A Word About Universalism

I am a conditionalist, as you all know by now. Now, because it is the most popular view in Christian circles (and historically has been so), and because so much has been written about it, I tend to focus my efforts towards refuting the traditional view of Hell as a place of eternal torment or suffering of some sort. However, I also can’t ignore the other immortalist view, that being universalism. If it is true that the wicked are all destroyed, then just as they can’t be around for eternity to suffer, it also cannot be the case that they all end up being saved and given eternal life.

The following is another small portion from “The Bible Teaches Annihilationism.” The full scriptural argument against universalism is long and not really appropriate for a blog. However, here are a few points to consider.

In order for universalism to be true:

Almost All Of The Biblical Arguments In Favor Of Annihilationism Must Be Refuted

All the passages that talk about “destruction” and the wicked being “destroyed” must speak only of ruin, not actual destruction (in this case, a temporary though possibly lengthy state of ruin). The wicked must inherit only temporary, reversible decay (cf. Galatians 6:8). The arguments that I and other annihilationists make from passages like 2 Peter 2:6, Matthew 13:40, Malachi 4:1-3, a slew of Old Testament passages that speak of the wicked being wiped out in ways that clearly are not true if they speak only of what happens on earth, and others of the sort must all mean something other than utter destruction in eternity (and it must be temporary).

The one key annihilationist argument that is consistent with (and arguably, better fitted to) universalism is the argument from the biblical vision of eternity. If all people will eventually be redeemed and regenerated same as us, then the world to come will be just as free from sin and evil and full of God’s presence as it would be if the wicked were destroyed. Still, if I have done my job in Part 3, then that should prove fatal to universalism.

“Eternal” Must Not Really Mean Eternal When It Speaks Of The Fate Of The Lost

All the passages that speak of “eternal” destruction or “eternal” punishment (such as 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and Matthew 25:46) must not mean “eternal” as we know it, since both the destruction and the punishment, both the actions of destroying and punishing and the results (destruction and punishment), must end. This is not impossible, given that the Greek and Hebrew words (namely from the “aion” and “olam” word group) are rooted in the idea of an age (Vine 33-34, “166. aiónios,” “5769. olam or olam”) – they don’t always, therefore, refer tot hings that are everlasting. This is a key biblical argument made by universalists, and understandably so. However, to make such an argument requires one to reject almost all mainstream bible translations and many Greek scholars, something which I certainly am not comfortable doing given that I am not a master Greek scholar myself.

Revelation 20:10

In Section XII of “The Bible Teaches Annihilationism”, I made a case for how the passage that reads “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (ASV) can manifest itself in real life as annihilation (given the symbolic nature of Revelation and a detailed and oft-neglected look at what actually occurs in the vision). However, I cannot for the life of me think of how the vision of the lake of fire can be consistent with temporary fire and suffering. The only thing I can think of is that the Greek “eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn,” translated as “for ever and ever,” is based on the aión word group, same as with the words for “eternal.” Young’s Literal Translation translates it as “to the ages of the ages.” Perhaps it is the case that it is really just saying they will be tormented for a really really long time. It is true that “forever” and the Greek and Hebrew words that lie behind it can refer to things that simply continue until the end of whatever is in view (such as in 1 Samuel 1:22 when Hannah dedicated Samuel to live in the temple “forever” in some translations including the NASB and KJV). Nichols, in defense of annihilationism, references this fact about “forever” (as well as other uses of the relevant Greek and Hebrew words where they are not translated as “forever” in the first place) (117-118). However, this is not the case with the Greek “eis tous aión ton aión” (in whatever form). The term always refers either to things that are controversial (like this), or to things that are unending if anything is at all that is unending (e.g. the Messiah’s exaltation in Hebrews 1:8 or the length of God’s life in Revelation 4:9). In other words, “forever” and “for ever and ever” are not interchangeable. That’s why I had to devote so much time to Revelation 20:10, rather than making Nichol’s argument that it doesn’t really mean unending for all eternity. And as is the case where words from the “aion” word group are translated as “eternal” or “everlasting” when dealing with the fate of the lost, almost every mainstream bible translation, including from among the most literal (e.g. KJV, ASV, NASB, ESV, and NKJV) , all translate the phrase in question as “for ever and ever.”

If it is not safe to make the claim that “for ever and ever” means something else short of eternity, than the universalist must find another interpretation of Revelation 20:10 that makes sense with universalism. If they could, then there would be only 2 unlikely events that would need to occur. However, I don’t foresee it, nor have I heard any such interpretation. Revelation 20:10 is a hurdle that, though possible to overcome, makes universalism all the more unlikely.

As I said, there is a lot more to be said. For more on this, you can read “The Bible Teaches Annihilationism,” free of charge, at my website: http://3-ringbinder.weebly.com/

Works Cited

“166. aiónios” (Cited as “166. aiónios”). Scripturetext.com. n.p. n.d. Web. Retrieved on February 7, 2011. <http://strongsnumbers.com/greek/166.htm>.

“5769. Olam or Olam” (Cited as “5769. Olam”). Scripturetext.com. n.p. n.d. Web Retrieved on February 7, 2011. <http://strongsnumbers.com/hebrew/5769.htm>.

American Standard Version (ASV Bible). N.p: n.p., n.d. Biblegateway.com. Web.   6 Jun. 2011.http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/American-Standard-Version-ASV-Bible/>.

English Standard Version (ESV Bible). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011.

King James Version (KJV Bible). N.p.: n.p., n.d. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011.             <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/King-James-Version-KJV-Bible/>.

New American Standard Bible (NASB). N.p.: Lockman Foundation, 1995. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB/>.

New King James Version (NKJV Bible). N.p.: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. Biblegateway.com.        Web. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-King-James-Version-NKJV-Bible/>..  

Nichol, Francis. Answering Objections: An Examination of The Major Objections Raised Against The Teachings of Seventh-Day Adventists. Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1932. Print.

The Online Multilingual Bible. 2009. Scripturetext.com. n.p. n.d. Web. Retrieved on December 9, 2009. <http://scripturetext.com/>.

Vine, W.E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Third Printing. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. Publishers, n.d. Print.

Young’s Literal Translation (YLT Bible). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker House Publishing, 1898.Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011.   <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Youngs-Literal-Translation-YLT-Bible/>.

 

(Originally published 04/17/2011: https://3ringbinder3.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/a-word-about-universalism/html . Immaterial changes have been made).

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