For no one is 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 anyone." ~ Lamentations 3:31-33
For verification of how widespread this belief was in the early Church see A Larger Hope?, Volume 1: Universal Salvation from Christian Beginnings to Julian of Norwich by Ilaria Ramelli. (See also.)
“But doesn't the Bible clearly teach eternal punishment?"
If the word which is translated as "eternal" in Matthew 25:46 was always translated as eternal, then I would say those who claim that the Bible teaches eternal torment have a very strong case. But it is not. The Greek word I am referring to in Matt 25:46 is the word aiônion. (Its lexical form is aiônios.) In the Septuagint (Koine Greek text of the Old Testament), there are many examples where aiônion does not mean eternal and is not translated as such. Strictly speaking, the Greek words aiônios and aiônion only mean “enduring forever" when referring to God and the life he gives1 (otherwise they refer to an undefined period of time, e.g. an age). It is also worth noting that the doctrine of eternal life is not dependant on Matt 25:46. Even if the verse did not exist, the doctrine would not be in doubt.
‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die...”’ (John 11:25, 26a).
Because we know that those who believe in Jesus will never die,2 it is acceptable to translate the words zoen aiônion in John 3:16 as “eternal life.” (As it accurately describes the life that God gives.) And we know God’s Kingdom never ends, therefore we can translate aiônion basileian in 2 Peter 1:11 as “eternal kingdom.” But what good reason do we have to translate kolasin aiônion as “eternal punishment”? The only reasons a translator would translate kolasin aiônion as eternal punishment is if they came to the text believing that the Bible teaches eternal torment, or if they believed that the word aiônion can only mean eternal. (I sincerely believe that most translators are trying to be faithful to the text; but they mistranslate the word because they are using lexicons which fail to give the full range of meanings of aiônios. The root of aiônios is aiôn. Aiôn means “age” or “eternity.” Aiôn is a noun and aiônios is an adjective. In both words aiôn holds the same meaning. See also.)
“In the Greek New Testament, the word translated as “eternal” or “everlasting” is the adjective aiónios (αἰώνιος), derived from the noun aión (αἰών). This Greek word simply means an ‘age’ or ‘agelong’. It denotes an indeterminate period of time. We get the English word ‘eon’ from it. The Greek word never meant ‘endless’ or ‘perpetual’ by itself. These two meanings were picked up when the original Greek New Testament was translated into Latin. The translators chose the Latin term ‘aeternus’ which in fact does denote ‘endless’, ‘everlasting’, ‘eternal’, and ‘without end’. The confusion began there and continues to the present day.” (www.mercyonall.org/faq)
For examples of how aiônios and aiônion are used in the Septuagint and in Ancient Greek literature see Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts by Ramelli & Konstan. ( Terms for Eternity is a scholarly work. Gerry Beauchmin's book Hope Beyond Hell is for the layman.)*
*The text above is an extract from the page Why Hell?
Ultimately this is not a debate about the authority of the Bible. This is a debate about the interpretation of Scripture. See Jonathan Mitchell - Lifelong Translator of the Greek New Testament (With examples: John 3:16, Matt. 7:13-14, 2 Thess. 1:9, 1 Cor. 15:28). (See also The Inescapable Love of God (2nd edition) by Thomas Talbott3 and Presuppositions and Interpretations in Confessions of a Tomboy Grandma: On the Eternal Destiny of the Human Race by Diane Perkins Castro. ("Presuppositions and Interpretations" is made available as a PDF by permission of the author.) It's also worth checking out this interview with George Sarris.)
If a person had never heard of the doctrine of universal reconciliation, could they arrive at the conclusion that this is what the Bible teaches simply by studying the Bible? Many have. (And this despite translators reading eternal torment into the text. See the video below and links above.)
So what persuaded Robin Parry that the Bible does indeed teach that God will ultimately reconcile all people to himself? This Parry explains in the following video. (Thomas Talbott’s book, The Inescapable Love of God did not persuade him that God would ultimately reconcile all people; but it did cause him to think that it might have more biblical support than the doctrines of eternal torment or conditional immortality. See also Robin Parry Responds to Michael McClymond's Theological Critique of Universalism)
“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” (Romans 11:32)
“...brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer:
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.”
As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (Rom 11:25b-32)
Each in their own time. See “The Salvation of the Church and of the World” (ch 4) in The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment by Jan Bonda. (Most of the book argues from the book of Romans and the Old Testament that once the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (the Church), God will miraculously save all Israel. After this, God will use the Church and Israel to bring the people of the nations to repentance, so they can enter through the gates of the new Jerusalem.) The elect are but the first fruits.
Now just to be clear, the Bible does teach that there is suffering in the life to come for the unrepentant. That is not up for debate. Whether or not the suffering in Hell never ends, is. Most of the verses which tell us that there is suffering in Hell, say nothing about how long those in Hell will suffer for. So when it comes to the debate about how long the suffering in Hell lasts, those verses don't count. We must only use the verses which seem to teach never ending suffering and those verses which seem to teach universal reconciliation. (And these in light of God's character as revealed in Christ.)
Given that there are far more verses which seem to teach universal reconciliation, than there are verses which seem to teach eternal torment, it would be wise for church leaders to stop interpreting the verses which seem to teach universal reconciliation in light of the verses which seem to teach eternal torment, and start interpreting the verses which seem to teach eternal torment in light of the verses which seem to teach universal reconciliation.
"But what about free will?" See Ep. 24 Christian Universalism and the Hurdles of Mystery and Free Will — Pt. 2 in David Artman's podcast Grace Saves All: Christianity and Universal Salvation.
It’s impossible to know what God is really like, and not love him. Anyone who rejects God, rejects him because they do not know how good he is. (A choice made out of ignorance, is not an informed choice. Hell is the penultimate destiny of much of humanity, but it is not their final destination.)
If you think anyone can resist God’s love forever, you have more faith in people than you have faith in God.
“His nature is always to forgive, and just because he forgives, he punishes. Because God is so altogether alien to wrong, because it is to him a heart-pain and trouble that one of his little ones should do the evil thing, there is, I believe, no extreme of suffering to which, for the sake of destroying the evil thing in them, he would not subject them. A man might flatter, or bribe, or coax a tyrant; but there is no refuge from the love of God; that love will, for very love, insist upon the uttermost farthing.” ~ George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
God will destroy sin and death by bringing people to the point where they really see what God is like and will therefore see sin as he sees it. Then they will love what God loves and hate evil as much as he hates evil. (Those who welcome the process, will rejoice in the process. Those who resist God, will literally suffer in the presence of Jesus and the Holy Angels. See "From" or "Away from the Presence of the Lord?)
It is also important to note that punishment cannot save a person, however sometimes a person has to hit rock bottom before their eyes are finally opened to the horror of sin, and to their need of being saved from their sins. When they know they need saving, they will be willing to accept the Saviour. Sometimes people need “the eye-opening power of pain” in order to come to their senses. (We should not be surprised at this. Many, many people have come to Christ after suffering the consequences of their sin. Btw, wanting to be saved from pain, is not the same as wanting to be saved from sin. See Justice. See also the following interview for more on the nature and purpose of God's punishment.)
"But doesn't God's justice require never ending punishment?"
When discussing God's justice, we must be careful not to project on to God mankind's idea of justice. Laws which govern societies on this earth, must by necessity enforce punishments when those laws are violated. An example must be set. Crime must be discouraged. Without punishments a government's law is simply not law. This is true whether the laws were created by people or given by God (such as the laws to govern Israel). But God's justice, regarding the judgment to come, is very different.
Do those in Heaven need an example to be set? Would they be tempted to sin if those in Hell did not suffer endlessly? Not at all. Those in Heaven obey God out of love for him. They do not need the fear of punishment to keep them from sinning. Endless suffering in Hell would not please God, and it would be of no use to those who suffer. Endless suffering serves no good purpose. Because it is evil, it is something God would never allow.4
The Bible clearly teaches that God's nature is love, and his love is eternal and unconditional. It cannot be earned or lost. He loves us not because of who we are, but because of who he is. In 1 Corinthians 13 we are told what the nature of perfect love is: it always hopes, always perseveres, and it never fails. Some argue against these things by saying that if God always loves a person, he is not free. They argue that love is a choice, and to be truly free God must be free not to love people (or at least be free to stop loving people). But isn't the trait of love simply a part of his character?
Does God have to choose to be just? Is he free if he “must” always be just? God is always just because of who God is. He is not violating his free will by always being just. And he is not violating his free will by always loving people. (If you have trouble with this you might find the following interview with Robin Parry helpful.)
“But if Hell is not eternal, Jesus would not have suffered and died on the cross to save people from going there.”
If you believe that, how would you answer the following question?
Suppose that all those who go to Hell suffer no less, and no more than 100,000 years, Do you believe Jesus would have suffered and died to save people from going there?
Most parents (because they love their children) would willingly suffer a painful injustice to keep one of their children from going to prison for ten years.
How much greater is God’s love? His love for us is perfect. He was willing to suffer and die on the cross to save you, and me, from suffering in Hell unnecessarily5—even if that suffering only lasted a single day.6
The better I believe God to be, the more I will love him, and the more I will obey him. That is why these things are of the utmost importance.
Unfortunately, some Christians are not willing to take a closer look at Scripture because they find the doctrine of eternal torment appealing.7
“At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sages philosophers blushing in red-hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish then ever before from applause." - (Tertullian, De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX)
“ The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of heaven.”
“ The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss. (Jonathon Edwards,"The Eternity of Hell Torments" (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]
Why do some people take such pleasure in the suffering of others?
“ ... the satisfaction we feel when wrong comes to grief. Why do we feel this satisfaction? Because we hate wrong, but, not being righteous ourselves, more or less hate the wronger as well as his wrong, hence are not only righteously pleased to behold the law’s disapproval proclaimed in his punishment, but unrighteously pleased with his suffering, because of the impact upon us of his wrong. In this way the inborn justice of our nature passes over to evil. It is no pleasure to God, as it so often is to us, to see the wicked suffer.” ~ George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
God takes no pleasure in the suffering of anyone, and when God has finished making us, neither will we.
If you love a person you desire their happiness, not their suffering, no matter how wicked they are. Suffering may be needed to help open their eyes, but love never punishes more than is absolutely necessary. A good parent, only ever punishes for their child's good; a good parent only ever punishes because of love.
“ To regard any suffering with satisfaction, save it be sympathetically with its curative quality, comes of evil, is inhuman because undivine, is a thing God is incapable of. His nature is always to forgive, and just because he forgives, he punishes. Because God is so altogether alien to wrong, because it is to him a heart-pain and trouble that one of his little ones should do the evil thing, there is, I believe, no extreme of suffering to which, for the sake of destroying the evil thing in them, he would not subject them. A man might flatter, or bribe, or coax a tyrant; but there is no refuge from the love of God; that love will, for very love, insist upon the uttermost farthing.” ~ George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
The doctrine of eternal torment is delicious; it appeals to the worst in human nature. Many who believe it think they will go straight to Heaven when they die; and those who reject their message will suffer in Hell forever. They have projected onto God their own twisted view of justice, and in the process misrepresented the God whom they claim to worship. (God's justice is not like man's justice. See Grace Saves All: The Necessity of Christian Universalism by David Artman and David Bentley Hart’s book That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, And Universal Salvation. See also.)
"...I think no other doctrine can even compete with "no further chances" in terms of the following three factors. No doctrine even comes close to a) being so strongly believed by so many evangelicals despite b) being so utterly disastrous in its consequences and c) having so little by way of Scriptural support." - Keith DeRose
How "utterly disastrous in its consequences"?
Most Christians who believe that those who die without turning to Christ suffer endlessly in Hell, are in a state of denial. Few are as honest as the Japanese Christians that George Sarris mentions in the video above. If someone close to you died as an unbeliever, and you think they are suffering endless torment in Hell, take the time to imagine—as often as you remember them—how much they must be suffering right now. (Such mental anguish befits those who believe God could be so callous and cruel.)
The doctrine of eternal torment has not only caused much anguish and emotional distress amongst Christians, it has also led many confessing Christians to ignore Christ's teaching and persecute those they think are leading others astray. (See A Legacy of Fear and Persecution in Thomas Talbott's book, The Inescapable Love of God for a closer look at how the doctrine of eternal torment caused Christians to commit crimes against their fellow human beings.8 Chapter used with permission.)
Do you believe the doctrine but are uncomfortable with it? How do you know that that's not the Holy Spirit trying to get you to take a closer look? 9
Are you really sure that God will not make you repent of some things after you die?
Such a thought certainly does not tickle the ears.
But what about all those verses which say God will destroy the wicked? Does conditional immortality have more biblical support than universal reconciliation? See Destruction, Apollumi, and Restoration. (See also How One Biblical Annihilationist Became a Biblical Universalist.)10
So what does this all mean for Christians? Will they still share the gospel if they believe that all will be saved in the end? They should—because they believe that people are only saved from Hell through hearing the good news. A person has to hear the good news before they can respond to it. If we believe in Christ, and we believe that some will be saved from going to Hell, and others will be saved out of Hell, we ought to tell people about Jesus. (Particularly if we believe Hell is a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. How can we say we care if we don’t tell people about Jesus?)
What does it mean for Christians when it says we will inherit all things? Does that include all the people we love?
Why are the gates of the New Jerusalem never shut? (See Revelation 21 and 22.)
Can people be given new names in the life to come? Are these the names they are given after they “wash their robes,” i.e., repent? Are the new names the names written in the Lamb's book of life?
What does it mean when it says God will be all in all?11 (See 1 Cor 15:28)
What does God mean when he says he is going to make everything new? (See Rev 21:5)
If the majority of today’s Christians believed that God will ultimately reconcile all, what effects might it have on the Church? Robin Parry explains here.
1. See Aiônios in William Barclay’s New Testament Words, Westminster John Knox Press, 1974, p.36-37.
2. "Believers are made immortal when the Lord returns (1 Cor. 15:50-57). When one has been made immortal, death is impossible. In the Greek Scriptures endlessness is never expressed in terms of eons or of that which is eonian. The Scriptures never speak of “the endless eons of eternity.” Endlessness is expressed by the use of negatives: “not,” “no not,” “un,” “less.” For example: “Of His kingdom there shall be no end” (ouk estai telos) (Luke 1:33); “endless life” (akatalutou) (Heb. 7:16); “endless genealogies” (aperantois) (1 Tim. 1:4); “nevermore” (ou me eti) (Rev. 18:21-23)." taken from www.mercyonall.org/eons-of-the-bible
3. If everyone involved in this debate read chapter 4 in The Inescapable Love of God, there'd be a lot less heat and a greater willingness to listen to what others have to say (see The Influence of Thomas Talbott.)
4. These last two paragraphs appear elsewhere on this site.
5. Suffering only becomes necessary when a person refuses to admit they were in the wrong. (See The Gift of Hell.)
Some argue that once a person is locked into an eternal state of being, they cannot change, and therefore, cannot repent. If this is granted, it does not change the fact that the Bible teaches that Hades will be destroyed. It is not eternal, and therefore exists in time. (The Bible also teaches that there is at least one age—perhaps more—to come.) Might it be possible to suffer in time (perhaps till the end of time)—repent, and then in the timeless state at the end of time, spend eternity with God? Peter Hiett certainly thinks so. See here.
6. I am not saying that the suffering in Hell lasts a single day. I am merely making a point about the nature of God's love.
7. To be fair, most Christians are very uncomfortable with the doctrine of eternal torment. They accept it reluctantly because they believe that this is what the Bible teaches. But this does not mean there is no division between them. There is much division within Church as to why God will not save all people.
The Arminians believe God wants to save all people but is unable to save them; and the Calvinists believe that God is able to save all people, but he does not want to. Both groups lack faith in God. They argue between themselves (often bitterly) because neither group believes that God wants to save all people and is able to save all those He desires to save. They are so wedded to the belief that God will not save all people, that they refuse to re-examine the scriptures to see if they have misinterpreted what they have read, and consequently underestimate God. (Like the Pharisees of old, they seem to believe in their own inerrancy when it comes to interpretation. It has never occurred to them that they may have been misled by more intelligent—and usually well-meaning—but misguided men.) But to their credit, most of them do not believe that God delights in the suffering of the wicked.
8. Some of the most influential atheists in history (such as Voltaire and Nietzsche) gave the doctrine of eternal torment as one of their main reasons for rejecting the God of the Bible. See here.
It is also worth noting that the Islamic view of Hell as endless punishment, is at the root of the horror that has been committed in the name of Islam. It is a mistake to think that religion is the problem. It is not religion, but particular doctrines which are the problem. (For an example of how particular doctrines can lead to violence and persecution see Theocracy and the book The Third Choice by Mark Durie. I strongly encourage all Muslims to read the preface of Durie's book.)
9. David Artman (a minister), who after finishing his Doctor of Ministry degree in 1996, firmly believed that universal reconciliation was not the view of Hell which had the most Biblical support. He believed this because he thought he had heard the best arguments for universal reconciliation and they came up short. He wrote: "The topic of my thesis for this degree touched on the three main understandings of hell in the history of Christianity—those being: hell as a place of eternal torment, hell as a place of final annihilation, and hell as a place of restoration." But after further research came to a very different conclusion. He tells his story in his book, Grace Saves All: The Necessity of Christian Universalism (a sample from the book can be read here). Preston Sprinkle, who coauthored Erasing Hell with Francis Chan, first concluded that eternal torment is biblical; but after further research also came to a different conclusion. (It is only a matter of time before he (and those who have come to the same conclusion) realise that when a wicked person repents, and is finally made like Christ, that wicked person ceases to exist (see Bearing the Curse of Hell—Preston Sprinkle).
If you take the time to investigate the biblical evidence for the doctrine of eternal torment, I'm sure you will come to the same conclusion that this man did. See No Proof of Eternal Torment
10. The debate between Biblical Annihilationists and Biblical Universalists is the debate of the future. Which view you favour will to some degree depend on what you think the word “death” means in the Bible, who or what you think the greatest enemy of humankind is, and what the nature of suffering in Hell is like.
There are three kinds of death in the Bible: Physical death, death to self (selfishness), and sin that results in being spiritually dead (i.e. perishing. Many will continue to perish after judgement day; and will continue to perish until they wash their robes—i.e.repent). Much of the confusion in the Church today results from not understanding which is which, and what leads to what.
There is also some confusion about what the greatest enemy of humankind is. Is it death? Or is it sin that results in death?
“The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins, is a false, mean, low notion. The salvation of Christ is salvation from the smallest tendency or leaning to sin. It is a deliverance into the pure air of God’s ways of thinking and feeling. It is a salvation that makes the heart pure, with the will and choice of the heart to be pure. To such a heart, sin is disgusting. It sees a thing as it is,—that is, as God sees it, for God sees everything as it is.” ~ George MacDonald, Justice.
The Bible clearly teaches that the greatest enemy of each of us is sin that results in death. Therefore, the greatest possible thing God can do for any of us is save us from sin (which naturally saves us from the consequences of sin). Once sin is destroyed and is no more, the last enemy of humankind—death, will be no more. Then God will be all in all. Sinful people will no longer exist. All things will have been made new.
We must all die to selfishness. The effect of this death to self will be eternal in nature—eternal life with Christ—in that sense, no one escapes the result of this death. Sin and death will be destroyed in the consuming fire of God’s love. Only after a person is made like Christ, will the fire of God’s love cease to burn them.
All the verses which are used to support conditional immortality, make perfect sense (in fact make more sense) when interpreted in light of the verses which clearly teach universal reconciliation.
"But won’t those in Heaven be miserable while some that they love are in Hell?"
Those in Heaven will be happy knowing that everything God does for a person is for their good, and that no one can resist his perfect love forever. (This is the only pleasure the righteous will get from the suffering of the wicked.) What happens to each person in Hell is for their highest possible good; it is not as if they are being unjustly persecuted by the cruel and wicked. (God will no longer allow people to be cruel towards each other.) They will be suffering the natural consequences of being in the presence of the Consuming Fire. See From or away from
“Sitting at the gate of heaven, sitting on the footstool of the throne itself, yea, clasping the knees of the Father, you could not be at peace, except in their every vital movement, in every their smallest point of consciousness, your heart, your soul, your mind, your brain, your body, were one with the living God. If you had one brooding thought that was not a joy in him, you would not be at peace; if you had one desire you could not leave absolutely to his will you would not be at peace…” ~ George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
The rightful King came to save all sinners, and he will accomplish that which he set out to do. He will completely undo the works of the Devil. Love will conquer all. This is the Victorious Gospel.
11. Does all in this context mean all without distinction? Or all without exception? All always means all unless there is some quantifier to limit the domain of the “all” which is being talked about. And even then, it still means all within that limited domain. In 1 Cor 15:22, Col 1:19-20, and Romans 5:18 the domain is "all" people. In other words, all these verses refer to all people without exception. See here.
Note: If I find a video, url, or book that I think worth sharing I will add it to this page.
On the Soul and the Resurrection by St. Gregory of Nyssa (This small book is profound, but it's hard going. Available in Select Works of Gregory of Nyssa)
The Fifth Ecumenical Council (Pt.1 of 3) For a more indepth look at this issue see "Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?"
A note regarding the last URL: In a very real sense Tarek is right that not all are saved, and yet in another sense he is wrong. There is a paradox here. You are not saved until you believe you have been saved. In other words, we have to enter into God’s salvation. We have to repent (change our minds) and believe. Each and every one of us has been forgiven, but we cannot enjoy intimacy with God and begin to be set free from our self-destructive ways until we believe that we are forgiven and are unconditionally loved. See the last 20 minutes of the following interview with David Artman. Ep. 93 Scott Klaudt - Pastor of Zootown Church in Missoula, Montana
A Discussion on the Book of Romans (See also this interview with Douglas Campbell and Dr. Chris Tilling co-host of the OnScript Podcast and author of Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul: Reflections on the Work of Douglas Campbell)
Note: Just because I've shared the above links it does not mean that I agree with everything the speakers or authors say. If you wish to know my views you can browse this site or contact me here.