PROOF TEXTS OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT, EXAMINED AND EXPLAINED
BY D. P. LIVERMORE - CHICAGO, ILL.: D. P. LIVERMORE. 1862.
S. & A. Emerson, Printers, 174 Clark street, Chicago.
Proof-texts of Endless Punishment Examined and Explained by D. L. Livermore, 1862, has been scanned, reformatted and brought in electronic format by Gary Amirault on behalf of Tentmaker Ministries. Scriptural references have been changed from Roman to modern format.
Copyright, Gary Amirault, 2011
The object of this work is to assist the reader to a correct understanding of those controverted passages which are supposed to teach the doctrine of endless punishment. We have given the Bible a thorough examination, and are convinced that this doctrine finds no support in the sacred pages. It is of human origin.
The best heathen writers admit that this doctrine was Invented to frighten those who could not be restrained from vice by the punishments of this life! It was regarded by the heathen, as it now is by some professing Christians, as the most efficient motive to deter men from sin.
Cicero, in his seventh oration, p. 207, says that "It was on this account that the ancients Invented those infernal punishments of the dead, to keep the wicked under some awe in this life, who without them, would have no dread of death itself."
Polybius, who was a celebrated Greek historian, speaking upon this subject, says: "Since the multitude is ever fickle and capricious, full of lawless passions and irrational and violent resentments, there no way left to keep them in order, but by the terrors of future punishment, and all the pompous circumstances that attend such kind of Fiction! On which account the ancients acted, in my opinion, with great judgment and penetration, when they Contrived to bring those notions of the gods and a future state, into the popular belief."
Strabo, who was a Greek geographer and eminent philosopher, says: "It is impossible to govern women and the gross body of the people, and to keep them pious, holy and virtuous, by the precepts of philosophy. This can only be done by the fear of the gods, which is raised and supported by ancient fictions and modern prodigies." And again, he says, that "The apparatus of the ancient mythologies was an engine which the legislators employed as bugbears to strike a terror into the childish imagination of the multitude."
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, with which the poets amuse themselves, and by them agitate us with Vain Terrors !
It is here admitted that the doctrine of endless punishment was an "invention" of the heathen, a "fiction" and a "bugbear" contrived to deter those people from sin, who could not be influenced by the rewards and punishments of this life.
The doctrine of endless punishment, then, being of purely heathen origin, has no claims upon our regard, any more than idolatry, and the belief of the ancient Jews in the transmigration of souls! It forms no part of divine revelation, and we reject it, because it is a pure fiction of the imagination.
We have not been able to introduce every passage which has been urged in support of the doctrine of endless punishment, but we have examined and explained all the prominent texts which are relied upon to prove the doctrine in question, and have shown that they yield no support to this dogma of the church.
In giving our thoughts upon these controverted texts, we have not written so much for the eye of the critic, as to defend the truth. Conscious of its imperfections, we send out this work, with an earnest desire that it may bear some humble part in removing the religious errors of the world and in bringing many souls to the knowledge of the truth.
Everlasting Punishment — Matt. 25:46
Unquenchable Fire — Mark 9:43, 44
The Second Death — Rev. 20:12-14
Salvation And Damnation — John 5:28, 29
Ye Shall All Likewise Perish — Luke 13:3
The Damnation Of Unbelief — Mark 16:16
Everlasting Contempt — Dan. 12:2
The Strait Gate — Matt. 7:13, 14
The Case Of Judas — Matt. 26:24
Sin Unto Death — 1 John 5:16,17
Hell For The Wicked — Psalms 9:17
Out Of The Kingdom — 1 Cor. 6:9
The Few Saved — Luke 13:23
The Rich Man And Lazarus — Luke 15:1,2
Hope Of The Hypocrite — Job 8:13
Sin Against The Holy Ghost — Matt. 12:31, 32
Fearful Judgments Of God — Heb. 10:31
In Danger Of Hell Fire — Matt, 5:21,22
Scarcely Saved — 1 Peter 4:17, 18
Let Him Be Accursed — Gal. 1:8
Everlasting Destruction — 2 Thess. 1:6-9
Laugh At Your Calamity — Prov. 1:24-26
God A Consuming Fire — Heb. 12:29
Soul And Body In Hell — Matt. 10:28
The Wicked Driven Away — PROV. 14:32
Impossible To Renew Them — Heb. 6:4-6
The Judgment Day — Matt. 10:15, 11:22
Eternal Judgment — Heb. 6:1, 2
And We Are Not Saved — Jer. 8:20
God Angry — Psalms 7:11
Furnace Of Fire — Matt. 13:42
Damnation To Himself — 1 Cor. 11:29
Burn As An Oven — Mal. 4:1
Hidden To The Lost — 2 Cor. 4:3
Draw Back To Perdition — Heb. 10:39
Son Of Perdition — John 17:12
Lose His Own Soul — Matt. 16:26
Agree With Thine Adversary — Matt. 5:25, 26
Wrath Of God — Col. 3:6
Cast The Bad Away — Matt. 13:47-50
"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal."—Matt. 25:46.
Perhaps no passage of Scripture between the lids of the Bible is brought forward more frequently and confidently to support the doctrine of endless punishment, than the text we now propose to examine and explain. Having given the subject a most careful and critical examination, we are fully persuaded, that multitudes, through a false religious education, are led to believe that the text teaches the doctrine of endless punishment. . This doctrine is assumed to be true, and then the passage before us is adduced to prove it! Thousands are religiously educated to believe that everlasting means endless—their early instruction and all their sectarian prejudices are in favor of such a definition of the word, and hence, when they read of "everlasting punishment," they understand the expression to mean "endless punishment." Such are therefore surprised to learn that aionios, here translated everlasting, does not necessarily have that signification, that it is not the same word in the original which is rendered endless; that it is often used in the Scriptures in a limited sense, and that its proper signification is age-lasting.
Before coming to a direct exposition of the text before us, we ask the attention of the reader to two or three important considerations which have a legitimate bearing upon our subject.
First, The different classes of individuals referred to in the text, are acquitted and condemned on account of their Works, and therefore the subject cannot refer to the immortal world; for heaven is not to be attained by good works! Eternal life is the pure, free and unpurchased gift of God, and is not of works of righteousness that we have done, lest any man should boast!
The second important consideration to which we invite the reader's attention, is, that the original word kolasis, supposed to teach the doctrine of endless punishment, was frequently applied, as lexicographers inform us, to the pruning of trees. In this sense, its application here is full of significance. It shows at once the important object of punishment, viz.: to improve and benefit man. For what purpose are trees pruned? Not to injure them, certainly; but to improve them. Such being clearly the object of punishment, under the government of an all-wise and benevolent God, hence this term kolasis was appropriately employed in the text.
Lexicographers define kolasis thus: "Punishment, chastisement, correction, the pruning of trees." This "everlasting punishment" (aionios kolasis) is designed for some wise and benevolent purpose, not absolutely to injure, but ultimately to benefit and improve those chastened.
Again: The word rendered everlasting (aionios) is not the same word as is translated endless, and therefore the doctrine of endless punishment is not taught in the passage, under consideration. The word endless, from akatalutos, occurs but once in the Bible, Heb. 7:16. "After the power of an endless life."
Undoubtedly, if the doctrine of endless punishment were taught in the passage under consideration, a different term would have been chosen than aionios, which signifies an indefinite period of time. And this remark is equally applicable to the life of the righteous, which is here called "eternal" (aionios) and not endless, not akatalutos. This shows conclusively, we think, that had the Savior referred to the life-immortal in heaven, which all admit is endless, he would have employed a descriptive term which clearly taught it, and not one of doubtful import!
Another important fact is, that when the Scripture writers set forth the future state of happiness, they employ other terms than aionios, rendered in the text everlasting and eternal! Different terms, we find employed for this purpose, which are never connected with punishment. Aphthartos is a Greek word, which occurs several times in the New Testament, and means incorruptible, immortal, but is never applied to punishment! We read of "the glory of the incorruptible God," Rom. 1:23; and that "the dead shall be raised incorruptible" 1 Cor. 15:52; and of an incorruptible inheritance, 1 Peter 1:4; and of the "King eternal and immortal" 1 Tim. 1:17; but we never read of incorruptible punishment, nor of an immortal hell!
Aphtharsia is another Greek word which was employed by the sacred writers in a similar sense, to signify immortal and incorruption. Hence, the "dead are raised in incorruption" 1 Cor. 15:42; and "inherit incorruption" verse 50; and "that Christ hath brought life and immortality to light," 2 Tim. 1:10. This term, all admit, is never applied to punishment. It describes an endless life, but not an endless death! And yet we are sometimes told that if aionios, rendered eternal and everlasting in the text, does not refer to the future state, there are no terms employed in the Scriptures to describe the future, immortal condition of mankind. There never was a greater mistake, as these remarks show. We have already seen that akatalutos, translated endless occurs once in the Bible, Heb. 7:16, and is applied to life—"After the power of an endless life" But this word is never applied to death, or punishment, or misery.
Athanasia is another term employed to signify immortality, and occurs three times, as follows: 1 Cor. 15:53 and 54, and 1 Tim. 6:16. In each place, it is rendered immortality, but is never applied to punishment or suffering.
We now ask the reader's attention to the definition given by several lexicographers, to aion from which the adjective aionion is derived, here rendered everlasting:
"donnegan's Definition.—Aion, time; a space of time; life-time and life; the ordinary period of a man's life; the age of man; man's estate; a long period of time; eternity; the spinal marrow; (eis tan aionia), to a very long period, to eternity; (apo aionas, from, or in the memory of man). Aionios, of long duration, eternal, lasting, permanent."
"pickering's Definition.—Aion, an age; a long period of time ; indefinite duration; time, whether longer or shorter, past, present, or future; in the New Testament, the wicked men of the age; the life of man. Aionios, of long duration, lasting, sometimes lasting through life, as aeternus, in Latin."
"Schrevelius' Definition.—English Edition. Aion, an age, a long period of time; indefinite duration; time, whether longer or shorter, past, present or future; also, in the feminine gender, life, the life of man. Aionios, of long duration, lasting, sometimes everlasting; sometimes lasting through life, as aeternus in Latin."
"Hink's Definition.—Aion, a period of time, an after-time, eternity. Comp. Latin, aevum. Aionios, lasting, eternal, of old, since the beginning."
"wright's Definition.—Aion, time, age, life-time, period, revolution of ages, dispensation of Providence, present world or life, world to come, eternity. Aionios, eternal, ancient."
"Giles' Definition.—Aion, time, an age, an indefinite period of time, eternity, the spinal marrow. Aionios, eternal, ancient."
With such a variety of signification as this word has, all can see that the doctrine of endless punishment can derive no support, simply because aionios is applied to it, for the first definition given of aion by Donnegan, one of the best lexicographers, is "time, a space of time; life-time and life; the ordinary period of a man's life." This certainly falls far short of proving endless punishment! And Pickering's definition of aionios is, "of long duration, lasting, sometimes lasting through life." This surely does not prove endless misery! The true meaning of aionios is age-lasting, or an indefinite period of time. It is applied to things that are endless, but more frequently to things of limited duration. It is the subject to which it is applied that indicates its meaning. If the nature of that subject is endless in duration, that qualifies the meaning of the word and indicates the sense in which we use the term, everlasting. But if the subject to which this term is applied, is of a limited nature, the word has a limited signification. The subject always determines the meaning of the word. We read of the everlasting hills, and the everlasting God, and it is the nature of each subject which determines the meaning of the word. It must, therefore, first be shown that punishment is necessarily endless in duration, before we can determine that the word everlasting when applied to it, has any such signification. We have already seen that kolasis, here rendered punishment, is correction and improvement, and therefore cause not be endless. Everlasting, therefore, when applied to punishment cannot have that signification. As the word aion from which aionios is derived, did not originally signify eternity, or endless duration, the Scripture writers would repeat the word to express great duration, and sometimes add the adverb eti, which means yet, still or farther and beyond, "The Lord shall reign (ton aiona kai ep aiona kai eti) forever and ever, and farther;" or as Dr. Clarke has it, " forever and More !" Again, "They shall shine as the stars (eis ton aiona kai eti) forever and ever and Farther." Dan. 12:3. Again, Micah 4:5, "We will walk in the name of the Lord our God (eis ton aiona kai epekeina) forever and Beyond It." It would be folly to say that aion here means eternity or endless duration, as there could be nothing farther or beyond it! These considerations will aid us essentially in understanding the subject before us.
We pass now to give what we regard as the correct interpretation of the text and context. The passage before us is the closing part of the parable of the sheep and goats, which is found in connection with a series of illustrations, which composed one unbroken discourse, recorded in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew.
All that is recorded in the parable was to be fulfilled, as the 31st verse of the context informs us: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory." This language is highly figurative, and cannot therefore bear, as many have erroneously supposed, a literal interpretation. In the sense in which this language was originally employed, the Scriptures clearly show that the coming of Christ in his kingdom and glory, took place in the days of the primitive Christians, and that some who listened to his instructions lived to witness his coming, in the spiritual manifestation of his truth.
For proof upon this point, we refer the reader to the 27th and 28th verses of the 16th chapter of Matthew, which read as follows:
"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
The coming of Christ here spoken of, we think, is the same as is referred to in the 31st verse of the context. In both cases his coming is spoken of as a glorious event; he is represented as being attended with angels, and coming to reward men according to their works. He indicated the nearness of the event by saying, "There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." Similar phraseology is found at the 1st verse of the 9th chapter of Mark:
"And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power."
According to the declaration of the great Teacher, some who listened to his instructions should live to see the kingdom of God come with power, or the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Language similar to this may be found in Luke 9:27:
"But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God."
Jesus in imparting instruction to his disciples in regard to the same event, employed the following language:
"But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another; for verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come." Matt. 10:23.
Here is a positive assertion from the lips of the Savior, that the disciples should not go over the cities of Israel, before the coming of the Son of man should take place.
These Scriptures have an important bearing upon the subject before us, as they show when the Son of man came in his kingdom and in his glory. This point established, we know when the events spoken of in the parable of the sheep and the goats took place. He came during the lifetime of some who heard him speak. Not that he came personally, for he never claimed that he would come thus; but he would come in his kingdom and glory, and in the glory of his Father; he would come by the manifestation of his grace and truth. Archbishop Newcome says:
"That any signal interposition in behalf of his church, or in the destruction of his enemies, may be metaphorically called a coming of Christ."
"When the prophet Isaiah represents God as about to punish the Egyptians, he speaks of him as riding upon a swift cloud for that purpose. (Isa. 19:1). In that case there was no visible appearance of Jehovah upon a cloud; but it is the language which the prophet adopted, in order to express the evident hand of God in the calamities of Egypt. The same thing may be said of the language of Christ upon the present occasion."
There was such an intimate connection between the establishment of Christ's kingdom, and the breaking of the Jewish power, that those events are spoken of simultaneously, and one had such an important bearing upon the other, that they are associated together, and embraced in the same purpose as means and ends. Doubtless the destruction of that ill-fated city entered into the divine purpose, as a means to the advancement of the Word of God, inasmuch as it crippled the persecuting power of the Jews, weakened their opposition to the cause of Christ, so that the Word of God could have free course and be glorified. It entered into the divine purpose as a means to the better establishment of the kingdom of God; but that destruction did not constitute the main object of Christ's coming, and formed no part of his glory. It removed one great obstacle to the establishment of Christianity. Christ's kingdom here refers to the dispensation of grace and truth manifested to the world through him. And we have already seen, that some who heard him speak were to live to see the kingdom of God come with power. The kingdom of God refers here to the system of religion Christ came to establish, the gospel kingdom, which was not fully established till the persecuting Jews were humbled by the destruction of their magnificent city, their power broken, and they subjugated and dispersed. Then the kingdom of God was fully established in the earth, the Word of God run, had free course, and was glorified, and converts were multiplied to the faith of the Lord Jesus.
It is evident that Christ did not expect his kingdom would fully come, till the Mosaic economy should end, which did not occur till Jerusalem was destroyed, the civil polity of the Jews was taken away, their temple demolished, their altars laid in ruins, and they brought into subjection to another power. Then should Christ's spiritual kingdom be set up in the earth, and established on the ruins of Judaism. He came with power to demolish the reign of Judaism, and in glory to establish his own spiritual kingdom.
The destruction of Jerusalem was to the disciples a deeply interesting event, for, to them, it was a sign that the kingdom of God should come with power. That we are correct upon this point, appears evident from the language of Luke, chapter 21 verses 24-32, inclusive, where the destruction of that city is foretold in the following language:
"And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable: Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled."
This language throws much light upon the subject. After the disciples were instructed concerning the Signs which should precede the destruction of that ill-fated city, Christ says, " So likewise Ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the KingDom Of God Is Nigh At Hand." The kingdom of God should immediately succeed the downfall of that city. Then the disciples should lift up their heads, "for your redemption draweth nigh." That is, they were to be delivered from those severe persecutions to which they had been subject for embracing the truth. Their persecutors were humbled, and the kingdom of God was more successfully preached. Dr. Barnes comments thus, on the phrase, "Kingdom of God nigh at hand:"
"That is, from the time God will signally build up his kingdom. It shall be fully established when the Jewish polity shall come to an end; when the temple shall be destroyed, and the Jews scattered abroad. Then the power of the Jews shall come to an end; they shall no longer be able to persecute you; and you shall be completely delivered from all these trials and calamities in Judea."
Having thus learned when. Christ was to come in his kingdom, and in the glory of his Father, we ascertain when all the events spoken of in the parable of the sheep and goats took place. We are now prepared to understand the preceding context.
In the preceding chapter, we learn that Jesus had spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible fate that awaited the inhabitants of that magnificent city. The disciples desiring more information concerning the fearful calamity to which the Master had alluded, familiarly addressed him in the following language: "Tell us when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?" (aion) or Age. The word here translated world is aion, from which aionios, rendered everlasting in the text is derived.
We read of the end of the world, or aion, in 1 Cor. 10:11, Heb. 9:26. This cannot mean eternity, for eternity has no end! The discourse of our Lord recorded in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew, contains a full reply to these queries of the disciples. The gospel of the kingdom was to be proclaimed very extensively prior to the destruction of that great city, though not as successfully as afterward. While many would remain faithful to the Master's cause, others, through severe persecution, would turn back again to the weak and beggarly elements of Judaism. From the 5th to the 28th verse, inclusive, of the 24th chapter, Jesus enumerates the Signs which should precede the destruction of Jerusalem; and at the 29th verse, he predicts its downfall by saying that the sun should be darkened, the stars fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens should be shaken. This was in accordance with the ancient mode of speech. Fearful calamities and temporal national judgments were indicated by representing great convulsions in nature. See Isa. 13:10; 34; Ezek. 32; Joel 2.
Jesus then indicates the nearness of the events by the "Parable of the fig tree:" " When it putteth forth leaves we know that summer is nigh; so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors."
By this similitude, the disciples were instructed in regard to the end of the world, (aion) or age. And to impress this truth still more sensibly upon their minds, he confines the fulfillment of all the things he had mentioned to that generation; verse 34—"Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." Upon this passage. Dr. Whitby comments as follows:
"These words, this age or generation shall not pass away, afford a full demonstration that all which Christ had mentioned hitherto, was to be accomplished, not at the time of the conversion of the Jews, or at the final day of judgment, but in that very age, or whilst some of that generation of men lived; for the phrase never bears any other sense in the New Testament, than the men of this age."
The Son of man should come with power and great glory, and should send forth his angels, or ministers, or apostles, to gather together such as had been faithful in different places, where the gospel of the kingdom had been preached. Those who professed his religion are compared to ten virgins; those who were wise gave heed to his instructions, while the foolish turned away from the truth. The object of this parable was to inculcate watchfulness, which is followed by another concerning the talents, the moral of which is faithfulness. Then the parable of the sheep and goats is introduced, the object of which is to represent the separation that should take place between the wise and faithful and the foolish and unfaithful. Those who remained true and faithful should inherit the gospel kingdom, while those who opposed the gospel and persecuted the disciples, were to suffer in the general calamities which were to come upon the nation. The Christians who were in the enjoyment of gospel privileges, were said to be on the right hand, while the enemies of Christ being in a state of condemnation and misery, were said to be on the left hand. This simply represents the different conditions of the friends and enemies of the truth. The prominent opposers of the Savior's religion, were called the devil and his angels; and after they had filled up the measure of their iniquities, they were to suffer age-lasting punishment, while the righteous, or faithful Christians were in possession of age-lasting life, a spiritual life they enjoyed as long as they remained faithful. The subject had no reference to the immortal resurrection world, but exclusive application to this life. The eternal life is the life the believer enjoys in this world by being brought to the knowledge of the truth. "This is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." John 17:3. "He that believeth on the Son Hath everlasting life." John 3:36, and 6:47. The true Christian believer lives Now in the enjoyment of everlasting life.
Thus we see that it is not necessary to go into the future world to enjoy everlasting life, for the true Christian believer is in possession of everlasting life; neither are men obliged to go into the immortal state of existence to suffer everlasting punishment. Both can be experienced in this life; one enjoyed and the other suffered. And as the subject under consideration had no reference to the future world, both the life and the punishment referred to, might end in this world. As long as the disciples loved and obeyed their Master, they lived in the enjoyment of eternal life; but when they forgot him, and heeded not his teachings, and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of hearty (Mark 16:14), then they did not enjoy everlasting life. The enemies of Christ suffered everlasting punishment. The severe judgments and calamities to come upon them were spoken of under the figure of fire. The prominent adversaries of Christ and their subordinate associates, were called the devil and his angels. Matt. 25:41.
The word here rendered devil is diabolos, which means adversary, an enemy or opposer. The prominent persecutors of Christians were called the Devil, "Behold the Devil shall cast some of you into prison." Rev. 2:10. Severe national judgments are often spoken of under the figure of fire and furnace of fire. Isa. 9:19; Isa. 31:9; Jer. 17:27; Ezek. 20:47-48; Ezek. 22:18-22.
The word aionios translated "eternal" and "everlasting" in the text, does not show of itself that, either the life or the punishment is endless in duration. It is always the nature of the subject to which it was applied that defines its meaning. The hills are called everlasting. Gen. 49:26. In Habakkuk 3:6, the mountains are called everlasting, and the ways of God are everlasting. In each case, the nature of the subject defines the meaning of the word. When applied to the mountains it has a limited signification; when applied to God, it is unlimited as God himself. When applied to punishment it has a limited signification, as there is nothing in the nature of punishment, or fire, that is necessarily endless.
Although severe judgments were inflicted upon the Jews, so that they were banished from the presence of the Lord, and suffered age-lasting punishment, yet Paul assures us that all Israel shall be saved. "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all." Rom. 11:32.