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No eternal fire but yes eternal life? How?
The Bible speaks of "everlasting punishment" (Matt. 25:46) for the wicked, and of "everlasting fire" (verse 41) in which they will burn and of their being "tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10). [
Doesn't this prove the immortality of the soul?
The words translated "everlasting" and "forever" do not necessarily mean never ending. These terms, when found in the New Testament, come from the Greek noun aion, or from the adjective aionios derived from this noun. When we examine various Scripture texts containing aion, we discover at once how impossible it would be to attempt to make this Greek root always mean an endless period. We read in Matthew 13:39 and elsewhere of "the end of the world [aion]." How could there be an "end" to something if it where endless? (Here is an illustration of where aion might be translated "age," the "world" being viewed in its aspect of time. In Colossians 1:26 aion is thus translated.) We read of Christ that He has been exalted above "every name that is named, not only in this world [aion], but also in that which is to come: Eph. 1:21. We read of "this present world [aion]." 2 Tim. 4:10. Thus again we see that an aion can have an end, for this present aion is to be followed by another and a different one. The bible speaks of what "God ordained before the world [aion]." 1 Cor. 2:7.
Of Christ we read also, "Thou art a priest for ever [aion]." Heb. 5:6. Here "forever," or aion, clearly means this present age, for all theologians agree that Christ's work as a priest comes to an end when sin has been blotted out. (The work of a priest is to deal with sin. See Heb. 2:17 and 5:1)
Paul, writing to Philemon regarding the return of his servant Onesimus, said, "Thou shouldst receive [have, A.R.V.] him forever [aionios] ... both in the flesh, and in the Lord." Philemon 15, 16. (Here we have the adjective that is derived from aion.)
H.C.G. Moule, in that scholarly commentary, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, remarks on this text:
"The adjective tends to mark duration as long as the nature of the subject allows. And by usage it has a close connection with things spiritual. 'Forever' here thus imports both natural and spiritual permanence of restoration; 'forever' on earth, and then hereafter; a final return to Philemon's home, with a prospect of heaven in Philemon's company."
We need not here raise the question as to whether Moule has altogether correctly measured Paul's words. We inquire simply: How could Philemon have Onesimus " 'forever' on earth, and then hereafter," unless the earthly "forever" had an end to it?
We read of "Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them ... suffering the vengeance of eternal [aionios] fire." Jude 1:7. Are those cities, set ablaze long ago as a divine judgment, still burning? No; their ruins are quite submerged by the Dead Sea. The Bible itself specifically states that God turned "the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes." 2 Peter 2:6. Now the fate of these cities is declared to be a warning to all wicked men of the fate that impends for them. Therefore if the "aionios fire" of that long ago judgment turned into ashes those upon whom it preyed, and then died down of itself, we may properly conclude that the "aionios fire" of the last day will do likewise.
When we turn to the Old Testament we discover that "everlasting" and "forever" sometimes signify a very limited time. We shall quote texts in which these two terms are translated from the Hebrew word olam, because olam is the equivalent of the Greek aion.
The Passover was to be kept "forever [olam]." Ex. 12:24. But it ended with the cross. (See Heb. 9:24-26.) Aaron and his sons were to offer incense "forever [olam]" (1 Chron. 23:13), and to have an "everlasting [olam] priesthood." Ex. 40:15. But this priesthood, with its offerings of incense, ended at the cross. (See Heb. 7:11-14.) A servant who desired to stay with his master, was to serve him "forever [olam]." (See Ex. 21:1-6.) How could a servant serve a master to endless time? Will there be masters and servants in the world to come? Jonah, describing his watery experience, said, "The earth with her bars was about me forever [olam]." Jonah 2:6. Yet this "forever" was only "three days and three nights" long. Jonah 1:17. Rather a short "forever." Because Gehazi practiced deceit. Elisha declared, "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee [Gehazi], and unto thy seed for ever [olam]." 2 Kings 5:27. Should we conclude, therefore, that Gehazi's family would never end, and that thus leprosy would be perpetuated for all time to come?
Thus by the acid test of actual usage we discover that in a number of cases aion, aionios, and olam have a very limited time value.
What Bible usage thus reveals, Greek scholars confirm. For example, Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon, a standard work, gives the following as the principal meanings of aion:
"A space or period of time, especially a lifetime, life. ... Also one's time of life, age: the age of man. ... 2. A long space of time, eternity. ... 3. Later, a space of time clearly defined and marked out, an era, age ... this present life, this world."
Alexander Cruden, in this concordance, which for many years was the one great concordance in the English language, remarks under the word "eternal":
"The words eternal, everlasting, forever, are sometimes taken for a long time, and are not always to be understood strictly."
The learned Archbishop Trench, in his authoritative work, Synonyms of the New Testament, remarks concerning the primary sense of aion: "In its primary, it signifies time, short or long, in its unbroken duration; oftentimes in classical Greek the duration of human life."
--- Pages 208, 209.
During recent years many discoveries have been made of Greek writings of the first century A.D. These writings, called papyri, enable us to know just how the Greek was written and just what meanings belonged to words at the very time when the New Testament authors wrote. The Greek scholars J. H. Moulton and George Milligan, in their monumental work entitled The Vocabulary of The Greek Testament, cite various instances in the papyri where aion is equivalent simply to the "period of life" of a person. Under "aionios" they make the following statement in summing up the evidence as to its usage by the first century Greek-speaking people of the Roman empire:
"In general, the word depicts that of which the horizon is not in view, whether the horizon be at an infinite distance, ... or whether it lies no farther than the span of Ceasar's life."
Now, having proved from the Bible and from Greek scholars that aion and olam are elastic terms, and oftentimes mean only a very limited period, we have removed the very basis on which rests the objection before us. But our case is even stronger when we note the rule that commentators give for measuring the time involved in aion or olam in any text.
Adam Clark, in commenting on Gehazi's leprosy (2 Kings 5:27), remarks:
"The forever implies as long as any of his [Gehazi's] posterity should remain. This is the import of the word le-olam. It takes in the whole extent or duration of the thing to which it is applied. The forever of Gehazi was till his posterity became extinct."
This agrees with the statement found in the quotation given earlier from Moule on Philemon 15:
"the adjective [aionios] tends to mark duration as long as the nature of the subject allows."
Therefore, we should first decide whether a "subject" is so constituted that he can live endlessly before we decide that hellfire will continue endlessly. Now note the statement made in the well-known commentary by J. P. Lange:
"The bodies and souls of the wicked will suffer as long as they are capable of suffering, which, since they are immortal, will ... be forever." --- Comment on Jude 1:7.
The scholarly theologians do not attempt, as does the objector, to prove that souls are immortal because the judgment fires burn for an aion. On the contrary, knowing that the time value of aion, aionios, and olam must be determined by the "nature of the subject" involved, these scholars conclude that the fire will burn endlessly because they believe that the souls of the wicked "are immortal." But the claim that the soul is immortal is the very point to be proved.
The Bible nowhere declares that the soul is immortal. On the contrary, the bible uses words that clearly convey the thought that in the case of the wicked the "nature of the subject" demands the conclusion that complete and speedy annihilation will take place. The wicked are described as "chaff," "stubble," "wax," "fat," et cetera. (See Matt. 3:12; Mal. 4:1; Ps. 68:2; 37:20.) We are told explicitly that the fire "shall burn them up" and "shall leave them neither root nor branch," so that "they shall be ashes under the soles" of the feet of the righteous. Mal. 4:1-3.
Now, while we can thus correctly conclude that the "everlasting" torment of the wicked is but a limited period, we can at the same time logically conclude that the "everlasting" reward of the righteous is an unending one, for we are explicitly told that the righteous "put on immortality" at the Advent of Christ. (See 1 Cor. 15:51-55.) Thus the "nature of the subject" being immortal, the "everlasting" is correctly understood as meaning endless.
Answers to Objections, Francis D. Nichol, pp. 359 - 363
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Hell in the Bible
The word “hell” is used 54 times in the Bible. It is translated from several different words with various meanings, as indicated below:
In the Old Testament:
31 times from the Hebrew “Sheol,” which means “the grave”
In the New Testament:
10 times from the Greek “Hades,” which means “the grave”
12 times from the Greek “Gehenna,” which means “a place of burning”
1 time from the Greek “Tartarus,” which means “a place of darkness”
What is Purgatory?
A tradition held by the Catholic Church that teaches people who are not good enough to be worthy of heaven, but not bad enough to deserve hell, suffer in an intermediary state until their sins are purged.
But is it in the Bible?
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