Everlasting Punishment

Matthew 25:46
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.

This passage is commonly used in the attempt to prove the dreadful doctrine of eternal torments. It is said that if it be admitted that the life is everlasting so also must the punishment be, since the same adjective (in the original) is used to define it. Let us consider the scriptural doctrine of Life, Death, and Punishment; and the meaning of the words, Everlasting and Torment.

LIFE AND PUNISHMENT: These two words Christ here places in contrast: "eternal life" for the just, "everlasting punishment" for the unjust. Life is not for the wicked, and, since they will not live for ever, they will not and cannot endure eternal torments. "Life," or "eternal life" is frequently promised to the righteous, but never to the wicked: "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life" (John 5:40) ; "I give unto them (my sheep) eternal life" (John 10:28). And many other similar passages might be quoted. It is "life," and not merely happiness superadded to life, that constitutes the reward of the faithful. And it is "death," and not life in everlasting torments, that constitutes the punishment of the wicked. Life signifies conscious existence, and death non-existence and unconsciousness. Death is the result of sin: "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin" (Rom. 5:12); "The wages of sin is death" (6:23). In passing sentence of death upon that "one man," Adam, the Lord God said, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19); which is what we see to this day. God's remedy is visible in Christ bodily raised from the dead and glorified. But there is no eternal life for the wicked, and consequently no "everlasting punishment" in the sense of "eternal torments." But, it is naturally replied, there are the very words, "everlasting punishment," what are we to make of them? The answer is, we must understand them in harmony with Christ's other sayings, and those of the scriptures in general. The "punishment" of which he here speaks is naturally that of which he elsewhere speaks when referring to the same crisis of his coming again to judgment. And of course the whole Bible is in harmony with his speech when rightly understood. Consider then the

PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED: Christ says, in John 5:29, that at his coming again to judgment the dead shall "come forth, they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (judgment, R.V.). And the angel Gabriel, foretelling the same crisis, says to the prophet Daniel: "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (12:2). Thus, both Christ and the angel place "life" in contrast with "damnation" (judgment) and "contempt." But the particular nature of the punishment is here indicated by the original word. The phrase, "into everlasting punishment," much better rendered, "into eternal punishment," by the Revised Version, is in the Greek "eis kolasin aiōnion." What is kolasis? In the New Testament it is only found twice; here, and in 1 John 4:18, "fear hath torment." The parent verb, kolazo, is likewise only found twice in the New Testament, thus: The rulers of the temple found nothing "how they might punish Peter and John" for healing a lame man in the name of Christ (Acts 4:21). "The Lord knoweth how to . . . reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished" (2 Pet. 2:9). The punishment of the apostles at the hands of the wicked was stripes, imprisonment, and death, as we know. It was tormenting enough while it lasted, and so will be the punishment of the wicked in the day of judgment. But there is a peculiar fitness about the word kolasis in this place. It means, as Liddell and Scott inform us, a pruning, as of trees; "hence a checking, punishment, chastisement," the verb kolazo meaning "strictly to curtail, dock, prune," as trees; "then, to chastise, punish." Now the punishment of the wicked, according to Christ and all the scriptures, is just that. "God shall take away his part from the tree of life" (Rev. 22:19, R.V.). The fruitful branches of "the true vine" are indeed pruned or purged that they may "bring forth more fruit"; but Christ says, "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:6). And when they are "burned," they are "ashes" (Mal. 4:3), and not "immortal souls" in endless torment. Thus "evil doers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth" (Psa. 37:9). "Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be" (verse 10). He "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9,10). "He shall perish for ever like his own dung" (Job 20:5-8); "Like the beasts that perish" (Psa. 49:20) ; "Like sheep" (verse 14).

EVERLASTING: From these passages it is evident that there is nothing "everlasting" about the wicked! Yet people say, "There is the word in the Bible in Matt. 25:46." Yes, but it ought to be "eternal," as it is now put in the R.V., for it is the same Greek adjective as is rendered "eternal" with reference to "life." But is not "eternal" the same as "everlasting"? No, although it is frequently so understood.

Even the word "everlasting" in the Bible is used with a double meaning - limited time and unlimited time. Thus, "the everlasting God" (Rom. 16:26). "An everlasting priesthood" (Exod. 40:15). But the Aaronic priesthood was "changed" (Heb. 7: 12). The "old covenant" decayed, waxed old, and has long "vanished away" (ch. 8: 13).

Aiōnios, rendered everlasting, is from aiōn, an age; a word which is quite indefinite as to duration of time. God's aiōn is without beginning or end. His kingdom upon earth and the life related to it has beginning, but no end. A man's lifetime is his aiōn or age, whether it be long or short. Aiōn is frequently translated "world" in the New Testament, both with reference to "this world" and "the world to come." In the Revised Version in many places, as Matt. 13:39; 24:3; Mark 10:30, etc., a marginal note gives "age" for "world." In Deut. 33: 15,27, we have the same Hebrew word olam (Greek, aiōn) rendered, first, "lasting," and then "everlasting," because the translators would not make "the lasting hills" co-eternal with "the everlasting arms" of God. The Revised Version, without offence, calls the hills "everlasting" as well; but we do not therefore suppose them literally so to be. "Everlasting" (aiōnios) therefore does not define the duration of the "punishment," but rather its relation to that "age" or aiōn. In many places aiōnios cannot mean "endless."

As to the objection that if the "punishment" be not endless, neither is the "life," Farrar well said, "Our sure and certain hope of everlasting happiness rests on no such miserable foundation as the disputed meaning of a Greek adjective, which is used over and over again of things transitory. If we need texts on which to rest it we may find plenty, such as Luke 20:36; Hos. 13:14; Rev. 21:4; Isa. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15, etc." This is true, and the Lord Jesus himself is the example of the redeemed. "Death hath no more dominion over him" (Rom. 6:9). He "shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20, 21).

TORMENT: Let it not be supposed that we deny the "torment" of the wicked (Rev. 14:11; 18:7,10,15). Far from it. There will be conscious suffering, mental and physical, of a very terrible kind ; but it will END in "the second death."

"There shall be no more curse" (Rev. 22:3), no more pain (21:4). In Rev. 18 the sufferings of the apostles at the hands of the wicked are set out as the measure of the sufferings of the wicked in retribution; only the apostles will rise to life eternal, but the wicked will vanish in "the second death." "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" among the unprofitable servants cast into "outer darkness" (Matt. 25:30). "Many stripes" or "few stripes" will be proportioned to degrees of wickedness. As to Judas, Christ said, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matt. 26:24). Many will realize the dreadfulness of "everlasting punishment" when Christ says to them, "Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity" (Luke 13:27). And he added, when speaking of this day of judgment, "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and ye yourselves thrust out."

Reproduced from: The Christadelphian Shield: Papers Explanatory of Wrested Scriptures