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Definitions of Doctrine
by C. D. Cole
Volume II- SIN, SALVATION, SERVICE
PART 1-THE BIBLE DOCTRINE OF SIN
CHAPTER 9-The Punishment of Sin-Number 4
In this article we wish to deal more specifically with the duration of the punishment to be meted out to the finally impenitent and unbelieving. The Bible is quite clear and explicit that the punishment is to be eternal or endless.
The Annihilationists try to make a distinction between eternal punishment and eternal punishing. A man remarked to us only a few days ago that he believed in eternal punishment but not in eternal punishing. We reminded him that the words were the same: that punishment is the noun form and punishing the verb. Moreover, in the expression, “eternal punishing,” the participle is used as a noun, and therefore, means the same as “eternal punishment.” In a certain conference of Annihilationists, they put forth this statement: “We believe in eternal punishment, not eternal punishing—the latter a great delusion, the former a great truth.” But this is a distinction without a difference. When A.J. Pollock was once told by two Adventists that eternal punishment does not mean eternal punishing, he asked: “Does three months’ punishment mean three months punishing?” They admitted that it does. “Then, he replied, eternal punishment means eternal punishing.”
There are some who contend that the above words mean to annihilate or to put out of existence. We affirm that they speak of the destruction of well-being, and not the destruction of being. They speak of ruin but not of loss of existence.
Hosea 13:9—“O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help.” Here God is addressing people who have destroyed themselves, but they are still conscious, and are told their help is in Him.
Job 19:10—“He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone.” But Job was still in existence, and lamenting the ruin or destruction that had been visited upon him by God.
Jeremiah 5:3—“Thou hast consumed them but they have refused to receive correction.” How could they have refused to receive instruction if they had been annihilated? A good way to test the definition of any word is to substitute the definition for the word. Let the reader go back and substitute the word annihilation for the words destroy and consume in the above passages, and he will readily see that they do not mean annihilation.
The Greek word “apollumi” is variously translated into the English by such words as destroy, perish, and lose. That this word does not mean annihilation is obvious when we study verses where it is used. Paul says that if his Gospel is hid to the lost (apollumi). And he says that the preaching of the cross is to them that are perishing (apollumi) foolishness. In John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” “apollumi” is translated perish and is contrasted with everlasting life in Christ, which is judicial life, or everlasting existence under the favor and blessing of God. In John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” we read that he who does not trust Christ shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth (remaineth) on him. The prodigal was said to be lost (apollumi). The woman’s coin was lost (apollumi). The sheep were lost (apollumi). How obvious that the word “apollumi” does not mean extinction of being! Another word in the Greek is “katakaia” translated burn in our English Bible. It is not the word which means to burn as a lamp, for profit; it means to burn so as to hurt or injure. The wicked are likened to worthless chaff and tares: “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable,” (Luke 3:17), but the burning of these things is not the same as burning men with bodies and souls. Of the burning of the wicked it is written, “their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched,” (Mark 9:46). “Their worm,” refers to something that does not die, and “the fire” speaks of fire that is not quenched. Dr. Gill thinks the worm is the conscience which will continually remind the wicked of their sins, accuse them, upbraid them, and torment them. “For every one shall be salted with fire and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt,” (Mark 9:49). This is the most terrible picture ever given of the punishment of the wicked, and it is clearly a picture of endless suffering.
EVERLASTING AND ETERNAL
Opponents of eternal punishment claim that the primary meaning of “aion” and “aionios” is not endless. But if they had to translate from the English back into the Greek they would have to use “aion,” and “aionios” as the meaning of everlasting or eternal. If these words do not mean everlasting then we do not have any words in the Greek to denote endlessness.
We are fortunate to have a Scriptural definition of “aionios.” In “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Cor. 4:18), it is contrasted with the word temporal (proskairos); “but the things which are not seen are eternal (aionios).” The word proskairos (temporal) is found in three other places in the New Testament. In “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;” (Heb. 11:25), it is translated “for a season” referring to the “for a while,” and in “And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended,” (Mark 4:17), it is translated “but for a time.” Now in contrast “aionios” speaks of that which is not for a season, or for a while, but forever.
Mosheim, a man of unquestioned learning, says that “aion” properly signifies indefinite or eternal duration, as opposite to that which is finite or temporal.
“Aionios” is used in the Greek New Testament 68 times, and in every instance the word in itself has the meaning of endless duration. Here are a few texts to be pondered. “The eternal God,” (Rom. 16:26); “The eternal Spirit,” (Heb. 9:19); “Eternal redemption,” (Heb. 9:12); “Eternal salvation,” (Heb. 5:9); “Eternal life” (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24); “Eternal glory,” (2 Tim. 2:10); “To be cast into everlasting fire,” (Matt. 18:8). Now take a text where life and punishment are in contrast: “And these shall go away into everlasting (aionios) punishment but the righteous into life eternal,” (aionios), (Matt. 25:46). If the life of the believer is eternal then the punishment of the wicked is eternal; else words have no meaning.
This is a good place to say that everlasting and eternal are adjectives of duration and not of quality or kind. They do not describe the kind of life the believer has, nor the kind of punishment for the lost, but the duration of life and the duration of punishment.
The only way to oppose the doctrine of eternal punishment is to oppose the Bible. Opposition to this truth is born of prejudice and sentimentality, and sets aside the Word of God. One writer bluntly says: “If the Bible teaches “everlasting punishment,” so much the worse for the Bible, because we cannot believe it: you may quote texts and have behind the texts the very finest scholarship to justify certain interpretations, but it is no good. We are no longer slaves of a Book, nor the blind devotees of a creed; we believe in love and evolution.”
And another writer writes thus: “Of course God cannot be just if He arbitrarily and rigidly predestines millions to endless torment. Hence if holding to the dogma of endless torment, logically rejects predestination to save divine justice.”
This last question “lets the cat out of the bag,” and reveals the real ground of opposition. God’s right to punish sin is denied. Men dare to sit upon the bench and tell God what He can justly do with His enemies. Who fixes the penalty for sin, anyway, the criminal or the court? We are reminded that “No thief e’er felt the halter draw with good opinion of the law.”
DEGREES IN PUNISHMENT
The Bible is plain that all sinners will not suffer the same. It will be more tolerable for some than for others. It shall be easier on the heathen countries than on those which have spurned Gospel privileges. “But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you...But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee,” (Matt. 11:22, 24); “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city,” (Mark 6:11). “...unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required,” (Luke 12:48). Judgment is to be according to works: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works,” (Rev. 20:13). Degrees in punishment does not mean that some will be more severe than others. “Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation,” (Mark 12:40), speaks of some who shall receive greater damnation. “Because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with his stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee,” (Job 36:18).
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