Pope (in the way we think of him today). According to Roman Catholic scholar Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, the Pope did not become the head of the Roman Church until 752 CE. At that time, Charlemagne recognized the Bishop of Rome as the singular Pope, and Pope Leo III reciprocated by legitimizing Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor. It should be noted that the 6 th Century Emperor Justinian – NOT the Bishop of Rome – called the Church counsel where Universalism was condemned.

JESUS SEMINAR “ENDORSES” CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM

Of all modern Biblical scholars, none have gained so much publicity and been so readily accessible to the lay reader than a group called the Jesus Seminar. Over 150 Biblical scholars pooled their knowledge for the express purpose of analyzing the Gospels to determine which words and deeds were authentic to Jesus. Their resulting “Scholars’ Editions” of the Gospels were remarkable for the few passages that were thought to be original to Jesus. For Universalists, the most significant result of the Seminar’s scrutiny was their inadvertent highlighting of many Universalist passages. By far, verses advocating Universal Salvation received the most endorsement from the Jesus Seminar as authentic to Jesus. While they rejected some of the “zingers” (e.g., Jn 12:32), virtually all Jesus’ classic parables that have been interpreted as Universalist since the beginning of Christian theology were judged by the Jesus Seminar to be genuine to him, including: The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt 18:12-13; Lk 15:4-6), The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-15), The Parable of the Lost Coin (Lk 15:8-9), and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). Also, the verses relating to the fact that Hell is not permanent and used only for rehabilitation/purification were determined authentic by the Jesus Seminar. They are: Settle with Your Opponent (Matt 5:25 -26; Lk 12:58 -59) and the Parable of the Wicked Servant (Matt 18:23 -34). Finally, although it was mutilated in part by the Jesus Seminar scholars, Jesus’ teaching to be like God and love our enemies as God is good to the just and the unjust (Matt 5:44-46) was voted genuine to Jesus.

It is noteworthy that the Seminar rejected all of the verses relating to the “Jesus Saves” theology as original to Jesus. John Calvin’s Predestination fared only slightly better with only two verses seen as original to Jesus (Matt 6:10 , 10:29 ). Some classic sayings of Jesus on Good Works were deemed authentic, such as Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30 -35), Jesus on forgiveness (Matt 6:12 ), and the Parable of the Sower (Mk 4:3-8; Matt 13:3-8; Lk 8:5-8). (Tentmaker Ministries does NOT endorse Jesus Seminar.)

MISTRANSLATIONS AND MISANTHROPES

One of the essential tenents of Universalism is that all punishment in Hell is remedial, curative, and purifying. As long as Western Christianity was mainly Greek – the language of the New Testament – it was Universalist.

Interestingly, NONE of the Greek-speaking Universalists ever felt the need to explain Greek words such as “aion” and “aionion.” In Greek, an aion (in English, usually spelled “eon”) is an indefinite period of time, usually of long duration. When it was translated into Latin Vulgate, “aion” became “aeternam” which means “eternal.” These translation errors were the basis for much of what was written about Eternal Hell.

The first person to write about Eternal Hell was the Latin North African Tertullian who is considered the Father of the Latin Church. As most people reason, Hell is a place for people you don’t like to go! Tertullian fantasized that not only the wicked would be in Hell but also every philosopher and theologian who ever argued with him! He envisioned a time when he would look down from Heaven at those people in Hell and laugh with glee!

By far, the main person responsible for making Hell eternal in the Western Church was St. Augustine (354-430 CE). Augustine’s Christian mother did not kick him out of her house for not marrying the girlfriend he got pregnant, but she did oust him when he became a Manichean Gnostic. Later, he renounced Manichaeism and returned to the Roman Church where he was made Bishop of Hippo in North Africa . He did not know Greek, had tried to study it, but stated that he hated it. Sadly, it is his misunderstanding of Greek that cemented the concept of Eternal Hell in the Western Church . Augustine not only said that Hell was eternal for the wicked but also for anyone who wasn’t a Christian. So complete was his concept of God’s exclusion of non-Christians that he considered un-baptized babies as damned; when these babies died, Augustine softened slightly to declare that they would be sent to the “upper level” of Hell. Augustine is also the inventor the concept of “Hell Lite”, a.k.a. Purgatory, which he developed to accommodate some of the Universalist verses in the Bible . Augustine acknowledged the Universalists whom he called “tender-hearted,” and included them among the “orthodox.”

At this point, it should be noted that many in the early Church who were Universalist cautioned others to be careful whom they told about Universalism, as it might cause some of the weaker ones to sin. This has always been a criticism of Universalism by those who think that people will sin with abandon if there is no threat of eternal punishment. In fact, modern psychology has affirmed that love is a much more powerful motivator than fear, and knowing that God loves each and every person on the planet as much as God loves you does not promote delinquency. Conversely, it is Christian exclusivity that leads to the marginalization of other human beings and the thinking that war and cruelty to the “other” are justified since they’re going to Hell anyway! This kind of twisted thinking led to the persecution of the pagans, the witch hunts, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.

UNIVERSALISM IN THE EAST AND ZOROASTRIAN ROOTS

A slightly different type of Universalist theology was taught in the Aramaic speaking Church of the East (Nestorian). Virtually all of the Greek-speaking Universalists built on Origen’s system that emphasizes free will. Origen saw an endless round of purification and relapse, but that in the end, God’s love would draw all back to God. According to Dr. Beecher, Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 CE) saw, “sin as an unavoidable part of the development and education of man; that some carry it to a greater extent than others, but that God will finally overrule it for their final establishment in good.” Theodore of Mopsuestia is known in the Nestorian Church as “The Interpreter.” The 5 th Century with its ongoing feuding councils saw major splits in the Christian Church. The Coptic Church of Egypt and Ethiopia split in 451CE; the Armenian Church left about the same time; the Church of the East (Nestorian) left in 486 CE. At the time of the split, the Nestorian Church was larger in numbers than the Roman Church. It included all of the Sasanian Persian Empire (which stretched from the Euphrates to India ), along the Silk Road through modern Kazakhstan , Turkmenistan , Uzbekistan , through Tibet , Mongolia , and into China . Additionally, it had established Christian churches in the south of India by the end of the 2 nd Century. While it suffered under Moslem invasion in the 7 th Century, it continued to grow in the Far East until being virtually annihilated by Tamerlane in the 14 th Century. Today, only a quarter-million remain. The Nestorian Church continued to be Universalist for most of its history, and a Universalist liturgy written by Theodore of Mopsuestia is still in use today. Also, the Book of the Bee written in the 13 th Century by Bishop Solomon of Basra includes the Universalist teachings of Isaac, Diodorus, and Theodore in Chapter 60. We know from Martin Palmer in the Jesus Sutras that the Nestorians who proselytized in China in the early days had only two Christian books: theGospel of Matthew and an early Christian prayer book known as the Didache or The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles . The appeal of Christianity in the Far East was that Jesus could save you and take you to Paradise , avoiding the risk of an undesired reincarnation.

Christopher Buck notes in his article, “The Universality of the Church of the East: How Persian Was Persian Christianity?” that the success of Christian conversions in the East may have been the affinity of Christianity with Zoroastrianism. Unlike Manichaeism and other Gnostic Christianity, Zoroastrianism (like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) maintains that the world was created good and was corrupted by evil. In Zoroastrianism, the basic tenents are: God-Satan, Good-Evil, Light-Darkness, Angels-Demons, Death-Judgment, Heaven-Hell, and at the end of time, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Zoroaster was a Universalist, as he says in his Hymns to God , “If you understand these laws of happiness and pain which God has ordained, O Mortals, there is a long period of punishment for the wicked and reward for the pious, but thereafterEternal Joy shall rein forever ” (Y 30:11 emphasis added ). In Zoroastrianism, while God is wholly good, there is no doctrine of forgiveness; your good deeds must always outnumber your bad deeds in order to avoid purification in Hell. Christianity brought Jesus’ message that God forgives sins for the asking! Also, one doesn’t need a priest as an intercessor or a sacrifice to obtain God’s grace. This affinity is best illustrated in a 13 th Century Christmas liturgy of the Nestorian Church which states that, “The Magi (Zoroastrian priests) came . they opened their treasures and offered him (Jesus) their offerings as they were commanded by their teacher Zoroaster who prophesized to them.” What is implicit in the Gospel of Matthew is explicit in this Nestorian liturgy. Zoroaster had predicted the coming of future saviors “from the nations” (e.g., countries other than Persia ). If you wanted to make converts in a Zoroastrian world, the story of the Magi at the birth of Jesus was your entree.

UNIVERSALISM OFFICIALLY CONDEMNED IN THE WEST

Although the Roman Church had condemned some of Origen’s other ideas, his Universalism was never questioned, nor were the writings of any other Universalist. There were even Universalists among the Gnostics; although Gnosticism had been condemned heartily by the Church, Universalism had never been listed among their errors. If Universal Salvation were heretical, how could the Church explain all those avowed Universalists who had already been made Saints (St. Clement of Alexandria , St. Macrina the Younger and her brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and others)? As mentioned earlier, it was the Emperor Justinian who initiated the deed.

Universalism had never been officially condemned prior to Justinian’s convening the Council of Constantinople in 553CE, but this momentous decision was made against a background of turmoil in the Church and Western civilization. Latin-speaking Christians in the Church began to overshadow the Greek-speakers, and the Nestorian Church of the East had recently split from the Catholic West. (In all fairness, the Latin Church was doing well to have anyone who could read Latin – much less Greek.) Less than eighty years earlier, the Western Roman Empire had fallen to pagan barbarians. The Roman Church had long before become the handmaiden of the State. What could be better for control in an age of superstition and fear than to make Hell eternal and Salvation possible only through the Church? Less than a century later, all of Christianity (Latin, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, as well as the Nestorian Church of the East) would be either partially or totally overrun by Moslem conquerors.

CONCLUSION

Compare the hopeful, positive art of the early Church in the Catacombs with the scenes of Hell and damnation on the wall of almost every Medieval Catholic Cathedral. These scenes were made even more terrifying by the Latin mistranslation of Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:31-46). In the West, Augustine trumped Origen, and what was an “eon” in the original Greek became “eternal” in Latin.

While Universalism continued in the Church of the East, in the West from the 6 th Century forward, it was relegated to the realm of mystics until the Reformation when the idea of Universal Salvation was resurrected. Universalism continues today as a theological position among a fair number of Christians in a variety of denominations. It is ripe for revival.

Ken R. Vincent, Ed.D., is the author of: THE GOLDEN THREAD, GOD’S PROMISE OF UNIVERSAL SALVATION .

Did God Create Hell?

BelieveExcerpted from “What I Believe,” by Jacques Ellul

I am taking up here a basic theme that I have dealt with elsewhere but which is so essential that I have no hesitation in repeating myself. It is the recognition that all people from the beginning of time are saved by God in Jesus Christ, that they have all been recipients of his grace no matter what they have done.

This is a scandalous proposition. It shocks our spontaneous sense of justice. The guilty ought to be punished. How can Hitler and Stalin be among the saved? The just ought to be recognized as such and the wicked condemned.

But in my view this is purely human logic which simply shows that there is no understanding of salvation by grace or of the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. The proposition also runs counter to the almost unanimous view of theology. Some early theologians proclaimed universal salvation but almost all the rest finally rejected it. Great debates have taken place about foreknowledge and predestination, but in all of them it has been taken for granted that reprobation is normal.

A third and the most serious objection to the thesis is posed by the biblical texts themselves. Many of these talk about condemnation, hell, banishment into outer darkness, and the punishment of robbers, fornicators, idolaters, etc. As we proceed we must overcome these obstacles and examine the theological reasons which lead me to believe in universal salvation, the texts that seem to be against it, and a possible solution.

But I want to stress that I am speaking about belief in universal salvation. This is for me a matter of faith. I am not making a dogma or a principle of it. I can say only what I believe, not pretending to teach it doctrinally as the truth.

1. God Is love

My first simple thesis is that if God is God, the Almighty, the Creator of all things, the Omnipresent, then we can think of no place or being whatever outside him. If there were a place out side him, God would not be all in all, the Creator of all things. How can we think of him creating a place or being where he is not present? What, then, about hell? Either it is in God, in which case he is not universally good, or it is outside him, hell having often been defined as the place where God is not. But the latter is completely unthinkable. One might simply say that hell is merely nothingness. The damned are those who are annihilated. But there is a difficulty here too. Nothingness does not exist in the Bible. It is a philosophical and mathematical concept. We can represent it only by a mathematical sign. God did not create ex nihilo, out of nothing. Genesis 1:2 speaks of tohu wabohu (“desert and wasteland” RSV “formless and void’) or of tehom (“the deep’). This is not nothing.

Furthermore, the closest thing to nothingness seems to be death. But the Bible speaks about enemies, that is, the great serpent, death, and the abyss, which are aggressors against God’s creation and are seeking to destroy it. These are enemies against which God protects his creation. He cannot allow that which he has created and called good to be destroyed, disorganized, swallowed up, and slain. This creation of God cannot revert to nothing. Death cannot issue in nothingness. This would be a negation of God himself, and this is why the first aspect seems to me to be decisive. Creation is under constant threat and is constantly upheld.

How could God himself surrender to nothingness and to the enemy that which he upholds in face and in spite of everything? How could he allow a power of destruction and annihilation in his creation? If he cannot withstand the force of nothingness, then we have to resort to dualism (a good God and a bad God in conflict and equal), to Zoroastrianism. Many are tempted to dualism today. But if God is unique, if he alone has life in himself, he cannot permit this threat to the object of his love.

But it is necessary that “the times be accomplished,” the times when we are driven into a corner and have to serve either the impotence of the God of love or the power of the forces of destruction and annihilation. We have to wait until humanity has completed its history and creation, and every possibility has been explored. This does not merely imply, however, that at the end of time the powers of destruction, death, the great serpent, Satan, the devil, will be annihilated, but much more. How can we talk about nothingness when we receive the revelation of this God who will be all in all? When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself also will be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).

If God is, he is all in all. There is no more place for nothingness. The word is an empty one. For Christians it is just as empty as what it is supposed to denote. Philosophers speak in vain about something that they can only imagine or use as a building block, but which has no reality of any kind. ( 1 )

The second and equally essential factor is that after Jesus Christ we know that God is love. This is the central revelation. How can we conceive of him who is love ceasing to love one of his creatures? How can we think that God can cease to love the creation that he has made in his own image? This would be a contradiction in terms. God cannot cease to be love.

If we combine the two theses we see at once that nothing can exist outside God’s love, for God is all in all. It is unthinkable that there should exist a place of suffering, of torment, of the domination of evil, of beings that merely hate since their only function is to torture. It is astounding that Christian theology should not have seen at a glance how impossible this idea is. Being love, God cannot send to hell the creation which he so loved that he gave his only Son for it. He cannot reject it because it is his creation. This would be to cut off himself.

A whole theological trend advances the convenient solution that God is love but also justice. He saves the elect to manifest his love and condemns the reprobate to manifest his justice. My immediate fear is that this solution does not even correspond to our idea of justice and that we are merely satisfying our desire that people we regard as terrible should be punished in the next world. This view is part of the mistaken theology which declares that the good are unhappy on earth but will be happy in heaven, whereas the wicked are successful on earth but will be punished in the next world. Unbelievers have every reason to denounce this explanation as a subterfuge designed to make people accept what happens on earth. The kingdom of God is not compensation for this world.

Another difficulty is that we are asked to see God with two faces as though he were a kind of Janus facing two ways. Such a God could not be the God of Jesus Christ, who has only one face. Crucial texts strongly condemn two-faced people who go two different ways. These are the ones that Jesus Christ calls hypocrites. If God is double-minded, there is duplicity in him. He is a hypocrite. We have to choose: He is either love or he is justice. He is not both. If he is the just judge, the pitiless Justiciar, he is not the God that Jesus Christ has taught us to love. Furthermore, this conception is a pure and simple denial of Jesus Christ. For the doctrine is firm that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and was willing to die for human sin to redeem us all: I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32), satisfying divine justice. All the evil done on earth from Adam’s break with God undoubtedly has to be judged and punished. But all our teaching about Jesus is there to remind us that the wrath of God fell entirely on him, on God in the person of the Son. God directs his justice upon himself; he has taken upon himself the condemnation of our wickedness. What would be the point, then, of a second condemnation of individuals?

Was the judgment passed on Jesus insufficient? Was the price that was paid-the punishment of the Son of God-too low to meet the demands of God’s justice? This justice is satisfied in God and by God for us. From this point on, then, we know only the face of the love of God.

This love is not sentimental acquiescence. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). God’s love is demanding, “jealous,” total, and indivisible. Love has a stern face, not a soft one. Nevertheless, it is love. And in any case this love excludes double predestination, some to salvation and others to perdition. It is inconceivable that the God of Jesus Christ, who gives himself in his Son to save us, should have created some people ordained to evil and damnation.

There is indeed a predestination, but it can be only the one predestination to salvation. In and through Jesus Christ all people are predestined to be saved. Our free choice is ruled out in this regard. We have often said that God wants free people. He undoubtedly does, except in relation to this last and definitive decision. We are not free to decide and choose to be damned. To say that God presents us with the good news of the gospel and then leaves the final issue to our free choice either to accept it and be saved or to reject it and be lost is foolish. To take this point of view is to make us arbiters of the situation. In this case it is we who finally decide our own salvation.

This view reverses a well-known thesis and would have it that God proposes and man disposes. Without question we all know of innumerable cases in which people reject revelation. Swarms are doing so today. But have they any real knowledge of revelation? If I look at countless presentations of the Word of God by the churches, I can say that the churches have presented many ideas and commandments that have nothing whatever to do with God’s revelation. Rejecting these things, human commandments, is not the same as rejecting the truth. And even if the declaration or proclamation of the gospel is faithful, it does not itself force a choice upon us.

If people are to recognize the truth, they must also have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. These two things are indispensable, the faithful declaration of the gospel, the good news, by a human being and the inner witness in the hearer of the Holy Spirit, who conveys the assurance that it is the truth of God. The one does not suffice without the other. Thus when those who hear refuse our message, we can never say that they have chosen to disobey God.

The human and divine acts are one and the same only in the Word of Jesus. When he told his hearers not to be unbelieving but to believe, if they refused then they were rejected. In our case, however, we cannot say that there is an act of the Holy Spirit simultaneously with our proclamation. This may well be the point of the well-known text about the one sin that cannot be pardoned, the sin against the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 12:31-32). But we can never know whether anyone has committed it. However that may be, it is certain that being saved or lost does not depend on our own free decision.

I believe that all people are included in the grace of God. I believe that all the theologies that have made a large place for damnation and hell are unfaithful to a theology of grace. For if there is predestination to perdition, there is no salvation by grace. Salvation by grace is granted precisely to those who without grace would have been lost. Jesus did not come to seek the righteous and the saints, but sinners. He came to seek those who in strict justice ought to have been condemned.

A theology of grace implies universal salvation. What could grace mean if it were granted only to some sinners and not to others according to an arbitrary decree that is totally contrary to the nature of our God? If grace is granted according to the greater or lesser number of sins, it is no longer grace-it is just the opposite because of this accountancy. Paul is the very one who reminds us that the enormity of the sin is no obstacle to grace:Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20). This is the key statement. The greater the sin, the more God’s love reveals itself to be far beyond any judgment or evaluation of ours. This grace covers all things. It is thus effectively universal.

I do not think that in regard to this grace we can make the Scholastic distinctions between prevenient grace, expectant grace, conditional grace, etc. Such adjectives weaken the thrust of the free grace of the absolute sovereign, and they result only from our great difficulty in believing that God has done everything. But this means that nothing in his creation is excluded or lost.

( 1 ) This is why books like Satre’s Being und Nothingness and H. Carre’s Point d’appui pris sur le neant are so feeble.

 

The Salvation of the Unbeliever

salvation_t_nvFrom the book “All in All“, by A. E. Knock

Those who believe are saved by His grace (Rom 4:16). Those who do not believe are saved through His judgments. In both, however, it is He alone Who is Savior. Faith is but the channel of grace; it plays no efficient part in salvation. Judgment is but a means which God uses. It does not remove man’s guilt or cleanse a single sin. That is done wholly and solely by the blood of Christ. Every effort to bring about the ultimate salvation of all through the purgatorial or penitential sufferings of the sinner is a denial of this great truth. Judgments do not save, but the God Who Judges is also the Savior, and all His dealings with mankind are governed by the grand goal that He has set before Him — to become All in All His creatures.

The judgment of unbelievers takes place in the interval between the passing of this present earth and the creation of the new. Every tie that bound them to earth has been burned up. They are the subjects of the most astounding miracle ever wrought, having been raised from the dead. They are in the presence of the Divine Majesty. Their secrets are bared to His awful gaze. The character of their judgment, being adjusted to their acts, not simply as to severity but so as to correct them, will reveal God’s purpose to save and reconcile them to Himself. This, followed by their death in the lake of fire and subsequent vivification at the consummation, becomes a means for their acceptance of Christ.

The salvation of the unbeliever will be by sight, not by faith. Otherwise, it is effected in the same way as that of the believer, by the word and power and presence of God. In the judgment day God will judge the hidden things of humanity (Rom 2:16). We are prone to consider this a mere exhibition of His omniscience to facilitate the trial of the sinner and to insure his condemnation. More than this, it can’t avoid having a very powerful effect on the unbeliever’s attitude toward Christ. The change that occurs in the ultimate salvation of the unbeliever is wrought, not only by his resurrection, but by the august judgment session, when he stands in the presence of Christ, with all his unbelief swept away by the awful realization of His power and the justice of His throne. We are asked, “Is it possible for them to repent?” Rather, we would like to know, “Is it possible for them NOT to repent, or change their minds?” We cannot conceive an unrepentant sinner before the great white throne.

The apostle Paul’s case is of surpassing significance in its bearing on the salvation of unbelievers. He was the foremost of sinners, and it cannot be denied that, among men, there was no case quite as desperate as his. All question as to God’s ability to save vanishes in the light of his call on the Damascus road. The miraculous means employed in his case surely would suffice for every one of God’s enemies. Who will deny, on sober reflection, that the appalling power and glory of the august judgment session into which the unbeliever is ushered by his resurrection will be unutterably more impressive? The apostle’s vision passed. He came back to a scene where all was as before. He alone had changed. The unbeliever sees the power and presence of God not only in his own deliverance from death, but in all around him. The vision does not vanish. The Divine Presence bides.

God’s thoughts and man’s imaginations are nowhere more at variance than on the subject of judgment, or punishment. God is love, man is hate. Jonah went through the streets of Nineveh, crying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented concerning the evil that He said He would do unto them, and He did it not (Jonah 3). What did Jonah do? Was he not pleased at the success of his mission? Did he not glory in the character of his God? Alas! He was like the majority of the Lord’s people today. Like Jonah, they imagined that God has a streak of hate in His character, and that He wanted to destroy Nineveh to give it exercise. He had an object, though, in threatening its destruction. Now that they repented and the object was attained, why should He belie His character and destroy them from sheer vindictiveness?? Jonah thought He ought, and so think those today whose prototype he was.

Is it not unfortunate that Jonah’s God was a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenting of the evil that He had threatened? (Jonah 4:2). What did Jonah care for Nineveh? What pains had it cost him? What comfort did it bring to him? God, however, looked at it from His standpoint. In it there were sixty thousand souls more in tune with Him than sulky Jonah. He was their Creator, and He had not created them for naught. This is God’s way with the unbeliever.

 

Finding The True Path of Christ, The Sonship of Jesus for All People

JesusChristLove1Excerpted from “God’s Good News For All People” by Chris Stetson

Finding the True Path of Christ

Millions of people today are coming to the belief in universal salvation. Many of them are sincere, Bible-believing Christians. They attend churches of various denominations and come from diverse backgrounds. Each one has a unique story to tell of how God led them — sometimes gently, sometimes dramatically — to move beyond their former belief in eternal hell and rigid church doctrines and to embrace an inclusive view of salvation and an optimistic view of God and His plan for our lives and our universe. My own story is told in this book, and this introduction to Christian Universalism is the fruit of my desire to share what I have learned about the Gospel with others. The reason I wrote it is so that many more people will have their own stories to share — discovering a different kind of Christianity and being transformed from the inside out by the knowledge of God’s unconditional and all-consuming love.

This might be your first time learning of any kind of Christian Gospel other than the harsh message of fundamentalists, who have told you you’re going to hell unless you belong to their church, or unless you pray a certain way or believe certain religious teachings — who have told you your loved ones who died without professing faith in Christ are lost forever. You may have followed this religious system out of fear of doing otherwise or because you were raised to believe it. Or you may have rejected it in disgust and thrown God out of your life along with the nasty fundamentalist Christian creed. I invite you to consider the alternative, the Good News Gospel of Christian Universalism that is the original message of the Christian faith. It is a message that our hurting world desperately needs to hear today. It is a message that can truly change souls rather than just “winning” them.

In this book, we will examine the Biblical alternative to Christian Fundamentalism: the positive and uplifting view of Christianity called Christian Universalism. We will discover that the Bible, when properly translated and interpreted, supports the optimistic view of salvation called universal or ultimate reconciliation, rather than the more popular ideas of eternal damnation or annihilation of the wicked. We will discuss some of the objections people commonly raise to Christian Universalism and answer them. We will explore some of the more profound implications of the universalist interpretation of Christianity for the nature of God, the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and human nature and destiny. We will survey the history of Christian thought concerning salvation and the fate of those who do not follow Christ in their life on earth, and we will see how the rise of the doctrine of eternal torment led to terrible consequences both in society as a whole and in the lives of individual Christians. We will discuss the rebirth of universalist theology in modern times, and we will consider the importance of the Good News of Christian Universalism in today’s world, with the frightening rise of religious fundamentalism — both fundamentalist Christianity and other extremist forms of faith — that is the source of increasing levels of division, hatred, and even violence in the name of God.

I hope that readers will see the faith of Christ in a whole new light — the light of truth as revealed in the Bible and in the human heart and mind, free from the darkness that has been spread by ignorant fundamentalism throughout history and in the present day. Christianity is seen in the popular culture as a religion that offers salvation only for believers and the torments of a never-ending hell for everyone else. That must change. Only the universalist form of Christianity can move people to love God with a true love freely given, and to serve God and their fellow man with a depth of compassion that springs only from the knowledge that all people are God’s children and all will meet again one day in our Father’s house.

So let’s turn off the fiery televangelists and throw out the angry tracts that say “confess Christ or else…” and find a real reason to believe in him and walk in the way he showed us so many centuries ago. It is a path that is often forgotten, but which is ever relevant and leads to an outcome infinitely greater than anything that is usually preached from the pulpit. It is a path that leads out of hell and into heaven — a path that all souls someday shall tread. The first step is to discover who God really is, who we really are, and how we have been deceived into thinking the divine path is something very different from what it really is. Trusting in the Spirit to lead us to the truth, let’s begin the journey!

The Sonship of Jesus and All People

One of the personas of God is the human form. Specifically, the Bible informs us that the historical man Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ (Hebrew: Mashiach, “Messiah”), who is the very embodiment of the divine essence. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). That is why Christians call Jesus “Lord.” Jesus Christ is described in the Gospel as the Son of God, which is a title intended to convey his special relationship and kinship with God the Father. The Son is separate from the Father in the sense that a human being is not the same thing as the Infinite Source of all being; yet in a mysterious way, it is still accurate to refer to Christ as God. Perhaps it is similar to the way a cup of water drawn from the ocean is the ocean, yet it is not the entire ocean. Jesus is divine, but as a human being with the limitations of a physical body, he is certainly not the whole sum of divinity. Here’s another analogy: The relationship of God the Son and God the Father might be likened to the way that we can look at a painting of a man and say, “There is a man.” We can even recognize who it is, if we know the subject. The painting is the image of the man, just as Paul says Christ is the “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

But Jesus Christ’s Sonship is more than just that. Because God is the Father, Christ as Son of God is begotten by God. This idea was demonstrated in a miraculous way through the virgin birth of Jesus. God brought this miracle to pass because he wanted to make the point that Jesus’ Father truly was God, rather than merely an imperfect man. The point is, Jesus is perfect because his Father is perfect — and the only Father who brought Jesus into being was God Himself.

Nevertheless, we should not read too much into the title “Son of God.” It was intended to set Jesus apart as especially holy, but not as totally unique. In the Old Testament, the king of Israel was also described as God’s son. He even was said to have been “begotten” by God, though in a metaphorical rather than literal sense. God says, “I have set my king on Zion, My holy hill.” The king of Israel responds, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are My son; today I have begotten you.'” (Ps. 2:6-7 NRSV). This psalm is believed to have been used on occasion of the coronation of a king. It also has significance as a prophecy of the Messiah, who will reign spiritually from Jerusalem over all the nations. It was simultaneously a statement about God’s special relationship with the Hebrew king of the day, and with the spiritual King who was yet to come, who came as Jesus and manifested the fullest reality of the concept of a begotten Son of God.

God as Father does not only apply to God’s relationship with Jesus. Far from it! God says, “I have found David My servant; with My sacred oil I have anointed him. … He will call out to Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ I will also appoint him My firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.” (Ps. 89:20,26-27). But not only King David was regarded as God’s firstborn son. Long before he ever received this title, Adam was the son of God — and as the first man on earth, he was the archetype of all men. Unlike other men but like Jesus, Adam had no earthly father. The difference is that Adam fell into sin whereas Jesus overcame it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Adam is also regarded as God’s offspring. In the New Testament, this archetypal ancestor of the entire human race is referred to as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). The implication is that since we are all descended from Adam, we all are in some way the children of God.

“Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?…” asks the prophet Malachi (Mal. 2:10). The Apostle Paul answers the question: There is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:6). Paul preached in a sermon to the Athenians that God “is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.'” (Acts 17:27-28).

The word used in Greek for “offspring” in this verse is genos, which implies the relationship of a father begetting a child. Paul could have chosen a Greek word indicating only physical creation such as one might make an object, but instead he specifically decided to use a word conveying the idea of generation, kinship, same-species birth. By affirming the belief of the Athenian poets and philosophers that humans are intimately related and connected to God — not mere creatures like the animals but in fact the very kin of God, sons and daughters of the Spirit — Paul is stating a truth that may strike many Christians today as radical and revolutionary. But this was clearly taught as an important theme of the Gospel in the early church. This idea fits naturally with the teaching in Genesis that Adam and Eve, the first parents of the human race, were made in the image of God and therefore all human beings are God’s descendents bearing His divine resemblance. Somehow, this essential Biblical concept has largely escaped the notice of most Christians for hundreds of years.

If sonship is not only for Jesus but for all people, then that means we are all to be like Jesus, manifesting the light and love of our heavenly Father God who is “the Father of our spirits” (Heb. 12:9). Jesus teaches us to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35). Jesus said to crowds of people in his famous Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” (Mat. 5:14).Imagine that! How often do we hear traditional Christian ministers preaching that the divine light is not only limited to Jesus but also resides in us? Jesus continues: “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (vss. 14-16). We are called to openly manifest our sonship even as Jesus did, not hiding it for fear that people may think us arrogant to believe we are the offspring of God. Jesus makes it clear that when we do what is right and good, we are showing our true nature and living up to our station as children of the Divine Light.

Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). He said, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the One who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the One who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:44-46). When we call Jesus the Light, we are recognizing that the light of God within him is stronger than our own — even though Jesus said we can also be the light of the world. Knowing Jesus as the perfect Light who came into this world that is filled with darkness means that we understand our need to follow one who has more light than we do, so that we, too, can learn how to be filled with light and spread it to others until the whole world may be filled with God’s Spirit of light and love.

Jesus warned that he was going to die and ascend to his Father, and that after that it would be more difficult for people to follow his path because they would not be able to see his living example. He instructed people to follow him earnestly while he was alive on earth, so that they could learn how to become like him to manifest the divine light as children of God: “The light [Jesus] is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:35-36 NRSV). Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means coming into the knowledge of our own sonship, and developing and practicing our capability of living according to the way of light that Jesus showed during his earthly incarnation.

Indeed, discipleship means both recognition of our station as well as action to live accordingly, which is often difficult. Because we are the children of Adam in addition to the children of God, we also have the fallen Adamic nature within us, not only the divine nature. We must struggle to overcome these sinful tendencies and learn to live according to the spirit (Christ) rather than the flesh (Adam). This means rejecting the temptations of darkness and evil we are prone to fall into, and embracing the spiritual path of Christ. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8-10). Our transformation from darkness to light, from our fallen inheritance of corruption and death in Adam to our glorious station of sonship and eternal life in Christ, is a process of awakening to our true potential for which we were originally created. When the morning of spiritual rebirth arrives — at a time and in a way that is different for each person — God says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (vs. 14).

 

 

 

Jesus Christ Did Not Teach Hell

love-godMisunderstood and Mistranslated Words of Jesus – by “God’s Plan For All

Hell believing Christians argue that Jesus Christ Himself preached more about hell than any other person in the Bible. In this chapter, we shall see how, where and why hell believers misunderstand and mistranslate Jesus’s words. However, before we do this, let us first highlight three scriptures spoken by Jesus Christ Himself, which categorically prove without any doubt that He did not believe in hell.

Luke 23:34
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

This is an amazing prayer request from Jesus Christ to God the Father. Think about it. There is no greater sin one could commit than to murder the very Son of God, and yet, there was not even the slightest hint of any revenge or unforgiveness in Jesus’s heart towards His unbelieving murderers. We know for certain that Father God will grant His Son’s request. Surely, this wonderful and gracious single request from Jesus to His Father God, for the forgiveness of His enemies, is ample proof in and of itself that Jesus Christ did not believe in hell.

Jesus Christ strongly condemned the religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the Jewish chief priests, Pharisees and elders who plotted against Him and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate to be crucified. However, Jesus never believed that these self-righteous chief priests, Pharisees and elders, who became His murderers, would end up in hell; in fact quite the opposite, Jesus clearly told them that they were all destined to enter the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 21:31
Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.”

In this verse, Jesus directly addresses the Jewish chief priests, Pharisees and elders who confronted Him in the temple and questioned His authority. Let the truth of this scripture sink deep down into your heart. What is Jesus saying here? Jesus is saying that these Jewish chief priests, Pharisees and elders, who crucified Him, will enter the Kingdom of God, but not before tax collectors and harlots. Do we believe Jesus’s words? Surely, this would have been an ideal opportunity for Jesus to warn these chief priests, Pharisees and elders about hell, but instead Jesus said that even they were destined to enter the Kingdom of God. Did Jesus believe in hell? Absolutely not!

John 12:32-33 (NIV)
32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Jesus was lifted up on the cross to die for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). The cross of Jesus Christ has unlimited power to draw all to Jesus. Ultimately, in God’s time and His order, which extends beyond this age, Jesus says that He will draw all to Himself. Please note, the original Greek Manuscripts simply say in verse 32, ‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself’. This means that all fallen men and all fallen angels, without a single exception, will be reconciled to God through the glorious work of the cross, as clearly stated in Colossians 1:15-20.

The three scriptures that we have just looked at, spoken by Jesus Christ Himself, categorically and absolutely prove that Jesus Christ did not believe in hell.

Let us now examine in detail what Jesus Christ is supposed to have said about ‘hell’ and understand how His words, about the future judgement of all unbelievers and fallen angels, have been misunderstood and mistranslated by hell believers.

Let us first remind ourselves of a few salient points that we have covered in previous chapters: Chapters 15, 16 and 17.

Belief in eternal punishment in hell was a pagan belief embraced and christianised by the church in Rome in the early years of the history of Christianity. The doctrine of everlasting punishment in hell is founded upon a combination of mistranslations and misinterpretations of certain original Hebrew and Greek words (sheol, hades, tartarus, gehenna, owlam, aion and aionios) which first occurred when Jerome translated Scripture into the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate in the fifth century.

Jesus Christ never spoke about ‘everlasting fire’ or ‘everlasting punishment’ as erroneously translated in scriptures such as Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:41 and Matthew 25:46 in most popular versions of the Bible that support the doctrine of hell. The correct translation of these terms are ‘age-lasting fire’ and ‘age-lasting punishment’ as we explain in detail in the previous chapter, Chapter 17.

When Jesus Christ uses the term ‘gehenna fire’ as in Matthew 18:9, He does not mean everlasting tormenting hell fire. By the term ‘gehenna fire’, Jesus means God’s age-lasting refining fire on the Day of Judgement. Chapter 16 explains this in detail.

For the rest of this chapter, we shall examine what Jesus Christ means when He uses terms like ‘perish’, ‘where their worm does not die’, ‘and the fire is not quenched’, ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’, and other such terms which have all been misunderstood and misinterpreted by hell believers. We have allocated one whole chapter, the next chapter, to understanding the true biblical meaning of Jesus’s parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’, which has been the most widely used proof source for hell believers.

‘Perish’

Luke 13:3
I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish(apollymi).

Jesus Christ says that all people who die unrepentant will perish. The original Greek word translated as perish in this verse isapollymi. It is necessary to fully understand the meaning of this important Greek word apollymi, which Jesus Christ uses several times to describe the age-to-come judgement of unbelievers in the Lake of Fire.

In the Bible, apollymi is translated into English to give several meanings: to perish, to destroy, to put to ruin, to render useless, to kill and to lose (Strong’s G622). In the verse above, Christ is saying that all people who die as unbelievers will ‘perish’, which will be in the Lake of Fire. However, because they will ‘perish’ (apollymi), this does not mean that they will be annihilated or lost forever. In the beautiful story of the lost son, the prodigal son, given in the same Gospel in Luke 15, Jesus Christ uses this very same Greek wordapollymi.

Luke 15:24
‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost(apollymi), and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

So, when Jesus Christ says in Luke 13:3, that ‘unless you repent you will all likewise perish’, Jesus does not mean that all those who do not repent will be annihilated or punished eternally. The parable of the lost son proves this categorically because the lost (apollymi) son (perished son) was not lost forever because he was found once he repented. From this parable, we know that the lost or ‘perished’ son was able to repent of his sin and he was gladly accepted back by his father with great celebration.

Luke 19:10
The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost(apollymi).

Once again, we see that the same Greek word apollymi is used in this verse. How many are lost? All people are born lost with a sinful fallen Adamic nature referred to in the Bible as ‘the old man’. The Bible says that there is not one righteous, no, not even one. Jesus Christ will save all people without exception, as man’s fallen will and Satan’s rebellious will cannot frustrate God’s sovereign will to save all of the lost (apollymi).

Christ is indeed committed to saving all those who are lost, all those who are perished, like the prodigal son. Jesus Christ is indeed the Great Saviour of the lost, and He is absolutely not a great annihilator or a great torturer of people in hell.

Matthew 10:28
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy (apollymi) both soul and body in hell (gehenna).

In this NKJV scripture, the Greek word gehenna has once again been mistranslated as hell.

Christ says that we must not fear men who at worst can only kill us physically, but they cannot ‘kill the soul’ meaning they cannot take away the resurrected immortal life, which God will grant to all people. However, we need to fear God in this life, because if we don’t then there is judgement awaiting us in gehenna, meaning in the Lake of Fire, on the Great White Throne Judgement Day.

Notice in Matthew 10:28 above, how Christ once again uses the same word apollymi. The destruction (apollymi) of ‘both soul and body’ in gehenna refers to the Second Death, which is the spiritual death of ‘the old man’ in the Lake of Fire. Our sinful Adamic ‘old man’ must first be destroyed before the righteous ‘new man’ in Christ can be born in us. All unbelievers, who will rise at the Second Resurrection in their immortal yet still unsaved bodies, will die the Second Death in the Lake of Fire. We cover this subject in detail in Chapter 12, The Lake of Fire Judgement Age – Part 1.

Matthew 10:39
He who finds his life will lose (apollymi) it, and he who loses(apollymi) his life for My sake will find it.

In this verse, Christ once again emphasises the same truth by using the Greek word apollymi. We must first lose our old self-righteous Adamic ‘old man’ (crucified with Christ) through repentance and belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, before we can be born again into New Life in Christ. This is true for believers during this life and for unbelievers in the Lake of Fire Judgement Age.

It should now be abundantly clear that when Jesus Christ uses the Greek word apollymi when referring to the future judgement of unbelievers in gehenna (mistranslated as hell), He does not mean that unbelievers will perish, be lost, killed, destroyed, ruined or tortured for eternity. Jesus is clearly referring to the future age-lasting corrective, refining and merciful judgement of all unbelievers during the Lake of Fire Judgement Age.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish (apollymi) but have everlasting life.

This is the verse most frequently quoted by Christians. However, the true meaning of this scripture is distorted by hell believers.

Father God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Only true believers have everlasting life by faith now, and they will come into the actuality of it when they rise in their saved and glorified immortal bodies in the First Resurrection when Christ returns.

However, all unbelievers will rise in the Second Resurrection, in their unsaved immortal bodies, and they will need to perish in God’s corrective Lake of Fire judgement. This is because their sinful Adamic ‘old man’ will need to be destroyed (crucified with Christ) so that their righteous ‘new man’ in Christ is born in them. They will become born again believers through dying the Second Death in the Lake of Fire, as we explain in detail in Chapter 12.

Let us now look at a scripture from the Old Testament, which agrees with and confirms what Jesus Christ says that unbelievers first need to be ‘perished’ before they come to seek God and be saved.

Psalm 83:16-18
16 Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O LORD. 17 Let them be confounded and dismayed forever; yes, let them be put to shame and perish, 18 that they may know that You, whose name alone is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

Please note that through God’s judgement of putting to shame unbelievers and perishing them, they will learn to seek God and will come to know the one true God of the Bible who is the Most High over all the earth. We can see that these unbelievers who have perished are still alive after they have been perished. However, they are not the same as before being perished because they are alive with the knowledge of the one true God, the Most High over all the earth. This verse proves that the perishing which resurrected unbelievers undergo in God’s Lake of Fire Judgement Age is neither annihilation nor eternal spiritual separation from God, but it is the Second Death, the death of the old Adamic nature ‘the old man’, so that all unbelievers may become born again believers reconciled to Father God Almighty through the work of the cross.

‘Where their worm does not die’

Mark 9:44
Where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’

What did Christ mean by ‘where their worm does not die’? Let us understand the spiritual significance of the term, ‘their worm’.

Mark 9:42-44
42 ‘But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Meto stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell (gehenna), into the fire that shall never be quenched— 44 where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’

Here, Jesus gives a warning not to offend ‘these little ones who believe in Me’. So, who are ‘these little ones’? These little ones are God’s Elect, all those who become truly born again Christians in this lifetime, those who have fully accepted by repentance and faith the true Gospel of the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ says that those who offend ‘the little ones’ will face severe judgement in God’s consuming fire, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’. It is better for an offender of ‘the little ones’ to take a drastic action (compared to cutting off the offending part of the body) and repent of his offence before he dies, than to have to face the fiery, refining judgement of God in the Lake of Fire (gehenna).

Whose worm does not die? Is it the worm of ‘the little ones’ or the worm of the offenders? Please notice that the word ‘worm’ is singular, so we are not talking about many worms, but only one worm, their worm. Here is the wonderful scripture, which reveals exactly who ‘their worm’ is.

Psalm 22:6
But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people.

Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm. It is a prophecy of the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus humbled Himself on the cross for the sins of the whole world so that we might all have God’s Righteousness through the free gift of Salvation.

In Psalm 22:6 above, Jesus categorically says that He is a Worm. On the cross, Jesus Christ humbled Himself like a worm for all of mankind and we must learn from His example of great humility. All hard-hearted unbelievers will be humbled in the Lake of Fire and come to understand the sacrifice of their Saviour. So, who is ‘their worm’ who ‘does not die’ in Mark 9:44 above?

‘Their Worm’ is none other than the Saviour of all people who died on the cross for the sins of the whole world. ‘Their Worm’ will reconcile to Father God all things on earth and all things in heaven having made peace through the blood of His cross. ‘Their Worm’ is the resurrected immortal Saviour of the whole world, our Lord Jesus Christ, who does not die and who cannot die.

‘And the fire is not quenched’
Mark 9:48-49
48 Where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be seasoned with fire, every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.

Let us remind ourselves that the Lake of Fire is both God’s physical and spiritual cleansing on the Great White Throne Judgement Day. God’s physical Lake of Fire is an age-lasting fire and it will not be quenched until every unbeliever and every fallen angel has been refined, purified and reconciled to God by God’s Spiritual Fire, which is of course, eternal and unquenchable.

We fully deal with the subject of God’s refining fire in Chapter 12

‘Weeping and gnashing of teeth’
Jesus Christ had some very strong words to say to the Pharisees, because He absolutely hated their self-righteousness. The Pharisees believed that they would be amongst the first to enter the Kingdom of God, but Jesus Christ said quite the opposite.

Matthew 21:31b
Jesus said to them (the Pharisees), “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.

Self-righteous Pharisees and self-righteous Christians, who think that they are the sons of the kingdom, will be absolutely shocked on the Day of Judgement to find themselves outside of the Kingdom of God in spiritual darkness, and many sinners, like tax collectors and harlots whom they condemned, enter the Kingdom of God before them.
These religious self-righteous people will weep because of great disappointment and gnash their teeth in despair and anger because all of their religious works were a complete waste of time, and to no avail for their salvation.

Matthew 8:12
But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Religious people think that they will go to heaven because of what they do for God, instead of accepting by faith what God has already done for the whole world, through the finished work of the cross.

Of course, God loves self-righteous people, but not in their self-righteous state. Yes, even the self-righteous Pharisees will ultimately enter the Kingdom of God, as confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 21:31 above.

‘More tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, and for Sodom and Gomorrah’

Matthew 11:20-22
20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: 21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

When Jesus walked on earth, He did many mighty works in the towns and cities of Israel, but most of the Jews did not accept Him as the Son of God and did not repent of their unbelief. Jesus says that these Jews are accountable for their unbelief, and on the Day of Judgement they will face a greater level of judgement than Tyre and Sidon, who would have repented if they had witnessed Jesus doing similar mighty works.

Matthew 10:14-15
14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for that city!

On the Day of Judgement, Jesus says that all unbelievers will not face the same level of judgement. Those who hear the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and then reject it will undergo a greater level of judgement; yes, even greater than Sodom and Gomorrah, which God destroyed by fire because of their sexual abominations.

The Bible is clear that there will be different levels of judgement, punishment and humbling experiences for unbelievers in the future Lake of Fire Judgement Age. However, all of God’s judgements flow out of His love and are designed to lead people to repentance and belief in their Saviour, and not to eternal torture in hell.
What about everlasting punishment?

Matthew 25:46
And these will go away into everlasting (aionios) punishment, but the righteous into eternal (aionios) life.

We fully looked into this mistranslated verse in the previous chapter, Chapter 17. This verse is the most frequently quoted verse used in defence of the doctrine of hell. The correct translation of this verse, as given below, reveals God’s merciful age-to-come, age-lasting corrective judgement of all unbelievers in the Lake of Fire.

Matthew 25:46
And these will go away into an age-to-come punishment, but the righteous into an age-to-come life.

This is indeed the true meaning of this verse, as originally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it does not introduce any contradictions whatsoever into the Word of God.
What about Judas – was it better for him if he had not been born?

Matthew 26:24
The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.

If the doctrine of hell were true, then it would be better for most people not to have been born, because traditional Christianity believes that the overwhelming majority of people end up in hell. If this were the case, then all women should immediately stop having children, because the chances are that most if not all of their children would end up in hell.

The meaning the verse above is that it would have been better for Judas not to have been born to betray Jesus, because Judas will have to go through God’s Lake of Fire judgement before he can be reconciled to God. Let us further understand why Jesus says that it would have been better for Judas not to have been born to betray Him.

John 17:12
While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

John 13:18
I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me’.

These verses refer to Judas. It was written in the Old Testament that Judas would betray Jesus (Psalm 41:9). It may be hard for us to understand that Judas was chosen right from the foundation of the world to betray Jesus. Think about it, if Judas had not betrayed Jesus, then we would not have a Saviour. Judas understood the way of Righteousness, but then he rejected it. He was called, but not chosen.

2 Peter 2:21
For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.

The Bible says that it would have been better for Judas and many other people not to have known the way of Righteousness, than having known it to then turn away from it. Judas and all sons of perdition (ungodly men) will face the Lake of Fire judgement before they can be reconciled to God.
What about the ‘unpardonable sin’?

Matthew 12:31-32
31 Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

The Pharisees blasphemed against the Holy Spirit by falsely attributing the miraculous works performed by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to the works of demons. Jesus says that the sins of these unbelieving Pharisees will not be forgiven during ‘this age’, which was the age when Jesus was alive, nor will their sins be forgiven during ‘the age to come’, meaning the next age (the present age) after Jesus was resurrected. In other words, these unbelieving Pharisees all died unforgiven. However, please note that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit remains unforgiven for ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ only, but not forever.

All unbelievers will be humbled and repent during the Lake of Fire Judgement Age, and all of them will be forgiven, as explained in Chapter 12. Remember, Jesus Christ died to forgive the sins of thewhole world. Also, Jesus’ last and most important prayer to Father God, before He died on the cross, was to ask for the forgiveness of all those who were in agreement to crucify Him. No doubt, the Pharisees who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit are also included in that group, and they will repent, be forgiven, and be reconciled to God in the Lake of Fire Judgement Age, and enter the Kingdom of God.
What about the resurrection of condemnation?

John 5:28-29
28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (krisis).

Please note that the Greek word krisis has been translated ascondemnation and should have been more accurately translated as judgement (Strong’s G2920).

The Bible speaks about two resurrections, the First Resurrection and the Second Resurrection, which are separated by the thousand-year Millennial Age of Christ’s rule on this earth. The First Resurrection is the resurrection of life when the Saints, God’s Elect Bride of Christ, will be raised in their saved immortal bodies at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

The Second Resurrection is both the resurrection of life and the resurrection of judgement. The Second Resurrection occurs when the rest of humanity are resurrected at the end of Christ’s Millennial Age, when the Lake of Fire Judgement Age begins. This is when all believers who lived during Christ’s Millennial Age will be resurrected in their saved immortal bodies to join God’s Elect Bride of Christ from the First Resurrection. However, all unbelievers from throughout the Ages will be resurrected in their unsaved immortal bodies for judgement (krisis) in God’s refining, yet merciful Lake of Fire.
What about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus, as given in Luke 16:19-31, is about the mystery of the Kingdom of God. This parable is the most misunderstood of all of Jesus’ parables. We have allocated the next chapter, Chapter 19, to explain this parable in detail.

We have now fully covered all of the scriptures spoken by Jesus and used by hell believing Christians to provide their ‘proof texts’ in support of the doctrine of eternal torture in hell. As we have seen from Scripture, Jesus Christ did not believe in or teach the false doctrine of hell.
Additional Misunderstood Texts

There are some additional texts in the Bible, not directly spoken by Jesus, but used by hell believing ‘Christians’ in support of the doctrine of hell. Let us now examine three of these texts, Isaiah 66:23-24, Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews10:26-27.

Text 1

Isaiah 66:23-24
23 “And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me.For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be abhorrence to all flesh.”

With any given scripture, it is important to understand the age-setting in which it is placed. As we have shown in this book, God is working out His wonderful Plan for the salvation and reconciliation of all in seven biblical ages.

The age-setting of Isaiah 66:23-24 above is at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom of God, after Christ has destroyed the vast armies of invading Gentiles, Gog and Magog, at the battle of Armageddon.

Verse 23 above says, ‘And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the LORD. Only Jews are required to keep the Sabbath, therefore, ‘all flesh’ here refers to all of the Jews who will survive the Great Tribulation. In Chapter 11,The Millennial Kingdom of God, we showed from Scripture that approximately one third of the Jews will survive the Great Tribulation to enter Christ’s Millennial Age in their fleshly bodies.

We are now in a position to understand verse 24 in its proper context.

‘And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me’

These corpses are the huge armies of dead Gentile unbelievers, Gog and Magog, who will fight in the final great battle of Armageddon, which will take place at the end of this present age. Jesus Christ Himself will put an end to this war at His Second Coming, as explained in Chapter 10. At the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Age, all around Jerusalem in God’s Promised Land, there will be millions of dead bodies of soldiers who came to attack Jerusalem in this last great battle of Armageddon. All of the surviving Jews who enter Christ’s Millennial Kingdom will abhor the sight of millions of rotting, stinking corpses in their land as this scripture says, ‘They shall be abhorrence to all flesh’. The Bible says that it will take seven months for the Jews to bury these dead corpses. (Ezekiel 39:11-16).

The expression ‘for their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched’, in Isaiah 66:24 above, is repeated by Jesus Christ Himself in Mark 9:48, which we have explained previously in this chapter. This expression in no way supports the doctrine of hell, but it does support the glorious truth of the Bible that the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ (their worm), is the Saviour of all men, which includes all of these dead unbelieving armies of Gog and Magog. Also, please remember that God is a consuming fire and His refining, yet merciful, Lake of Fire Judgement will ensure that all, without a single exception, will come to believe in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Text 2

Hebrews 6:4-6
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

Please note that these people who hear the good word of God and reject it, only taste but do not eat and digest it. They merely taste the Bread of Life without actually eating it. They have a degree of mind understanding of the Gospel, but not the full heart understanding of it. They are tares, but not wheat. The seed (the good word of God) is sown on their poor soil, which bears no fruit.

However, please note that the scripture above does not say that people who reject the truth of the Gospel are lost forever. Yes, it is impossible for people who end up rejecting and falling away from the truth of the Gospel to renew them again to repentance in this life before they die, but they are not lost forever. Nobody can be lost forever because the Bible clearly states in numerous scriptures, many of which are quoted in this book, that God who is the Saviour of the world will save all people, without a single exception.

Text 3

Hebrews 10:26-27
26 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries.

God views a man as ‘sinning deliberately’ when he rejects the truth of the Gospel that the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, is indeed the Saviour of the whole world, after having had this truth clearly preached to him. Such people who ‘sin deliberately’ are accountable for their sin of unbelief, and they will have to face God’s fiery judgement in His consuming, refining Lake of Fire before they are reconciled to God.

God’s Lake of Fire judgement for all unbelievers will be a fearful judgement, but it will not be eternal torment in hell. It will be an age-lasting, humbling and refining judgement from a loving Father God who chastises His rebellious children to bring them to repentance. Ultimately, in God’s time and His order, all will be reconciled to God and all will enter the Eternal Kingdom of God of the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Conclusion

The whole purpose of Jesus Christ coming down from heaven to this earth and dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world was to do the will of His Father, which is the salvation of all people. Jesus Christ will save all and lose nothing.

Luke 19:10
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

All of humanity became lost because of the sin of the First Adam, but all of humanity will be saved because of the loving sacrifice of the Last Adam, the only begotten Son of God who died on the cross to forgive the sins of the whole world, ‘to save that which was lost’.

Most certainly, our Lord Jesus Christ did not believe in or preach hell anywhere in the Bible. He preached the glorious Gospel of the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness for the reconciliation and salvation of all.

 

The Case Against the Existence of Hell

funny-devil_1200OK, so you are stuck in the trap of organized Christianity and have been told that unless you accept Christ as your personal lord and savior you are going to go to hell.  You might have even already read the articles on Universal Salvation, but still might have the hebejebees.  So, for those of you who interpret the bible to be the infallible, inerrant word of God, today is your lucky day! Did you know that there is a solid scriptural case to be made against the idea of Hell? Many non-Christians have rejected the concept of Hell, but it may come as a surprise to learn that there is a growing number of Bible-believing Christians who also reject the notion—not in spite of Scripture but because of it! An open and unbiased study of the Bible, including many key Greek and Hebrew words as well as Church history will reveal some surprising things.

For instance, did you know that……..

“Hell” Is Not an Old Testament doctrine:

Popular myth: Hell is an established Biblical doctrine that is in the Bible from start to finish. This is not true! Two thirds of the Bible (the Old Testament) do not mention Hell at all. (“Sheol,” the Old Testament word that is sometimes translated as Hell, only means “grave” by definition, and it is where everyone in the Old Testament went when they died). Thus the Old Testament does not truly contain the concept of Hell!

Think about it………

  • If Hell is real, why didn’t God make that warning plain right at the beginning of the Bible? God said the penalty for eating of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was death–not “eternal life” in fire and brimstone.
  • If Hell is real, why wasn’t Cain warned about it, or Sodom and Gomorrah, or any of those who committed the earliest recorded “sins?”
  • If Hell is real why didn’t Moses warn about this fate in the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Covenant consisting of over 600 laws, ordinances, and warnings? The Mosaic Law simply stated blessings and cursings in this lifetime.
  • If Hell is real, why are its roots in paganism, rather than the Bible? Many nations surrounding Israel in the Old Testament believed in Hell-like punishment in the afterlife, for they served bloodthirsty and evil “gods.”
  • If Hell is real, why was the revelation of it first given to pagan nations, instead of God’s covenant people? Did God expect Israel to learn about the afterlife from the Pagan Gentiles?
  • If Hell is real, why did God tell the Jews that burning their children alive in the fire to the false god Molech, (in the valley of Gehenna) was so detestable to Him? God said that such a thing “never even entered His mind” (Jer. 32:35).

How could God say such a thing to Israel, if He has plans to burn alive a good majority of His own creation in everlasting fires?

**FACT: The King James Bible erroneously translates the word “Sheol” as Hell a total of 31 times in the Old Testament, thus setting a foundation for that doctrine in the New Testament as well as the majority of Bible translations to follow the KJV. Even so, most new translations have completely eliminated Hell from the Old Testament, as honest and better scholarship has demanded. The Jewish version of the Old Testament (the Tanakh) has no concept of Hell in it. The importance of this fact cannot be over-emphasized. If a doctrine does not appear as seed form in the books of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, it cannot fairly be taught as a major biblical doctrine, if indeed it can be taught as biblical at all!

Hell Is Not a New Testament Doctrine:

Popular myth: Jesus spoke of Hell more than He did of Heaven. This is not true! Jesus warned the Jews many times of impending destruction, both nationally and individually. He used several different terms to refer to punishment/destruction, some of which were erroneously translated as the same word, “Hell” by Bible translators. We do not deny that God will indeed judge the whole world, and nor do we wish to make light of His judgments. Rather, we are challenging the belief that His judgment on sin and unbelief is eternal torment/Hell and never-ending separation from God. Certainly, Jesus spent a lot of his ministry warning people to repent or reap the consequences, (particularly “Gehenna.”) But could we be reading more into His warnings than He originally intended?

Think about it…….

  • If Hell is real, why were most of the warnings pertaining to punishment/Gehenna directed to Israel, particularly the Lord’s own disciples as well as the Pharisees? The first great cluster of references to Gehenna, are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5:22, 29, 30), Jesus’ great sermon to His disciples in which He warned that one was in danger of Gehenna for the likes of calling someone a fool. This is a far cry from our modern Evangelical interpretation that says not accepting Jesus as your Savior is what sends someone to Hell.
  • If Hell is real, aren’t we taking verses out of context when we warn sinners/outsiders of Hell, when in the original context they were directed to covenant people?

Since the concept of Hell doesn’t exist in the Old Testament, how could Jesus and his disciples teach that salvation was deliverance from a place that is not even found in their Scriptures? And if He was introducing the subject for the first time, why did He do it so casually, as though His listeners already understood what He was talking about?

  • If Hell is real, since some English translations use the word Hell for the Greek word “Gehenna,” in the New Testament, why didn’t this same place (Gehenna) get translated Hell in the many places where it appears in the Hebrew form “ga ben Hinnom” in the Old Testament?
  • If the Jews did not understand “Gehenna” as a symbol of everlasting torture, but rather as a place of shame, filth, and defilement (where Israel participated in the grossest form of idol worship), why does modern theology ascribe more to the word than the original meaning did? The teaching of Gehenna has evolved in Jewish teachings to include punishment in the afterlife; but even today, Gehenna still does not mean “endless” punishment to the Jews.
  • If Hell is real how could the Apostle Paul (who was especially commissioned by God to preach the gospel to the nations) say that he had declared the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27), when indeed he never warned of “Hell” in any of his letters? If Hell is real, wouldn’t Paul, of all people, warn of it repeatedly?
  • If Hell is real, the sin/death of Adam has had a far more powerful effect on the world than the resurrection life of Christ! And yet Paul declares in Romans 5 that Christ’s victory is far greater than Adam’s transgression! Listen to Paul’s confidence in the work of Christ! If Paul believed in eternal hell for the majority of men, how could he write the following verses?

“…Just as the result of one trespass (Adam’s) was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness (Christ’s) was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18,19).

“Since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22)

“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the

Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4;10).

(The above verses are just a few of the many verses where Paul writes of a pre-eminent Christ that far transcends the traditional Christian view. This article is full of many more New Testament references by Paul that display his views of the Christ triumphant, unlimited, all-powerful, all-conquering, and victorious).

  • If Hell is real, why is it that the only time Paul even mentioned “Hell” in any of his epistles, was declare the triumph of Christ over it? (1 Corinthians 15:55). The word “Grave” in the passage is the Greek word “Hades.”
  • If Hell is real, why is it not mentioned once in the book of Acts in any the evangelistic sermons that were recorded by the early Apostles?
  • If Hell is real why do some of the best Bible scholars and Bible teachers say it is not in the Greek or Hebrew text? (William Barclay, John A.T. Robinson, Lightfoot, Westcott, F.W. Farrar, Marvin Vincent, etc.)
  • If Hell is real, why does the word itself come from the Teutonic “Hele” (goddess of the underworld “Hell” of northern Europe). The description of this ancient mythological place has very little resemblance anymore to the modern Christian image of Hell. See any encyclopedia or dictionary for the origin of the word.

FACT: The apocryphal books of the intertestimental period had a tremendous impact on the Jews in the time of Christ. It is from these books, especially the book of Enoch, that many of the Jewish myths and fables concerning Hell, heaven, demons and angels and many other fables first became a part of Judaism and from there became a part of Christianity. The myths and fables of these books came from Pagan influences (namely Zoroastrianism), during and after the Babylonian captivity of Israel. In fact, Zoroastrianism looks more like modern Christianity in many ways than ancient Judiasm does!

  • If Hell is real, why did Paul warn Timothy repeatedly to stay away from Jewish myths and fables, the likes of which were influencing many in the early church? Rather than affirming such doctrines, Paul declares them to profane fables.

Hell Contradicts The Work of the Messiah:

Popular myth: Jesus came to save the sinner from his destination of everlasting Hell. Not exactly true! Hell was never a place that the Jews were hoping to be saved from, since they didn’t even believe in it! But they did need to be saved from their sins and consequences of them; namely death. Jesus came as the Anointed One to fulfill all of God’s plan for the earth—that through Him might come the salvation, deliverance of sin, peace, kingdom of God and all that God had promised through the Old Testament scriptures. There is much we can say here, but for the sake of brevity we will limit our points to a few key passages. Please take the time to look up the verses that are referenced.

Think about it…..

  • If Hell is real, why does Psalm 22 (one of the most prophetic passages in scripture concerning the Messiah) promise that because of the cross, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’S and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive” (Psalm 22:27-29 NASB).
  • If Hell is real, did Jesus fail in His mission? He said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).
  • If Hell is real and most find their way to it, was Jesus lying when He said He said if He was lifted up (crucified) that He would “draw” (“drag” in the original Greek word, “helkyo”) all mankind unto Himself? (John 12:32)
  • If Hell is real, how can the Scriptures speak of the gathering of all things into Christ? (Eph. 1:10)
  • If Hell is real, how can all things be subdued unto Christ? (1 Corinthians 15:28, Philippians 3:21, Hebrews 2:8).
  • If Hell is real, how can it be that the scriptures promise that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).
  • If Hell is real, how will Jesus ever see the travail of His soul and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11)? If the traditional understanding is correct, most of those He came to save will never experience His salvation. Do we believe that this would be satisfying to Jesus?
  • If Hell is real, and God sent Jesus came to save people from it, can we really say that the will and pleasure of God has prospered in His hand, since, according to traditional theology, only a few will ever be saved? (Isaiah 53:10, and 55:11).
  • If Hell is real, and the devil is the one who deceives people into going there, isn’t he ultimately the winner in the war for souls? After all, traditional interpretation of the Bible says that more people will end up in Hell than in Heaven. If so, how can we really call Satan the defeated enemy and Christ the victor?
  • If Hell is real and most of mankind will remain in an eternal deathlike state of torment with no chance to repent or escape, how exactly are we to understand and rejoice in the fact that Jesus destroyed death and him that had the power of death (Satan)? (Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 John 3:8, Hosea 13:14, 1 Corinthians 15:55, 1 Corinthians 15:26 etc.)
  • If Hell is eternal, how can the increase of Christ’s government and of peace have no end? (Isaiah 9:7).

FACT: The term “saved” has evolved in Christianity to mean something different than it did to the original readers and hearers of Scripture. The Greek words, “sozo” and “soteria” embrace the broad meaning of being rescued, delivered, healed and saved from danger. These words were applied in a variety of ways throughout the New Testament. There is much more to the salvation of Christ than most Christians know. Sadly, much of the church is robbed of fullness of their salvation by embracing a limited and future view of what it actually means– (i.e. “going to Heaven when they die”).

Popular Myth: “Eternity” is a theme that is throughout the entire Bible, including eternal punishment. Not exactly true! We are not denying that the New Testament is full of warnings of judgment, and that the words, “everlasting” and “eternal” appear often in most translations. However, a careful study of the words that are translated to mean forever or everlasting, will prove that they have been mistranslated. The question is not whether or not God will punish sin and rebellion, but rather how He does it, and for what purpose.

Think about it……

  • If Hell is forever, why does the Hebrew word Olam which has been translated to mean “eternal/forever” used in so many verses where it clearly does not mean “everlasting? A few examples: “Everlasting” is applied to the priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the Jewish temple, to the length of time that reproach and shame should be upon the Jews. The word “forever” is applied to the duration of man’s earthly existence; to the time a child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi’s leprosy; to the to the duration of a king’s life; to the time a servant was to abide with his master; to the duration of the Jewish temple; to the time David was to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set up at Jordan; and to the time Jonah was in the fish’s belly. It should be obvious from the context that olam merely refered to an indefinate period of time–not forever!
  • Aion and related words (aionian and aionios) are the Greek equivalents of olam. Aion, literally means “age,” from which we get our English word, “eon.” Aion/age/eon, is merely a period of time. “Aionian and Aionios” are words that refer to the ages (plural) or pertaining to the ages. As long as time is being measured, it cannot be referring to eternity, which is a realm beyond the measurement of time. If “Hell” is forever, why is it described by words that pertain to the ages?
  • If the Greek word Aion and its derivatives meant eternal as some Bible scholars insist, why did contemporary Greek usage of it, at the time the New Testament was written not carry with it the idea of endless eternity? (Works by Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Hippocrates and many others use the words in a limited, not an eternal sense).
  • If Hell is forever, how do we explain the fact that aion/olam did not mean eternal/unending to the original writers and hearers of Scripture?

FACT: Some would argue that if aionian and related words do not mean eternal, then God cannot be eternal, for these words also describe Him. To this we say, that just because God is described as the God of the eons, does not mean that He is not the God who also transcends the eons. In the same way, just because He is called the God of Israel, does not also mean that He is not the God of all the other nations. Also, there are other Greek words used to refer to the unending power and life of God. They are, aptharsia/apthartos, which means imperishableness and immortality; amarantinos/amarantos which mean unfading, without loss of pristine character; and akatalytos, which means indestructable and unstoppable. They are usually translated as immortal, or incorruptible. Please refer to the following verses for reference: Hebrews 7:15-16, 1 Peter 1:3-4, 1 Peter 5:4, 1 Timothy 1:17, Romans 1:23, 1 Corinthians 9:25, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, Romans 2:7, 1 Corinthians 15:42, 2 Timothy 1:10, and 1 Timothy 6:16.

Popular Myth: One’s fate is sealed after death. If this is true, how do we deal with the following scriptures that indicate the opposite?

Think about it…….

  • “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him” (2 Samuel 14:14).
  • “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave (sheol), and bringeth up.” 1 Samuel 2: 6
  • “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
  • “I will ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol/Hell); I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave (Sheol/Hell), I will be your destruction!” (Hosea 13:11-14).
  • “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lam 3:31-33)
  • “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26).
  • If Hell is a place of no escape, why did the early church teach Jesus went to Hell (Hades), preached to them and led captivity captive? (Eph. 4:8,9; Psalm 68:18; 1 Peter 3:18-20)
  • If Hell lasts forever, why the Psalmist confidently speak again and again about being rescued from it (sheol)? (Psalms 16:10, 30:2-3, Psalm 49:15, 86:13, 116:3-8, 139:8)
  • If Hell is real, how can Solomon teach that the spirit of man will return to the God who gave it? (Ecc 12:7).
  • If the grave settled the matter forever, why did the early Christians offer up prayers for the dead? Why were they baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29).
  • “Hell” Was Not a Doctrine of the Early Church:

Popular myth: Universalism was recently introduced to Christianity in the 1800’s as the church became more liberal and modern and began to abandon their true biblical foundation. This is not true! A belief in the restitution of all things was a standard view in the early church, held by the majority of early Christians. It has also been held by a minority throughout all of church history.

Think about it……

 

  • If Hell was real, why did the first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, contain the tenet of universal salvation?
  • If Hell was real, why did the first complete presentation of Christianity (Origen, 220 A.D.) contain the doctrine of universal salvation?
  • If Hell was real, why do neither the Apostles Creed, nor the Nicean Creed, two foundational “doctrinal statements” for the early church, contain the concept of Hell?
  • If Hell was real, why did Church leaders as late as the fourth century AD acknowledge that the majority of Christians believed in the salvation of all mankind?
  • If Hell was real why did the early church appoint an avowed universalist as the President of the second council of the church of Constantinope in the fourth century? (Gregory Nazianzen, 325-381).
  • If Hell was real why did not a single Church council for the first five hundred years condemn Universalism as heresy considering the fact that they made many declarations of heresy on other teachings?
  • If Hell was real why didn’t Epiphanius (c. 315-403) the “hammer of heretics” who listed 80 heresies of his time not list universalism among those heresies?
  • If Hell was real, since most historians would acknowledge today that Origen was perhaps the most outstanding example of universalism in the church, when Methodius, Eusibius, Pamphilus, Marcellus, Eustathius, and Jerome made their lists of Origen’s heresies, why wasn’t universalism among them?
  • If Hell was real and found in the original Greek manuscripts of the Bible, why is it that it was primarily those church leaders who either couldn’t read Greek (Minucius Felix, Tertullian), or hated Greek as in the case of Augustine, that the doctrine of Hell was advocated? Those early church leaders familiar with the Greek and Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible) saw universal salvation in those texts. Those who advocated Hell got it from the Latin, not from the original Greek and Hebrew. Who would more likely be correct–those who could read the original languages of the Bible or those who read a Latin translation made by one man (Jerome)?
  • If Hell was real then why did four out of six theological schools from 170 AD to 430 AD teach universal salvation while the only one that taught Hell was in Carthage, Africa, again were Latin was the teaching language, not Greek?
  • If Hell was real and a serious heresy, why was it not until the sixth century when Justinian, a half-pagan emperor, tried to make universalism a heresy? Interestingly, most historians will acknowledge that Justinian’s reign was among the most cruel and ruthless.

Hell does not reflect the heart of God:

Popular myth: The justice of God demands a place like Hell in which the wicked shall be eternally punished for their sins. Not true! The justice of God demanded a perfect sacrifice for sin, and that man was Christ Jesus. The justice of God will certainly come to every person, and God may deal severely with our sins as He subdues and gathers all things to Christ, but to punish people endlessly for crimes committed in a short human lifespan defies all logic and justice.

Think about it……..

  • If Hell is real and all things were made for God’s pleasure (Rev. 4:11), is it conceivable that God would derive pleasure from seeing those He created endlessly tortured? God says He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez. 33:11).
  • If Hell is a real place of endless torment, and God didn’t want anyone to end up there, why didn’t God just kill Adam and Eve and end the long terrible chain of misery that passed to their offspring before it began? After all, the Scriptures say that all died because of Adam. (Rom. 5:18)
  • If Hell is real, if God loves His enemies now, will he not always love them? Is God a changeable being? (James 1:17)
  • If Hell is real, if you had sufficient power would you not deliver all men from sin? If God would save all men, but cannot, is He infinite in power?
  • If Hell is real, and God can save all men, but will not, is He infinite in goodness and mercy?
  • If Hell is real, since God will have all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3 KJV), does that mean God’s power is not strong enough to have His will fulfilled?
  • If Hell is real and Jesus teaches us to forgive seventy times seven and yet He Himself will never offer forgiveness to anyone after they die, does that not make Him a hypocrite?
  • If Hell is real and God’s wrath abides upon billions of human beings forever, doesn’t that violate the Scripture which says His anger will come to an end? (Isaiah 57:16-18)
  • If Hell is real and God only loves those who love Him, what better is He than the sinner? (Luke 6:32-33)
  • If Hell is real, since some people receive many chances to “get saved,” some receive only a few chances and billions have never even received one chance, does that make God a respecter of persons? (Acts 10:34, James 3:17). After all, billions of people have been born and died on this earth without a chance to ever hear the name of Jesus, the “only name under heaven by which men may be saved.”
  • If there is a Hell and all who have sinned are destined to go there (which is everyone) unless they figure out how to avoid it, does that not consign all aborted babies and non-Christian children to Hell? (While some denominations teach a so-called “age of accountability,” it is not found anywhere in the Bible. It is just some people’s way of trying to make God more humane than the Hell teaching makes Him out to be).
  • If Hell is real, does that mean that motherly love is more powerful and enduring than God’s love? Do you know of normal parents who would endlessly torment most of their kids? Why do we believe our heavenly Father, who is millions of times more loving than all of us combined, could do such an evil, wicked thing?
  • If Hell is real, why does the human spirit writhe under the horror of wars and prison camps, torture chambers and dictators? How can we judge these things as wrong, if Hell is real? After all, Hell far eclipses these earthly torments which came from the most sinful and beastly part of humanity. We say God is grieved by man’s violence and disregard for life, and yet believe that He Himself enforces the same principles for all eternity!
  • If Hell is real, would endless misery benefit the Almighty, as the inflictor? Would endless misery benefit the saints, as spectators? Would endless misery benefit the sinner, as the sufferer?
  • If Hell is real, how does the threat of endlessly torturing us convince us that God loves us and that we should love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?

FACT: While the church has gotten used to thinking of God as Someone who was forced to design a grandiose punishment called Hell, and against His own will sends the majority of His creation there, this concept of a God “who did the best He could” is totally against the Scriptural view of a God who is absolutely soveriegn, powerful, all-wise and all-victorious. He never had to come up with a plan B or C, for Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. It is time to give Him the glory He deserves for our God is truly awsome and wonderful far beyond the limited, and man-centered views of Him!

Come Up Higher!

What is the “lens” through which you are interpreting the Bible? Traditional doctrines teach us to interpret the “victorious” scriptures in the light of the “judgment” scriptures. But what if God wants us to see it the other way around? What if we are to interpret the “judgment” scriptures in the light of the “victorious” scriptures? Is not Christ’s victory the greatest revelation in the Bible? Standing on this highest peak—that is, the finished work of the cross, causes us to see a much larger and far more beautiful panoramic view of God’s plan throughout the ages. We do not throw out one set of Scriptures in favor of another. Rather, we seek to harmonize them…For man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

In the time of Christ most of Israel completely missed the Word of God when He was in their midst. They were too busy with their nose in the book, to perceive the WORD as He came and dwelt among them! Certainly the masses must have thought…..”But none of the teachers, Pharisees, or priests believe that Jesus is the Messiah! And they know the scripture better than me! ” That fact alone kept many Jews from daring to believe in Jesus. To do so was heresy and to admit faith in Him was basically asking for scorn and rejection. We have always been so quick to point the finger at the Pharisees, and not realize that we as the church are in the same boat today. Are we going to play it safe and side with the majority, who are clinging to their traditions and what their teachers have taught them, or will we risk it all and step out and follow Him?

The facts presented in this article should at least cause every reader who is truly hungry to know God, to search the scripture to see if these things be so. If what we are presenting here is false, it needs to be disproved. And if it is true, it cannot be ignored.

It is time to stop ignoring the parts of the Bible that do not fit in with our theology. And if, like the relgious leaders of Jesus’ day, our theology is not big enough to hold the entire counsel of Scripture, perhaps it is time to expand!

And so we ask you again to ask yourself…

If the traditional teaching of Hell is real….

  • How can mercy triumph over judgment? (James 2:13)
  • How can it be true that, “where sin abounded grace did much more abound?” (Rom. 5:20)
  • When will all flesh come to God? (Psalm 65:2-4)
  • When will the poor of the earth be avenged and comforted by God? (Psalm 113:7, Psalm 140:12, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 31:9, Isaiah 11:4, Isaiah 61:1, Jeremiah 22:16 etc.) (Bear in mind that most of the poor of the earth throughout history have not had a chance to accept Jesus as their savior).
  • When shall it come to pass that: “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 26:6-8).
  • When and how will “all nations” praise Him, come to Him, serve Him, be blessed in Him and bow to Him? (Psalm 45:17, Ps. 86:9, Isaiah 62:11, Daniel 7:14 Ps 66:1, Ps 72:11, Ps 102:15, Jer. 3:17, Ps 72:17, Isa. 2:2, Isa. 11:10, Isa. 52:10, Rev. 5:13 etc.)
  • How can the world be reconciled to God? (2 Corinthians 5:19, Romans 11;15, Romans 5:10).
  • Why would Paul the apostle say the goal of God’s creative plan was to ultimately be “all in all?” (1 Cor. 15:28)
  • How can it be true that God, who works all things according to the counsel of His will, shall gather together all things in Christ, in the fullness of the times? (Ephesians 1:9-11)
  • How can Paul insist that “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
  • How can the most often-repeated description of God be true? “His mercy endures forever” (literally, “His mercy/lovingkindness endures for the ages”). Certainly, as long as there are ages, and people in need of mercy, God’s mercy will endure.
  • How and when can there ever be a “restitution of all things?” (Acts 3:21)

A Final Test

We have tested the doctrine of Hell against many different Biblical topics and concepts and found it wanting. When scrutinized in the light of the entire counsel of Scripture, the doctrine of Hell is found to be full of holes. Now, test this doctrine against your own heart and see whether it can stand. Please take some time and prayerfully ask yourself these questions:

  • If there is a Hell and according to most denominations of Christianity the majority of mankind will go there, could you really enjoy heaven knowing your mother or father or children or best friend are suffering everlasting tortures the likes of which would make the Holocaust seem like a picnic?
  • If Hell is real, will you judge your mother, son, or other non-believers to Hell? “Do ye not know that the saints “shall judge the world”? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?” 1 Corinthians 6:2-3
  • If Hell is real and a place of terrible, unending pain, could you even send a dog to such a place?
  • If Hell is real and universalism is a heresy, why is it that those who believe God loves all and will save all find it easier to love all people than those who believe most people are going to Hell? (Think this through very carefully.)
  • If Hell is real, can you honestly rejoice in the victory, love, and wisdom of God, knowing that somewhere in His beautiful creation there will always be a black and stinking hell-hole crammed full of tortured souls who have no chance for relief or forgiveness–or even death? Even if there was only one person left in such a state, how could all of Heaven—or you—rejoice for all eternity knowing that there was still one soul who had not been touched by the victory of Christ and was suffering alone?
  • Is it good to desire all men to be saved? “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim.2:3,4) .

More Questions

  • Do you ardently desire the salvation of all men?
  • Is it true that God “openeth his hand and satisfieth the desire of every living thing?” — (Ps. 145:16)
  • Do you fervently pray for the salvation of all men? (1 Tim. 2:1)
  • Do you pray in faith, nothing doubting? (James 1:6)
  • Are you aware, “that whatsoever is not of faith is sin?” — (Rom 14:23)
  • Would God require us to pray for all men, and to pray in faith, unless He intends all men should be saved?
  • If you believe endless misery to be the truth of God, why should you desire and pray that it may prove false?

We hope that this information has raised enough questions for you to pursue further study on this subject.

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Note: The authorship of this article is unknown to the site admin. If you know who wrote this (along with a citation), please let us know so we can give proper credit

 

Origin of Endless Punishment

practice-Gods-presence-1024x768Excerpted from “Universalism – The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years” by J.W. Hansen, 1899

When our Lord spoke, the doctrine of unending torment was believed by many of those who listened to his words, and they stated it in terms and employed others, entirely differently, in describing the duration of punishment, from the terms afterward used by those who taught universal salvation and annihilation, and so gave to the terms in question the sense of unlimited duration.

For example, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, regarded the penalty of sin as torment without end, and they stated the doctrine in unambiguous terms. They called iteirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment), while our Lord called the punishment of sin aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement).

Meaning of Scriptural Terms.

   The language of Josephus is used by the profane Greeks, but is never found in the New Testament connected with punishment. Josephus, writing in Greek to Jews, frequently employs the word that our Lord used to define the duration of punishment (aionios), but he applies it to things that had ended or that will end.1 Can it be doubted that our Lordplaced his ban on the doctrine that the Jews had derived from the heathen by never using their terms describing it, and that he taught a limited punishment by employing words to define it that only meant limited duration in contemporaneous literature? Josephus used the word aionos with its current meaning of limited duration. He applies it to the imprisonment of John the Tyrant; to Herod’s reputation; to the glory acquired by soldiers; to the fame of an army as a “happy life and aionian glory.” He used the words as do the Scriptures to denote limited duration, but when he would describe endless duration he uses different terms. Of the doctrine of the Pharisees he says:

“They believe * * * that wicked spirits are to be kept in an eternal imprisonment (eirgmon aidion). The Pharisees say all souls are incorruptible, but while those of good men are removed into other bodies those of bad men are subject to eternal punishment” (aidios timoria). Elsewhere he says that the Essenes, “allot to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing torment (timoria adialeipton), where they suffer a deathless torment” (athanaton timorion). Aidion and athanaton are his favorite terms for duration, and timoria (torment) for punishment.

Philo’s Use of the Words.

   Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally used aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matt. xxv: 46, precisely as Christ used it: “It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and æonian punishment (chastisement) from such as are more powerful.” Here we have the precise terms employed by our Lord, which show thataionian did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ. Philo adopts athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. In one place occurs this sentence concerning the wicked: “to live always dying, and to undergo, as it were, an immortal and interminable death.”2 Stephens, in his valuable “Thesaurus,” quotes from a Jewish work: “These they called aionios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations.” 3 This shows conclusively that the expression “three generations” was then one full equivalent of aionian. Now, these eminent scholars were Jews who wrote in Greek, and who certainly knew the meaning of the words they employed, and they give to the aeonian words the sense of indefinite duration, to be determined in any case by the scope of the subject. Had our Lord intended to inculcate the doctrine of the Pharisees, he would have used the terms by which they described it. But his word defining the duration of punishment was aionian, while their words are aidion, adialeipton, and athanaton. Instead of saying with Philo and Josephus, thanaton athanaton, deathless or immortal death; eirgmon aidion, eternal imprisonment; aidion timorion, eternal torment; and thanaton ateleuteton, interminable death, he used aionion kolasin, an adjective in universal use for limited duration, and a noun denoting suffering issuing in amendment. The word by which our Lord describes punishment is the word kolasin, which is thus defined: “Chastisement, punishment.” “The trimming of the luxuriant branches of a tree or vine to improve it and make it fruitful.” “The act of clipping or pruning–restriction, restraint, reproof, check, chastisement.” “The kind of punishment which tends to the improvement of the criminal is what the Greek philosopher called kolasis or chastisement.” “Pruning, checking, punishment, chastisement, correction.” “Do we want to know what was uppermost in the minds of those who formed the word for punishment? The Latin poena or punio, to punish, the root pu in Sanscrit, which means to cleanse, to purify, tells us that the Latin derivation was originally formed, not to express mere striking or torture, but cleansing. correcting, delivering from the stain of sin.” 4 That it had this meaning in Greek usage, see Plato: “For the natural or accidental evils of others no one gets angry, or admonishes, or teaches, or punishes (kolazei) them, but we pity those afflicted with such misfortune * * * for if, O Socrates, if you will consider what is the design of punishing (kolazein) the wicked, this of itself will show you that men think virtue something that may be acquired; for no one punishes (kolazei) the wicked,

looking to the past only simply for the wrong he has done–that is, no one does this thing who does not act like a wild beast; desiring only revenge, without thought. Hence, he who seeks to punish (kolazein) with reason does not punish for the sake of the past wrong deed, * * * but for the sake of the future, that neither the man himself who is punished may do wrong again, nor any other who has seen him chastised. And he who entertains this thought must believe that virtue may be taught, and he punishes (kolazei) for the purpose of deterring from wickedness?” 5

Use of Gehenna.

   So of the place of punishment (gehenna) the Jews at the time of Christ never understood it to denote endless punishment. The reader of Farrar’s “Mercy and Judgment,” and “Eternal Hope,” and Windet’s “De Vita functorum statu,” will find any number of statements from the Talmudic and other Jewish authorities, affirming in the most explicit language that Gehenna was understood by the people to whom our Lord addressed the word as a place or condition of temporary duration. They employed such terms as these “The wicked shall be judged in Gehenna until the righteous say concerning them, ‘We have seen enough.'”5 “Gehenna is nothing but a day in which the impious will be burned.” “After the last judgment Gehenna exists no longer.” “There will hereafter be no Gehenna.”6 These quotations might be multiplied indefinitely to demonstrate that the Jews to whom our Lord spoke regarded Gehenna as of limited duration, as did the Christian Fathers. Origen in his reply to Celsus (VI, xxv) gives an exposition of Gehenna, explaining its usage in his day. He says it is an analogue of the well-known valley of the Son of Hinnom, and signifies the fire of purification. Now observe: Christ carefully avoided the words in which his auditors expressed endless punishment (aidios, timoria and adialeiptos), and used terms they did not use with that meaning (aionios kolasis), and employed the term which by universal consent among the Jews has no such meaning (Gehenna); and as his immediate followers and the earliest of the Fathers pursued exactly the same course, is it not demonstrated that they intended to be understood as he was understood?7

Professor Plumptre in a letter concerning Canon Farrar’s sermons, says: “There were two words which the Evangelists might have used–kolasis, timoria. Of these, the first carries with it, by the definition of the greatest of Greek ethical writers, the idea of a reformatory process, (Aristotle, Rhet. I, x, 10-17). It is inflicted ‘for the sake of him who suffers it.’ The second, on the other hand, describes a penalty purely vindictive or retributive. St. Matthew chose–if we believe that our Lord spoke Greek, he himself chose–the former word, and not the latter.”

   All the evidence conclusively shows that the terms defining punishment–“everlasting,” “eternal,” “Gehenna,” etc., in the Scriptures teach its limited duration, and were so regarded by sacred and profane authors, and that those outside of the Bible who taught unending torment always employed other words than those used by or Lord and his disciples.

Professor Allen concedes that the great prominence given to “hell-fire” in Christian preaching is a modern innovation. He says: “There is more ‘blood-theology’ and ‘hell-fire,’ that is, the vivid setting-forth of everlasting torment to terrify the soul, in one sermon of Jonathan Edwards, or one harangue at a modern ‘revival,’ than can be found in the whole body of homilies and epistles through all the dark ages put together. * * * Set beside more modern dispensations the Catholic position of this period (middle ages) is surprisingly merciful and mild.”3

Whence Came the Doctrine?

Of Heathen Origin.

   When we ask the question: Where did those in the primitive Christian church who taught endless punishment find it, if not in the Bible?–we are met by these facts:–1. The New Testament was not in existence, as the canon had not been arranged. 2. The Old Testament did not contain the doctrine. 3. The Pagan and Jewish religions, the latter corrupted by heathen accretions, taught it (Hagenbach, I, First Period; Clark’s Foreign Theol. Lib. I, new series.) Westcott tells us: “The written Gospel of the first period of the apostolic age was the Old Testament, interpreted by the vivid recollection of the Savior’s ministry. * * * The knowledge of the teachings of Christ * * * to the close of the Second Century, were generally derived from tradition, and not from writings. The Old Testament was still the great store-house from which Christian teachers derived the sources of consolation and conviction.” 9 Hence the false ideas must have been brought by converts from Judaism or Paganism. The immediate followers of our Lord’s apostles do not explicitly treat matters of eschatology. It was the age of apologetics and not of polemics.10 The new revelation of the Divine Fatherhood through the Son occupied the chief attention of Christians, and the efforts seem to have been almost exclusively devoted to establish the truth of the Incarnation, “God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” We may reasonably conclude that if this great truth had been kept constantly in the foreground, uncorrupted by pagan error and human invention, there would have been none of those false conceptions of God that gave rise to the horrors of medieval times,–and no occasion in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries for the renascence of original Christianity in the form of Universalism. The first Christians, however, naturally brought heathen increments into their new faith, so that very early the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, or their endless torment, began to be avowed. Here and there these doctrines appeared from the very first, but the early writers generally either state the great truths that legitimately result in universal good, or in unmistakable terms avow the doctrine as a revealed truth of the Christian Scriptures. “Numbers flocked into the church who brought their heathen ways with them.” (Third Century, “Neoplatonism,” by C. Bigg, D.D., London: 1895, p. 160.)

At first Christianity was as a bit of leaven buried in foreign elements, modifying and being modified. The early Christians had individual opinions and idiosyncrasies, which at first their new faith did not eradicate; they still retained some of their former errors. This accounts for their different views of the future world. At the time of our Lord’s advent Judaism had been greatly corrupted. During the captivity 11 Chaldæan, Persian and Egyptian doctrines, and other oriental ideas had tinged the Mosaic religion, and in Alexandria, especially, there was a great mixture of borrowed opinions and systems of faith, it being supposed that no one form alone was complete and sufficient, but that each system possessed a portion of the perfect truth. “The prevailing tone of mind was eclectic,” and Christianity did not escape the influence.

The Apocryphal Book of Enoch.

   More than a century before the birth of Christ 12 appeared the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which contains, so far as is known, the earliest statement extant of the doctrine of endless punishment in any work of Jewish origin. It became very popular during the early Christian centuries, and modified, it may be safely supposed, the views of Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and their followers. It is referred to or quoted from by Barnabas, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenæus, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome, Hilary, Epiphanius, Augustine, and others. Jude quotes from it in verses 14 and 15, and refers to it in verse 6, on which account some of the fathers considered Jude apocryphal; but it is probable that Jude quotes Enoch as Paul quotes the heathen poets, not to endorse its doctrine, but to illustrate a point, as writers nowadays quote fables and legends. Cave, in the “Lives of the Fathers,” attributes the prevalence of the doctrine of fallen angels to a perversion of the account (Gen. vi: 1-4) of “the sons of God and the daughters of men.” He refers the prevalence of the doctrine to “the authority of the ‘Book of Enoch,’ (highly valued by many in those days) wherein this story is related, as appears from the fragments of it still extant.” The entire work is now accessible through modern discovery.

   A little later than Enoch appeared the Book of Ezra, advocating the same doctrine. These two books were popular among the Jews before the time of Christ, and it is supposed, as the Old Testament is silent on the subject, that the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees, of which our Lord warned his disciples to beware, 13 were obtained in part from these books, or from the Egyptian and Pagan sources whence they were derived. At any rate, though the Old Testament does not contain the doctrine, 14 Josephus, as has been seen, assures us that the Pharisees of his time accepted and taught it. Of course they must have obtained the doctrine from uninspired sources. As these and possibly other similar books had already corrupted the faith of the Jews, they seem later to have infused their virus into the faith of some of the early Christians. Nothing is better established in history than that the doctrine of endless punishment, as held by the Christian church in medieval times, was of Egyptian origin, 15 and that for purposes of state it and its accessories were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Montesquieu states that “Romulus, Tatius and Numa enslaved the gods to politics,” and made religion for the state.

Catholic Hell Copied from Heathen Sources.

   Classic scholars know that the heathen hell was early copied by the Catholic church, and that almost its entire details afterwards entered into the creeds of Catholic and Protestant churches up to a century ago. Any reader may see this who will consult Pagan literature 16 and writers on the opinions of the ancients. And not only this, but the heathen writers declare that the doctrine was invented to awe and control the multitude. Polybius writes: “Since the multitude is ever fickle * * * there is no other way to keep them in order but by fear of the invisible world; on which account our ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to bring into the popular belief these notions of the gods and of the infernal regions.” Seneca says: “Those things which make the infernal regions terrible, the darkness, the prison, the river of flaming fire, the judgment seat, etc., are all a fable.” Livy declares that Numa invented the doctrine, “a most efficacious means of governing an ignorant and barbarous populace.” Strabo writes: “The multitude are restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, * * * for it is impossible to govern the crowd of women and all the common rabble by philosophical reasoning: these things the legislators used as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude.” Similar language is found in Dionysius Halicarnassus, Plato, and other writers. History records nothing more distinctly than that the Greek and Roman Pagans borrowed of the Egyptians, and that some of the early Christians unconsciously absorbed, or studiously appropriated, the doctrines of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans concerning post-mortem punishment, and gradually corrupted the “simplicity that is in Christ” 17 by the inventions of antiquity, as from the same sources the Jews at the time of Christ had already corrupted their religion. 18 What more natural than that the small reservoir of Christian truth should be contaminated by the opinions that converts from all these sources brought with them into their new religion at first, and later that the Roman Catholicpriests and Pagan legislators should seize them as engines of power by which to control the world?

   Coquerel describes the effect of the irruption of Pagans into the early Christian church: “The, at first, gradual entrance and soon rapid irruption of an idolatrous multitude into the bosom of Christianity was not effected without detriment to the truth. The Christianity of Jesus was too lofty, too pure, for this multitude escaped from the degrading cults of Olympus. The Pagans were not able to enter en masse into the church without bringing to it their habits, their tastes, and some of their ideas.”19 Milman and Neander think20 that old Jewish prejudices could not be extirpated in the proselytes of the infant church, and that latent Judaism lurked in it and was continued into the darker ages. Chrysostom complains that the Christians of his time (the Fourth Century) were “half Jews.” Enfield 21 declares that converts from the schools of Pagan philosophy interwove their old errors with the simple truths of Christianity until “heathen and Christian doctrines were still more intimately blended * * * and both were almost entirely lost in the thick clouds of ignorance and barbarism which covered the earth. * * * The fathers of the church departed from the simplicity of the apostolic church and corrupted the purity of the Christian faith.” Hagenbach reminds us that 22 “There were two errors which the newborn Christianity had to guard against if it was not to lose its peculiar religious features, and disappear in one of the already existing religions: against a relapse into Judaism on the one side, and against a mixture with Paganism and speculations borrowed from it, and a mythologizing tendency on the other.” The Sibylline Oracles, advocating universal restoration; Philo, who taught annihilation, and Enoch and Ezra, who taught endless punishment, were all read by the early Christians, and no doubt exerted an influence in forming early opinions.

Early Christianity Adulterated.

The Edinburgh Review concedes that “upon a full inspection it will be seen that the corruption of Christianity was itself the effect of the vitiated state of the human mind, of which the vices of the government were the great and primary cause.” “That the Christian religion suffered much from the influence of the Gentile philosophy is unquestionable.”23 Dr. Middleton, in a famous “Letter from Rome,” shows that from the pantheon down to heathen temples, shrines and altars were taken by the early church, and so used that Pagans could employ them as well as Christians, and retain their old superstitions and errors while professing Christianity. In other words, that much of Paganism, after the First Century or two, remained in and corrupted Christianity. Mosheim writes that “no one objected (in the Fifth Century) to Christians retaining the opinions of their Pagan ancestors;” and Tytler describes the confusion that resulted from the mixture of Pagan philosophy with the plain and simple doctrines of the

Christian religion, from which the church in its infant state “suffered in a most essential manner.” The Rev. T. B. Thayer, D. D., 24 thinks that the faith of the early Christian church “of the orthodox party was one-half Christian, one-quarter Jewish, and one-quarter Pagan; while that of the gnostic party was about one-quarter Christian and three-quarters philosophical Paganism.” The purpose of many of the fathers seems to have been to bridge the abyss between Paganism and Christianity, and, for the sake of proselytes, to tolerate Pagan doctrine. Says Merivale: In the Fifth Century, Paganism was assimilated, not extirpated, and Christendom has suffered from it more or less even since. * * * The church * * * was content to make terms with what survived of Paganism, content to lose even more than it gained in an unholy alliance with superstition and idolatry; enticing, no doubt, many of the vulgar, and some even of the more intelligent, to a nominal acceptance of the Christian faith, but conniving at the surrender by the great mass of its own baptized members of the highest and purest of their spiritual acquisitions.” 25 It is difficult to learn just how much surrounding influences affected ancient or modern Christians, for, as Schaff says (Hist. Apos. Ch. p. 23): “The theological views of the Greek Fathers were modified to a considerable extent by Platonism; those of the medieval schoolmen, by the logic and dialectics of Aristotle; those of the latter times by the system of Descartes, Spinoza, Bacon, Locke, Leibnitz, Kant, Fries, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Few scientific divines can absolutely emancipate themselves from the influence of the philosophy and public opinion of their age, and when they do they have commonly their own philosophy, etc.”

Original Greek New Testament.

   That the Old Testament does not teach even post-mortem punishment is universally conceded by scholars, as has been seen; and that the Egyptians, and Greek and Roman Pagans did, is shown already. That the doctrine was early in the Christian church, is equally evident. As the early Christians did not obtain it from the Old Testament, which does not contain it, and as it was already a Pagan doctrine, where could they have procured it except from heathen sources? And as Universalism was nowhere taught, and as the first Universalist Christians after the apostles were Greeks, perfectly familiar with the language of the New Testament, where else could they have found their faith than where they declare they found it, in the New Testament? How can it be supposed that the Latins were correct in claiming that the Greek Scriptures teach a doctrine that the Greeks themselves did not find therein? And how can the Greek fathers in the primitive church mistake when they understand our Lord and his apostles to teach universal restoration? “It may be well to note here, that after the third century the descent of the church into errors of doctrine and practice grew more rapid. The worship of Jesus, of Mary, of saints, or relics, etc., followed each other. Mary was called ‘the Mother of God,’ ‘the Queen of Heaven.’ As God began to be represented more stern, implacable, cruel, the peopleworshiped Jesus to induce him to placate his Father’s wrath; and then as the Son was held up as the severe judge of sinners and the executioner of the Father’s vengeance, men prayed Mary to mollify the anger of her God-child; and when she became unfeeling or lacked influence, they turned to Joseph and other saints, and to martyrs, to intercede with their cold, implacable superiors. Thus theology became more hard and merciless–hell was intensified, and enlarged, and eternized–heaven shrunk, and receded, and lost its compassion–woman (despite the deification of Mary) was regarded as weak and despicable–the Agape were abolished and the Eucharist deified, and its cup withheld from the people–and woman deemed too impure to touch it! As among the heathen Romans, faith and reverence decreased as their gods were multiplied, so here, as objects of worship were increased, familiarity bred only sensuality, and sensuous worship drove out virtue and veneration, until, in the language of Mrs. Jameson’s “Legends of the Madonna,” (Int. p. xxxi): One of the frescoes in the Vatican represents Giulia Farnese (a noted impure woman and mistress of the pope!) in the character of the Madonna, and Pope Alexander VI. (the drunken, unchaste, beastly!) kneeling at her feet in the character of a votary! Under the influence of the Medici, the churches of Florence were filled with pictures of the Virgin in which the only thing aimed at was a meretricious beauty. Savonarola thundered from his pulpit in the garden of S. Marco against these impieties.” 26

 

1 See my “Aion-Aionious,” pp. 109-14; also Josephus, “Antiq.” and “Jewish Wars.”

2 “De Præmiis” and “Poenis” Tom. II, pp. 19-20. Mangey’s edition. Dollinger quoted by Beecher. Philo was learned in Greek philosophy, and especially reverenced Plato. His use of Greek is of the highest authority.

3 “Solom. Parab.”

4 Donnegan, Grotius, Liddel, Max Muller, Beecher, Hist. Doc. Fut. Ret. pp. 73-75.

5 The important passage may be found more fully quoted in “Aion-Aionios.”

6 Targum of Jonathan on Isaiah, xvi: 24. See also “Aion-Aionious” and “Bible Hell.”

7 Farrar’s “Mercy and Judgment.” pp. 380-381, where quotations are given from the Fourth Century, asserting that punishment must be limited because aionian correction (aionian kolasin), as in Matt. xxv: 46, must be terminable.

8 “Christian Hist. in its Three Great Periods.” pp. 257-8.

9 Introduction to Gospels. p. 181

10 The opinions of the Jews were modified at first by the captivity in Egypt fifteen centuries before Christ, and later by the Babylonian captivity, ending four hundred years before Christ, so that many of them, the Pharisees especially, no longer held the simple doctrines of Moses.

11 Robertson’s History of the Christian Church, vol. 1. pp. 38-39.

12 The Book of Enoch, translated from the Ethiopian, with Introduction and Notes. By Rev. George H. Schodde.

13 Mark vii: 13; Matthew xvi: 6, 12; Luke xxi, 1; Mark viii, 15.

14 Milman Hist. Jews; Warburton’s Divine Legation; Jahn, Archaeology.

15 Warburton. Leland’s Necessity of Divine Revelation.

16 Virgil’s æneid. Apollodorus, Hesiod, Herodotus, Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus, etc.

17 II Cor. xi: 3.

18 Milman’s Gibbon, Murdock’s Mosheim, Enfield’s Hist. Philos., Universalist Expositor, 1853.

19 Coquerel’s First Historical Transformations of Christianity.

20 See Conybeare’s “Paul,” Vol. I, Chapters 14,15.

21 See also Priestley’s “Corruptions of Christianity.”

22 Hist. Doct. I Sec. 22.

23 Vaughan’s Causes of the Corruption of Christianity; also Casaubon and Blunt’s “Vestiges.”

24 Hist. Doct. Endelss Punishment, pp. 192-193.

25 Early Church History, pp. 159-160.

26 Universalist Quartarly, January 1883.

 

IV.
Doctrines of “Mitigation” and of “Reserve.”

There was no controversy among Christians over the duration of the punishment of the wicked for at least three hundred years after the death of Christ. Scriptural terms were used with their Scriptural meanings, and while it is not probable that universal restoration was polemically or dogmatically announced, it is equally probable that the endless duration of punishment was not taught until the heathen corruptions had adulterated Christian truth. God’s fatherhood and boundless love, and the work of Christ in man’s behalf were dwelt upon, accompanied by the announcement of the fearful consequences of sin; but when those consequences, through Pagan influences, came to be regarded as endless in duration, then the antidotal truth of universal salvation assumed prominence through Clement, Origen, and other Alexandrine fathers. Even when some of the early Christians had so far been overcome by heathen error as to accept the dogma of endless torment for the wicked, they had no hard words for those who believed in universal restoration, and did not even controvert their views. The doctrines of Prayer for the Dead, and of Christ Preaching to those in Hades, and of Mitigation, were humane teachings of the primitive Christians that were subsequently discarded.

“Mitigation” Explained.

The doctrine of Mitigation was, that for some good deed on earth, the damned in hell would occasionally be let out on a respite or furlough, and have surcease of torment. This doctrine of mitigation was quite general among the fathers when they came to advocate the Pagan dogma. In fact, endless punishment in all its enormity, destitute of all benevolent features, was not fully developed until Protestantism was born, and prayers for the dead, mitigation of the condition of the “lost,” and other softening features were repudiated.1

It was taught that the worst sinners–Judas himself, even–had furloughs from hell for good deeds done on Earth. Matthew Arnold embodies one of the legends in his poem of St. Brandon. The saint once met, on an iceberg on the ocean, the soul of Judas Iscariot, released from hell for awhile, who explains his respite. He had once given a cloak to a leper in Joppa, and so he says–

 

“Once every year, when carols wake
On earth the Christmas night’s repose,
Arising from the sinner’s lake’
I journey to these healing snows.
“I stand with ice my burning breast,
With silence calm by burning brain;
O Brandon, to this hour of rest,
That Joppan leper’s ease was pain.”

   It remained for Protestantism to discard all the softening features that Catholicism had added to the bequest of heathenism into Christianity, and to give the world the unmitigated horror that Protestantism taught from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century.

The Doctrine of “Reserve.”

   We cannot read the patristic literature understandingly unless we constantly bear in mind the early fathers’ doctrine of “O Economy,” or “Reserve.”2 Plato distinctly taught it,3 and says that error may be used as a medicine. He justifies the use of the “medicinal lie.” The resort of the early fathers to the esoteric is no doubt derived from Plato. Origen almost quotes him when he says that sometimes fictitious threats are necessary to secure obedience, as when Solon had purposely given imperfect laws. Many, in and out of the church, held that the wise possessor of truth might hold it in secret. when its impartation to the ignorant would seem to be fraught with danger, and that error might be properly substituted. The object was to save “Christians of the simpler sort” from waters too deep for them. It is possible to defend the practice if it be taken to represent the method of a skillfulteacher, who will not confuse the learner with principles beyond his comprehension. 4 Gieseler remarks that “the Alexandrians regarded a certain accommodation as necessary, which ventures to make use even of falsehood for the attainment of a good end; nay, which was even obliged to do so.” Neander declares that “the Orientals, according to their theology of oeconomy, allowed themselves many liberties not to be reconciled with the strict laws of veracity.” 5

Some of the fathers who had achieved a faith in Universalism, were influenced by the mischievous notion that it was to be held esoterically, cherished in secret, or only communicated to the chosen few,–withheld from the multitude, who would not appreciate it, and even that the opposite error would, with some sinners, be more beneficial than the truth. Clement of Alexandria admits that he does not write or speak certain truths. Origen claims that there are doctrines not to be communicated to the ignorant. Clement says: “They are not in reality liars who use circumlocution 6 because of the oeconomy of salvation.” Origen said that “all that might be said on this theme is not expedient to explain now, or to all. For the mass need no further teaching on account of those who hardly through the fear of æonian punishment restrain their recklessness.” The reader of the patristic literature sees this opinion frequently, and unquestionably it caused many to hold out threats to the multitude in order to restrain them; threats that they did not themselves believe would be executed.8

   The gross and carnal interpretation given to parts of the Gospel, causing some, as Origen said, to “believe of God what would not be believed of the cruelest of mankind,” caused him to dwell upon the duty of reserve, which he does in many of his homilies. He says that he can not fully express himself on the mystery of eternal punishment in an exoteric statement.9 The reserve advocated and practiced by Origen and the Alexandrians was, says Bigg, “the screen of an esoteric belief.” Beecher reminds his readers that while it was common with Pagan philosophers to teach false doctrines to the masses with the mistaken idea that they were needful, “the fathers of the Christian church did not escape the infection of the leprosy of pious fraud;” and he quotes Neander to show that Chrysostom was guilty of it, and also Gregory Nazianzen, Athanasius, and Basil the Great. The prevalence of this fraus pia in the early centuries is well known to scholars. After saying that the Sibylline Oracles were probably forged by a gnostic, Mosheim says: “I cannot yet take upon me to acquit the most strictly orthodox from all participation in this species of criminality; for it appears from evidence superior to all exception that a pernicious maxim was current, * * * namely, that those who made it their business to deceive with a view of promoting the cause of truth, were deserving rather of commendation that censure.”

What Was Held as to Doctrine.

   It seems to have been held that “faith, the foundation of Christian knowledge, was fitted only for the rude mass, the animal men, who were incapable of higher things. Far above these were the privileged natures, the men of intellect, or spiritual men, whose vocation was not to believe but to know.”10

The ecclesiastical historians class as esoteric believers, Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen; and Beecher names Athanasius and Basil the Great as in the same category; and Beecher remarks: “We cannot fully understand such a proclamation of future endless punishment as has been described, while it was not believed, until we consider the influence of Plato on the age. * * * Socrates is introduced as saying in Grote’s Plato: ‘It is indispensable that this fiction should be circulated and accredited as the fundamental, consecrated, unquestioned creed of the whole city, from which the feeling of harmony and brotherhood among the citizens springs.” Such principles, as a leprosy, had corrupted the whole community, and especially the leaders. In the Roman Empire pagan magistrates and priests appealed to retribution in Tartarus, of which they had no belief, to affect the masses. This does not excuse, but it explains the preaching of eternal punishment by men who did not believe it. They dared not entrust the truth to the masses, and so held it in reserve–to deter men from sin.”

   General as was the confession of a belief in universal salvation in the church’s first and best three centuries, there is ample reason the believe that it was the secret belief of more than gave expression to it, and that many a one who proclaimed a partial salvation, in his secret “heart of heart” agreed with the greatest of the church’s fathers during the first four hundred years of our era, that Christ would achieve a universal triumph, and that God would ultimately reign in all hearts.

Modern Theologians Equivocal.

   There can be no doubt that many of the fathers threatened severer penalties than they believed would be visited on sinners, impelled to utter them because they considered them to be more salutary with the masses than the truth itself. So that we may believe that some of the patristic writers who seem to teach endless punishment did not believe it. Others, we know, who accepted universal restoration employed, for the sake of deterring sinners, threats that are inconsistent, literally interpreted, with that doctrine. This disposition to conceal the truth has actuated many a modern theologian. In Sermon XXXV, on the eternity of hell torments, Arch-bishop Tillotson, while he argues for the endless duration of punishment, suggests that the Judge has the right to omit inflicting it if he shall see it inconsistent with righteousness or goodness to make sinners miserable forever, and Burnet urges: “Whatever your opinion is within yourself, and in your breast, concerning these punishments, whether they are eternal or not, yet always with the people, and when you preach to the people, use the received doctrine and the received words in the sense in which the people receive them.” It is certainly allowable to think that many an ancient timid teacher discovered the truth without daring to entrust it to the mass of mankind.

Even Lying Defended.

Theophilus of Alexandria proposed making Synesius of Cyrene, bishop. The latter said: “The philosophical intelligence, in short, while it beholds the truth, admits the necessity of lying. Light corresponds to truth, but the eye is dull of vision; it can not without injury gaze on the infinite light. As twilight is more comfortable for the eye, so, I hold, is falsehood for the common run of people. The truth can only be harmful for those who are unable to gaze on the reality. If the laws of the priesthood permit me to hold this position, then I can accept consecration, keeping my philosophy to myself at home, and preaching fables out of doors.”11

 

1 Christian History in Three Great Periods. pp. 257,8.

2 Bigg’s Platonists of Alexandria. p. 58.

3 Grote’s Plato, Vol. III, xxxii. pp. 56, 7.

4 J.H. Newman, Arians; Apologia Pro Vita Sua

5 Allin, Univ. Asserted, shows at length the prevalence of the doctrine of “reserve” among the early Christians.

6 Stromata.

7 Against Celsus I, vii; and on Romans ii.

8 “St. Basil distinguishes in Christianity between what is openly proclaimed and which are kept secret.” Max Muller, Theosophy of Psychology, Lect. xiv.

9 Ag. Cels. De Prin.

10 Dean Mansell’s Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries. Introduction, p. 10.

11 Neoplatonism, by C. Bigg, D.D. London: 1895, p. 339.

 

V.
Two Kindred Topics.

Gospel Preached to the Dead.

   The early Christian church almost, if not quite, universally believed that Christ made proclamation of the Gospel to the dead in Hades. Says Huidekoper: “In the Second and Third Centuries every branch and division of Christians believed that Christ preached to the departed.” 1 Dietelmaier declares2 this doctrine was believed by all Christians. Of course, if souls were placed where their doom was irretrievable salvation would not be offered to them; whence it follows that the early Christians believed in post-mortem probation. Allin says that “some writers teach that the apostles also preached in Hades. Some say that the Blessed Virgin did the same. Some even say that Simeon went before Christ to Hades.” All these testimonies go to show that the earliest of the fathers did not regard the grave as the dead-line which the love of God could not cross, but that the door of mercy is open hereafter as here. “The platonic doctrine of a separate state, where the spirits of the departed are purified, and on which the later doctrine of purgatory was founded, was approved by all the expositors of Christianity who were of the Alexandrian school, as was the custom of performing religious services at the tombs of the dead. Nor was there much difference between them and Tertullian in these particulars.”

   In the early ages of the church great stress was laid on I Pet. iii. 19: “He (Christ) went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” That this doctrine was prevalent as late as Augustine’s day is evident from the fact that the doctrine is anathemitised in his list of heresies–number 79. And even as late as the Ninth Century it was condemned by Pope Boniface VI. It was believed that our Lord not only proclaimed the Gospel to all the dead but that he liberated them all. How could it be possible for a Christian to entertain the thought that all the wicked who died before the advent of our Lord were released from bondage, and that any who died after his advent would suffer endless woe? Eusebius says: “Christ, caring for the salvation of all * * * opened a way of return to life for the dead bound in the chains of death.” Athanasius: “The devil * * * cast out of Hades, sees all the fettered beings led forth by the courage of the Savior.” 3 Origen on I Kings, xxviii:32: “Jesus descended into Hades, and the prophets before him, and they proclaimed beforehand the coming of Christ.” Didymus observes “In the liberation of all no one remains a captive; at the time of the Lord’s passion he alone (Satan) was injured, who lost all the captives he was keeping.” Cyril of Alexandria: “And wandering down even to Hades he has emptied the dark, secret, invisible treasures.” Gregory of Nazianzus: “Until Christ loosed by his blood all who groaned under Tartarian chains.” Jerome on Jonah ii: 6: “Our Lord was shut up in æonian bars in order that he might set free all who had been shut up.”

Such passages might be multiplied, demonstrating that the early church regarded the conquest by Christ of the departed as universal. He set free from bonds all the dead in Hades. If the primitive Christians believed that all the wicked of all the æons preceding the death of Christ were released, how can we suppose them to have regarded the wicked subsequent to his death as destined to suffer interminable torments? Clement of Alexandria is explicit in declaring that the Gospel was preached to all, both Jews and Gentiles, in Hades;–that “the sole cause of the Lord’s descent to the underworld was to preach the gospel.” (Strom. VI.) Origen says: “Not only while Jesus was in the body did he win over not a few only, * * * but when he became a soul, without the covering of the body, he dwelt among those souls (in Hades) which were without bodily covering, converting such of them as were fit for it.”

The Gospel of Nicodemus.

   About a century after the death of John appeared the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, valuable as setting forth current eschatology. It describes the effect of Christ’s preaching in Hades: “When Jesus arrived in Hades, the gates burst open, and taking Adam by the hand Jesus said, “Come all with me, as many as have died through the tree which he touched, for behold I raise you all up through the tree of the cross.'” This book shows conclusively that the Christians of that date did not regard æonian punishment as interminable, inasmuch as those who had been sentenced to that condition were released. “If Christ preached to dead men who were once disobedient, then Scripture shows us that the moment of death does not necessarily involve a final and hopeless torment for every sinful soul. Of all the blunt weapons of ignorant controversy employed against those to whom has been revealed the possibility of a larger hope than is left to mankind by Augustine or by Calvin, the bluntest is the charge that such a hope renders null the necessity for the work of Christ. * * * We thus rescue the work of redemption from the appearance of having failed to achieve its end for the vast majority of those for whom Christ died. * * * In these passages, as has been truly said, ‘we may see an expansive paraphrase and exuberant variation of the original Pauline theme of the universalism of the evangelic embassage of Christ, and of his sovereignty over the world;’ and especially of the passage in the Philippians (ii. 9-11) where all they that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, are enumerated as classes of the subjects of the exalted Redeemer.” 5And Alford observes: “The inference every intelligent reader will draw from the fact here announced: it is not purgatory; it is not universal restitution; but it is one which throws blessed light on one of the darkest enigmas of divine justice.” Timotheus II., patriarch of the Nestorians, wrote that “by the prayers of the saints the souls of sinners may pass from Gehenna to Paradise,” (Asseman. IV. p. 344). See Prof. Plumptre’s “Spirits in Prison,” p. 141; Dict. Christ. Biog. Art. Eschatology, etc. Says Uhlhorn (Book I, ch. iii): “For deceased persons their relatives brought gifts on the anniversary of their death, a beautiful custom which vividly exhibited the connection between the church above and the church below.”

“One fact stands out very clearly from the passages of patristic literature, viz.: that all sects and divisions of the Christians in the second and third centuries united in the belief that Christ went down into Hades, or the Underworld, after his death on the cross, and remained there until his resurrection. Of course it was natural that the question should come up, What did he do there? As he came down from earth to preach the Gospel to, and save, the living, it was easy to infer that he went down into Hades to preach the same glad tidings there, and show the way of salvation to those who had died before his advent.” 6

Prayers for the Dead.

It need not here be claimed that the doctrine that Christ literally preached to the dead in Hades is true, or that such is the teaching of I. Pet. iii: 19, but it is perfectly apparent that if the primitive Christians held to the doctrine they could not have believed that the condition of the soul is fixed at death. That is comparatively a modern doctrine.

   There can be no doubt that the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is a corruption of the Scriptural doctrine of the disciplinary character of all God’s punishments. Purgatory was never heard of in the earlier centuries.7 It is first fully stated by Pope Gregory the First, ‘its inventor,’ at the close of the Sixth Century, “For some light faults we must believe that there is before judgment a purgatorial fire.” This theory is a perversion of the idea held anciently, that all God’s punishments are purgative; what the Catholic regards as true of the errors of the good is just as true of the sins of the worst,– indeed, of all. The word rendered punishment in Matt. xxv: 46, (kolasin) implies all this.

Condition of the Dead not Final.

That the condition of the dead was not regarded as unalterably fixed is evident from the fact that prayers for the dead were customary anciently, and that, too, before the doctrine of purgatory was formulated. The living believed–and so should we believe–that the dead have migrated to another country, where the good offices of supervisors on earth avail. Perpetua begged for the help of her brother, child of a Pagan father, who had died unbaptized. In Tertullian the widow prays for the soul of her departed husband. Repentance by the dead is conceded by Clement, and the prayers of the good on earth help them.

   The dogma of the purificatory character of future punishment did not degenerate into the doctrine of punishment for believers only, until the Fourth Century; nor did that error crystallize into the Catholic purgatory until later. Hagenbach says: “Comparing Gregory’s doctrine with the earlier, and more spiritual notions concerning the efficacy of the purifying fire of the intermediate state, we may adopt the statement of Schmidt that the belief in a lasting desire of perfection, which death itself cannot quench, degenerated into a belief in purgatory.”

Plumtre (“Spirits in Prison,” London, p. 25) has a valuable statement: “In every form; from the solemn liturgies which embodied the belief of her profoundest thinkers and truest worshippers, to the simple words of hope and love which were traced over the graves of the poor, her voice (the church of the first ages) went up without a doubt or misgiving, in prayers for the souls of the departed;” showing that they could not have regarded their condition as unalterably fixed at death. Prof. Plumptre quotes from Lee’s “Christian Doctrine of Prayer for the Departed,” to show the early Christians’ belief that intercessions for the dead would be of avail to them. Even Augustine accepted the doctrine. He prayed after his mother’s death, that her sins might be forgiven, and that his father might also receive pardon. (“Confessions,” ix, 13.)8

   The Platonic doctrine of a separate state where the spirits of the departed are purified, and on which the later doctrine of purgatory was founded, was approved by all the expositors of Christianity who were of the Alexandrian school, as was the custom of performing religious services at the tombs of the dead. Uhlhorn gives similar testimony: “For deceased persons their relatives brought gifts on the anniversary of their death, a beautiful custom, which vividly exhibited the connection between the church above and the church below.” Origen’s tenet of Catharsis of Purification was absorbed by the growing belief in purgatory. 9

Important Thoughts.

   Let the reader reflect, (1) that the Primitive Christians so distrusted the effect of the truth on the popular mind that they withheld it, and only cherished it esoterically, and held up terrors for effect, in which they had no faith; (2) that they prayed for the wicked dead that they might be released from suffering; (3) that they universally held that Christ preached the Gospel to sinners in Hades; (4) that the earliest creeds are entirely silent as to the idea that the wicked dead were in irretrievable and endless torment; (5) that the terms used by some who are accused of teaching endless torment were precisely those employed by those acknowledged to have been Universalists; (6) that the first Christians were the happiest of people and infused a wonderful cheerfulness into a world of sorrow and gloom; (7) that there is not a shade of darkness nor a note of despair in any one of the thousands of epitaphs in the Catacombs; (8) that the doctrine of universal redemption was first made prominent by those to whom Greek was their native tongue, and that they declared that they derived it from the Greek Scriptures, while endless punishment was first taught by Africans and Latins, who derived it from a foreign tongue of which the great teacher of it confesses he was ignorant. (See ” Augustine” later on.) Let the reader give to these considerations their full and proper weight, and it will be impossible to believe that the fathers regarded the impenitent as consigned at death to hopeless and endless woe.

Note.–After giving the emphatic language of Clement and Origen and other ancient Christians declarative of universal holiness, Dr. Bigg, in his valuable book, “The Christian Platonists of Alexandria,” frequently quoted in these pages, remarks (pp. 292-3): “Neither Clement not Origen is, properly speaking, a Universalist. Nor is Universalism the logical result of their principles.” The reasons he gives are two: (1) They believed in the freedom of the will; and (2) they did not deny the eternity of punishment, because the soul that has sinned beyond a certain point can never become what it might have been!

To which it is only necessary to say (1) that Universalists generally accept the freedom of the will, and (2) no soul that has sinned, as all have sinned, can ever become what it might have been, so the Dr. Bigg’s premises would necessitate Universalism, but universal condemnation!

And, as if to contradict his own words, Dr. Bigg adds in the very next paragraph: “The hope of a general restitution of all souls through suffering to purity and blessedness, lingered on in the East for some time;” and the last words in his book are these: “It is the teaching of St. Paul,–Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God, even the Father. Then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” And these are the last words of his last note: “At the end all will be one because the Father’s will is all in all and all in each. Each will fill the place which the mystery of the economy assigns to him.”

It would be interesting to learn what sort of monstrosity Dr. Bigg has constructed, and labeled with the word which he declares could not be applied to Clement and Origen.

1 An excellent resume of the opinions of the fathers on Christ’s descent into Hades, and preaching the gospel to the dead, is Huidekoper’s “The Belief of the First Three Centuries Concerning Christ’s Mission to the Underworld;” also Huidekoper’s “Indirect Testimony to the Gospels;” also Dean Plumptre’s “Spirits in Prison.” London: 1884.

2 Historia Dogmatis do Descensu Christi ad Inferos. J. A. Dietelmaier.

3 De Passione et Cruce Domin. Migne, XXVIII, 186-240.

4 Carm. XXXV, v. 9

5 Farrar’s “Early Days of Christianity.” ch. vii.

6 Universalist Quarterly.

7 Archs. Usher and Wake, quoted by Farrar, “Mercy and Judgment.”

8 That these ideas were general in the primitive church, see Nitzsch, “Christian Doctrine,” Sec. III; Dorner, “System of Christian Doctrine,” Vol. IV (Eschatology). Also Vaughan’s “Causes of the Corruption of Christianity,” p. 319.

9 “Neoplatonism,” by C. Bigg, p. 334.