Is universalism biblical?

Ah, Dan, I too must thank you for being our Geek The Magic Dragon and saving the realm from erasure! And since you (parenthetically) apologized to me (I assume, since you know that I, as Lord High Heretic of this realm, find all who subscribe to extra-biblical creeds to be anathema… joke, ah, how I wish the Golden Dragon were here to arise in smoke and fury at my poking fun!) I feel obligated to respond.

First let me give you credit for not accepting said creed entirely at face value, and being willing to “not be entirely convinced!” This probably makes you anathema to the perpetuators of that creed, but oh well.

So much of what everyone is “not getting” about this whole issue — if I may be so bold as to suggest that I do “get it” — is that the salvation spoken of in all the biblical texts is referring to it being received in THIS life… as a down payment or taste of the eternal life to come. Indeed, the gift of the Homy Spirit and the new life instilled in us by receiving this gift is explicitly spoken of as such.

The same interpretation difficulty exists with Old Testament texts of the promises to Israel under Mosaic law to either bless or curse the people of God based upon their obedience or lack thereof. None of it has the afterlife in view. It’s all about this earthly life.

So, relative to your first bullet point in your new post on the topic, you talk about God choosing and predestination who will be chosen (like Abraham or you or me, if one allows even the possibility that this heretic has been granted salvation) and this really only becomes a problem if you think it has to do with ultimate destiny of those chosen and that those not so chosen are simply excluded and eternally damned.

But as many have recently said, the Bible does not explicitly state any such thing, unless you read all references to “salvation” and “condemnation” to be a reference to something eternal and once for all, which this heretic does not believe is justified by the texts. And those who insist that it is justified by certain textual interpretations quickly become faced with far, far more conflicting texts than, say, someone who believes as I do.

So, indeed, God is under no obligation to declare to anyone IN THIS LIFE that, because they have faith, He will simply declare them “justified” and exempt from future condemnation. There will be no need for further “work” in the next life to arrive at the place of honor: they will receive their reward and be put in charge of running the kingdom of heaven upon the transition to the next life.

This approach simply eliminates all the hopeless attempts to figure out whether either baptized or unbaptized infants are eternally condemned or saved. The question is simply nonsense.

Emeth, as Lewis specifically treats him, is a little more complicated and perhaps problematic, but I will say that I think Lewis nails the spirit of the issue far better than almost anyone other writer and thinker, and far FAR better than any systematic theology or — dare I say it — creed.

There is so very much more nauseating detail I could go into on so much that has been posted in the last few days by numerous SpareOomers (and good to see you all again, by the way!) but I think I’ll stop for now, mostly because I and my lovely partner Venus are on an amazing and long-awaited vacation that should not be interrupted too much. We are in the U.S. Virgin Islands and it didn’t take long to decide it is my favorite place on earth I have ever been! I will be back on the Oregon Coast December 16, and will have more time then.

But I will end with this. I have become convinced over my lifetime that my Father in heaven is the Father of all, and loves all, and will not fail to ultimately save all. I believe the texts that are interpreted to say that most will be eternally damned are misinterpretations. Surely God could do better than that, and surely our loving Father would try (if I can use that word) to save as many as possible (assuming that is perhaps impossible for God given the fact that he has created beings who can make real choices). But now I believe that — ultimately — he will save all whom he creates, forever and ever, perhaps he will continue to create and save without end. I don’t know. We are not really told about any of that. We are told about that which concerns us here and now. (Aslan in The Dawn Treader comes to mind.)

For those who want to do some biblical study, there is an author by the name of Gerry Beuchemin who has written two books. The more approachable one is called Hope For All: Ten Reasons Why God’s Love Prevails. The other, and it takes work to get through but is very detailed in its approach to interpreting biblical texts, is called Hope Beyond Hell. They are free to download. I believe the site is hopebeyondhell.com but just do a search if I’m wrong.

And now back to my wonderful vacation!

Michael

Lord High Heretic of SpareOom

1 Like

LOL–I love it!

I doubt it, actually. They held (in common with a great many Protestants of the time) that the pope was the Antichrist, but nothing in there suggests that to disagree with any portion of the Confession demonstrates that someone is an unbeliever. They would say that my refusal to have my (hypothetical) infant children baptized is sin, but not that it marks me as a heretic, an unbeliever, or anathema.

Obviously that’s ultimately for God to decide, but I’ve never seen any reason to question this. There’s a great deal on which we disagree (and a great deal on which we’ll both, no doubt, eventually learn that we’re wrong), but I believe the list of true essentials is quite short.

I’ll only point out that most of the posts you’ve been seeing from the other Emeth topic are very old–about 15 years old, to be specific. I did a search before I started this topic, noticed that that topic was very fragmented, and tried to merge it all into one. But in the process, the board sent out a bunch of old messages as though they were new.

Wonderful! Emily and I took a cruise this past January and stopped at St. Thomas briefly. It was beautiful, and we’d love to make it back there some time.

Hooray, Mike! I do believe pretty much like you, I think. IN any case, I believe firmly that our God’s will is that none be lost. George MacDonald is vehement and wonderful on this too, in his Unspoken Sermons.

And thus, I will rest in the Lord, and in His mercy and justice, which are the same.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Carolyn in OZ

Well, universalism certainly makes the problem of Emeth easier (it makes the issue moot as far as I can see, and also dispenses with any concern about Susan), but Lewis was most definitely not a universalist, even if he was more inclusive than many Christians would be comfortable with. He also was not a Calvinist, though I haven’t seen any evidence that he knew anything of Calvinism other than a vague sense that it involves some form of predestination.

Once again, just in terms of understanding what scripture actually says about faith and salvation — and what it doesn’t — faith IS required for one to be considered saved now, while still in this life. Before the gift of the Spirit (OT) salvation was simply being justified in God’s sight, with the promise of heaven to be granted in the next life. Once the gift of the Spirit was bestowed after Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, those justified were given a taste (or down payment, if you like) of that new life to come in the here and now. It really isn’t more complicated than that and makes perfect sense of all scripture.

So I suppose it can just be dismissed as “universalism” if one wishes, but The scriptures hold together far more consistently if this interpretive framework is applied. The unborn, those who have never heard the gospel, are not just callously abandoned by an uncaring father because, oh, you know, original sin and all that. Not to mention he’s the Creator and owes his creation nothing. Gotta protect God’s sovereignty at all costs, dontcha know!

I find it amusing (in a dark way) that those who are so insistent that there must be a path to ultimate redemption for the unborn and perhaps the unevangelized (to protect the idea of God being a loving Creator), have such a hard time bringing themselves to allow for any path to ultimate redemption for those who heard but dismissed it. NO, BY GOD, THEY ARE REPROBATES DESERVING OF ETERNAL TORMENT!

Okay, fine. Have your sort-of-loving Creator, if that satisfies you.

Michael

Lord High Heretic of SpareOom, just doing my job from my temporary abode in the Virgin Islands.

It isn’t a “dismissal”, but simply a description. What you’ve stated in the first paragraph of this message isn’t universalism (and I agree with that paragraph as far as it goes), but this:

and this:

are (to the extent I’m reading Carolyn correctly). A belief that all will be saved is accurately characterized as universalism. Whether I agree with it is a separate question entirely (though I don’t, Lewis didn’t, and much more importantly I don’t believe the Bible does).

From your tone, you appear to disagree with this position. If I’m reading you correctly, what does God owe his creation? And on what basis do you make this claim?

God’s sovereignty really has nothing to do with the question. The absolutely-sovereign God of Calvinism could decide to save all, save some, or save none. The sovereign-except-when-it-touches-man’s-free-will God of Arminianism could in his foreknowledge set conditions such that all, some, or none would be saved. Either of these could decide that the unborn, or those who hadn’t heard the gospel, or those who didn’t understand it, or whatever other group you might choose to describe, would be saved. And certainly God doesn’t need me to protect his sovereignty; he’s more than capable of doing that by himself.

I’m not sure if you consider me among this group, but for the record, I insist no such thing–God’s love does not require that he save any, including the unborn, the unevangelized, the mentally disabled, or anyone else you may care to mention. I believe he does save at least some of the unborn, infants, small children, and others mentally incapable of understanding and responding to the gospel; and he may save at least some of the unevangelized, but in neither case is he compelled to do so. And if he were to save none of his creation at all, he would still be a loving creator.

That would be because I don’t see any basis in scripture (either in what’s stated explicitly, or in “good and necessary consequence” thereof) to believe such a thing possible. I’d be happy to be corrected.

We are all–you, I, and everyone else on the planet (and even the few people not on the planet, but orbiting it)–deserving of eternal torment. That we are not all destined for such is purely a matter of God’s grace.

My satisfaction is irrelevant; God is who and what he is, irrespective of how you, I, or anyone else feel about it. And yes, he is loving, but that isn’t his only, or even his greatest, characteristic. How did he reveal himself to Moses?

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”[1]

Does he love all equally? Not by his own account[2]. And what is it that the four living creatures in heaven are constantly singing? It isn’t “loving, loving, loving,” or even “merciful, merciful, merciful,” but “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” [3]


  1. Exodus 34:6-7, ESV, emphasis added ↩︎

  2. As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:13, ESV. Examples could be multiplied, but for just one more, consider God’s choosing Israel as his people. ↩︎

  3. Revelation 4:8, ESV; see also Isaiah 6:3 ↩︎

Dan: [God] owes his creation nothing.

Me: I suppose this works if God has no morals. And I suppose certain scripture passages can be twisted to mean that his will is that NOT “all should be saved” … although there is an explicit passage that says otherwise.

Dan: the God of either Calvinism or Arminianism could, if he chose, save all of his creation.

Me: Aaaand this is why I have no part in either scurrilous ism! They both fly in the face of multiple scripture passages that explicitly say God loves all men and that he wishes all to be saved. Especially when both isms claim that God’s sovereignty (as they systematically but idiotically define it) means that he could easily save all if he wanted. The obvious conclusion: he doesn’t want to! We have a serious contradiction here, not to mention a serious indictment against God (not by me, by the ismists).

Dan: I believe he saves SOME of the unborn, small children, mentally incapacitated, and (maybe) some of the unevangelized, but he is not required to do so. And if he were to save none of his creation at all, he would still be a loving creator.

Me: I call bullshit. He would NOT be a loving Creator in such case. You are are making this judgement based upon the teaching of some systematic theology (one that contradicts the plain sense of many scripture passages ). When you make that last claim, you are listening not to your heart, nor to simple logic, nor to (in my judgement) to the Spirit. A loving Creator could torment forever and ever EVERY SINGLE CREATURE HE MADE and still be considered loving.??? You need to take a step back from your theological shackles and listen to yourself!!!

Dan: I don’t believe in an ultimate path for salvation to all because I don’t see any basis in scripture. I’d be happy to be corrected.

Me: Then I am equally happy to correct you, as per above. Ecstatic, even! You dismiss the obvious clues in scripture because, in my opinion, you feel compelled by the systematic interpretation scheme that has hold of your mind. Again I will say it: it is because you see too many scriptures that are speaking of one’s status (saved or not) in this present life, as applying to one’s ultimate destiny. For example, you cite Exodus 34 and Romans 9, both of which having NOTHING TO DO with eternal souls!

There’s a great deal I’d like to respond to, but for now I’ll limit it to this:

Nice dodge, but it doesn’t answer the question: What exactly does God owe his creation? Show me from scripture.

Edit: To clarify: I’m not asking what God has promised his creation–he’s promised many things, but that isn’t the point of the question. I’m asking what he is obligated, by virtue of having created them, to give them.

But I didn’t “dodge” at all, Dan. You however, dodged all that I wrote. Seemingly, according to you, God can be loving yet still want to torture every single creature he’s created, according to some twisted sense of ethics you have access to not available to mere mortals like me. Hooookay…

And God can SAY in scripture that he wishes all to be saved, and — again, according to you — can easily accomplish that in either main “ism” of Christendom, but it’s somehow “not a contradiction” that he ALSO says that it’s not going to happen.

I really don’t think the burden of proof is on me in this argument.

Michael

LHH

Friends, I think this discussion has progressed to the point where it is no longer edifying. The original question about Emeth is quite appropriate, but this is not a constructive forum for theological argument. (There are other suitable settings.)

Most of us here share a general commitment to Lewis’ nonsectarian concept of Mere Christianity. (Agnostic fans of Lewis are also welcome, of course.) Getting into the theological “weeds” does not serve this community well.

The current debate falls (in my opinion) into an area that goes far beyond the Mere Christian purview. (I think of the ecumenical nature of Lewis’ beliefs to correlate to the truths expounded in the ecumenical creeds.)

Calvinism represents only one portion of the Christian Church. It is not even the largest (though in modern times it may seem the most vocal) of the Protestant communions. (Anglicanism, Methodism, Calvinism, Lutheranism.) And the Calvinist/Arminian debated and dichotomy does not even exist for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans or Lutherans. I would add Methodists to that list, except I have known some to use that sort of terminology. I can’t speak for the tradition as a member.

All I’m trying to say is, some discussions are less productive than others. And the results of the present conversation are unlikely to either (1) change any minds, or (2) lead anyone to faith in Christ.

Hear, Hear!

Dimitry

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

I don’t think I agree, though I do agree that it’s well and truly left the subject of Emeth; as a result, I’ve moved these messages into their own topic.

I don’t believe this is an accurate statement of Lewis’ belief. He wrote Mere Christianity, in which he undertook to explain to non-believers the common beliefs of all Christians, which he described as the hallway. But even in that book, he encouraged believers (and those who would become believers) to choose a room (that is, a particular denomination and church), as that’s where all the real fellowship and growth are. He did not hold, nor did he recommend to others, a belief limited to the greatest common denominator among all Christianity. And he is on record as discussing with a Roman Catholic what he perceived as the heresies of that church.

Agreed, and I’m not attempting particularly to argue for Calvinism. I posted because my “conversion” to Calvinism has changed my understanding of the Emeth situation, and in order for my post to (hopefully) make sense, I thought it would be helpful to articulate some of the distinctive Calvinist beliefs that were relevant to the discussion. In the ensuing discussion of universalism, I’m obviously responding from a Calvinist perspective, but I’m not especially intending to defend Calvinism so much as to show that universalism is unbiblical.

It’s unlikely that Mike will change my mind, or I his. Other readers, however, may be influenced in one direction or the other. As to the second point, if the Holy Spirit can use Simon & Garfunkel’s song “Mrs. Robinson” to save someone, I wouldn’t rule out anything!

In short, I believe subjects of theology (including this one) are appropriate to discuss here. It’s important, of course, that all such discussion be conducted in a spirit of charity; I believe I’ve done so (and would appreciate hearing if anyone disagrees with this), and I expect other participants to do so as well. Mike’s points deserve a more thorough response then I’ve yet had time to compose, though.

Well, I’m back home on the Oregon coast. What a change from the balmy tropics! Driving rain, cold weather, blustery winds.

While responding to Dan Brown’s posts on salvation as it relates to Calvinism and Arminianism, I made a mistake: I mentioned a book or two written by Gerry Beauchemin and I gave the web link hopebeyondhell.com. That is WRONG, and is something completely different! The correct web link is hopebeyondhell.net. Yet that site is confusing and very slow.

I think the best page for the more-scholarly tome called Hope Beyond Hell is https://hopeforallfellowship.com/learn/ . This page contains links to the free PDF and for ordering the physical book on Amazon. Confusingly, it does not contain a link to the simpler tome of his, called Hope For All. That page is https://hopeforallfellowship.com/order/ .

I think this is the most serious challenge to Christianity: the serious and disastrous misinterpretation of the salvation story that began with that utter disaster of a Christian, Augustine. He basically single-handedly sabotaged the gospel, turning it from Good News into a Horror Story. There is a lot of very instructional material on the views of the early church before Augustine at www.tentmaker.org .

I urge absolutely ALL my fellow SpareOomers to give a serious look at this material. The book, Hope Beyond Hell, contains numerous references to other great resources. God is not going to give up on his creation and sentence the majority to unending torment. That is a slanderous misinterpretation of who he is and what he is like.

I am convinced that Lewis did the best he could with the information available to him, and came up with the Emeth narrative, and allowed even for Susan to eventually get to the true Narnia. I believe, if he had this information, he would have seen the truth of it almost immediately. And while Dan says neither he nor I will change each others’ minds, I am not giving up on you, Dan! I believe that if you read this with an open mind, you will fall on your knees in amazement at what has been kept from you about God and the salvation he offers all men in this life, and how he will not abandon even those who he must further “refine by fire” after this life (something Lewis was very open to considering).

Let me end with one example. During a lengthy and wonderful discussion of the Greek word aionian, all-too-often translated “eternal” when it clearly does not mean that at all — in fact, it virtually NEVER means that, although it is often used in the N.T. in reference to the future age, when the “kingdom of heaven” is in full effect and God has restored all things — the scripture passage Matthew 25:46 is discussed. The much clearer and better translation, which takes into account that aionian when used of God refers to that which “comes forth” from the eternal God, should read “And these will go away into the chastisement of God, but the righteous into the life of God.” “Chastisement of God” rather than “eternal chastisement”; “Life of God” as opposed to “eternal life.”

I say once again, this is the most important and necessary correction for the church, which was horribly tarnished, along with the character of the Creator, since Augustine. And it has mostly just gotten worse since then, with some exceptions.

Michael, for the Love of God

Lord High Heretic of SpareOom

One doesn’t have to be a Calvinist to know universalism is a grievous error. That was recognized from the beginning of the church’s history. Too unbiblical to waste even a moment arguing about it.

As for C.S. Lewis… he was certainly aware of this heresy and never espoused it. And if he were still alive, he’d be too busy with constructive endeavors, to invest any energy in this fruitless subject.

Sorry, Michael, but it appears you’ve earned the title you proudly bear.

The answer to the question posed by this topic is a simple and virtually universal, “no.”

I have better things to do with my time than pursue discredited, unbiblical doctrines. So I’m no longer following this particular topic.

I have read - I have - this book, and can recommend it. It is
full of Scripture references and corrections on faulty
translations of certain words. Since reading it, and learning to
hear from God, rather than just trusting theologians ( from
Augustine on) , I have deeper peace than in all my life before,
and a deeper joy in the Lord. This comes out in a deeper love for
my fellow humans.

  Jesus said, My Peace I give to you. I believe the peace I have

now is His peace, and it is founded on Scripture, not on
theologians’ interpretations.

  Blessings to all, and a joyful and hopeful Christmas, as we wait

for His Coming.

Carolyn in OZ.

Dear Rob, but your second sentence is completely false! Augustine, centuries after Christ, is pretty much the beginning of the "eternal torment for most” doctrine. A few early fathers, like Irenaeus, were annihilists (those not saved cease to exist), but the preaching of ETERNAL TORTURE simply was not common, not even in the epistles of the N.T., let alone the vast majority of the teachings we know about for the first several centuries. So, what you are calling “unbiblical” and “a waste” to even look into, is actually the key to a healthy and robust Christian and Christ-like spirituality. The truth will set you — the whole world — free. God will not fail. Love never fails. No one here, neither I nor Carolyn (great to hear from you again, Carolyn!) is saying that everyone just goes straight to glory without passing through a time of God’s refining fire. But God’s will for them to come to salvation is not thwarted by their managing to escape such refining in this earthly realm. Our God is the god of all realms. You can’t even go to hell to escape him! (And by hell, I mean as the words hades and gehenna are used in the bible.)

To all, I urge. Put aside your fear of what you may learn, that your life-long learning of a small god may be overthrown as the utter magnitude of God’s love for all his creation overwhelms and amazes you. Don’t be afraid. Look…

Michael

Proudly the Lord High Heretic of this realm, if being a heretic is to see clearly just how large and powerful a love God has for us

You’ve said this a couple of times now, but even aside from whatever the Bible itself may say on the subject, this site would appear to put the lie to this claim:


Unless its quotes are simply fabricated, it cites 15 of the church fathers who appear to have taught eternal torment pretty specifically. Here are a few examples:

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110 AD):

how much more if a man corrupt by evil reaching the faith of God. for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him.

Clement of Rome (c. 150 AD):

But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’

Tatian (c. 160 AD):

We who are now easily susceptible to death, will afterwards receive immortality with either enjoyment or with pain.

Irenaeus (c. 189 AD):

The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever

All these (except perhaps Irenaeus, depending on when Augustine was writing) predate Augustine by minimally 200 years, thus Augustine cannot be said to have originated the concept of eternal torment (and “for most” is not, and never has been, the issue; the issue is that some will be eternally saved, while others will be eternally condemned, the relative proportions of each group being irrelevant so long as each is non-zero). They may all be wrong, but they certainly aren’t following Augustine.

This article:


…paints a decidedly different picture, but contains a whopper of a historical error:

Had our old English Bibles been translated directly out of the Greek instead of Latin, it’s very probable that the doctrine of eternal torment would never have found its way into our modern Bibles and theology at all.

They were. I can’t speak to the English translations before the KJV, but it was most certainly translated from the Greek. Latin manuscripts were available as well, of course, but they weren’t translating from them, rather from the Greek manuscripts available at the time. The magnitude of this error casts serious doubt on the entire article.

Edit: and that error isn’t alone. The article makes much of

St. Gregory of Nyssa, who lived from 335 to 395 AD.

…and says of him that:

This is a man who attended the first ever council of the Church in Nicaea.

Whether they mean that he attended the first ever church council, or the first such council at Nicaea, they’re wrong either way. The first ever church council is recounted in Acts 15, and took place in Jerusalem around 50 AD. The Council of Nicaea took place in 325 AD, 10 years before Gregory was born.

The credited author of that piece is “Brazen Church”–and while they’re certainly brazen, they don’t show much concern for historical accuracy.

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Thanks for responding, Dan. The medium.com link you provided is actually a VERY good article, and I encourage all to read it. But you (I assume inadvertently) mischaracterized the portion you quoted. The article clearly states that for a thousand years the Latin vulgate was pretty much the only known translation (from Latin) up and until the KJV. That was indeed translated from the Greek, but the translators did not stray from the tendency of the vulgate to identify “aionian” with eternal whenever punishment was in view.

From the same medium.com article: “Out of the six theological schools in Tertullian’s day and beyond (170–430 A.D.), the only school that taught the doctrine of eternal torment or hell to its students was the Latin (Roman) school in Carthage, Africa. Four of the other five taught that, through the death and resurrection of Christ, all people would be saved through restorative judgment and reconciliation in a plan of Ages.” Aionian being “ages.”

Similarly, from the tentmaker.org article (link provided below): Previous to A.D. 200 three different opinions were held among Christians–endless punishment, annihilation, and universal salvation; but, so far as the literature of the times shows, the subject was never one of controversy, and the last-named doctrine prevailed most, if the assertions of it in literature are any test of its acceptance by the people. For a hundred and fifty years, A.D. 250 to 400, though Origen and his heresies on many points are frequently attacked and condemned, there is scarcely a whisper on record against his Universalism. On the other hand, to be called an Origenist was a high honor, from 260 to 290. A.D. 300 on, the doctrine of endless punishment began to be more explicitly stated, notably by Arnobius and Lactantius. And thenceforward to 370, while some of the fathers taught endless punishment, and others annihilation, the doctrine of most is not stated. One fact, however, is conspicuous: though all kinds of heresy were attacked, Universalism was not considered sufficiently heretical to entitle it to censure.

The “Cold Case Christianity” site strikes me as rather simplistic. No discussion of the meaning of aionian that I saw, and so it just quotes the father’s as though they said and meant “eternal” and “everlasting” when a more nuanced exploration will show that it is not so. It’s like citing Bible verses in English as though that proves “everlasting torment.” It is ignoring the question of whether their words should be translated into English as “everlasting”! For example, you would think the quote of Irenaeus by the Cold Case article would be conclusive, BUT IRENAEUS WAS A STAUNCH TEACHER OF ANNIHILATION! I don’t have the time to do this study for you.

The whole point of the books I have referenced is that they prove from the Bible itself that such an interpretation is virtually impossible! So I really am reluctant to try to persuade on this topic by simply relying on the early church, since so much of their writings has either been destroyed, misquoted by opponents, or lied about by historians. The books by Beauchemin rely on the bible to interpret the bible.

Nevertheless, the tentmaker.org I talked about has a wealth of information regarding the early fathers. Here is a couple of paragraphs from the very long and well-documented link from that site (https://www.tentmaker.org/books/DoctrineOfRetribution.html#AT) on the development of the doctrine of Christian Retribution, with a discussion of the Greek word often translated “everlasting” in the KJV and others:

*******Quote

The first Christians, it will be seen, said in their creeds, “I believe in the æonian life;” later, they modified the phrase “æonian life,” to “the life of the coming æon,” showing that the phrases are equivalent. But not a word of endless punishment. “The life of the age to come” was the first Christian creed, and later, Origen himself declares his belief in æonian punishment, and in æonian life beyond. How, then, could æonian punishment have been regarded as endless?

The differences of opinion that existed among the early Christians are easily accounted for, when we remember that they had been Jews or Heathens, who had brought from their previous religious associations all sorts of ideas, and were disposed to retain them and reconcile them with their new religion. Faith in Christ, and the acceptance of his teachings, could not at once eradicate the old opinions, which, in some cases, remained long, and caused honest Christians to differ from each other. As will be shown, while the Sibylline Oracles predisposed some of the fathers of Universalism, Philo gave others a tendency to the doctrine of annihilation, and Enoch to endless punishment.

*******End quote

It is very telling that the Emperor Justinian, directed Mennas, the Patriarch of Constantinople, to call a local council in the year 544 to condemn errors of Origen, especially the doctrine of ultimate universal salvation. In doing so, Mennas decided he could not make a convincing argument by using the word aionios alone, and uses the modifier ateleutetos, so that his language reads like: "The Holy Church of Christ teaches an endless aionian life to the righteous and endless punishment to the wicked.” He gets rid of the word ionios completely when speaking of punishment, because it weakens his case.

For those of you who wish a few more salient quotes, rather than read the long tentmaker article yourself, I will provide a few more examples. The first is about Methodius, bishop of Tyre (A.D. 293).

*******Quote

His writings, like so many of the works of the early fathers, have been lost, but Epiphanius and Photius have preserved extracts from his work on the resurrection. He says: “God, for this cause, pronounced him (man) mortal, and clothed him with mortality, that man might not be an undying evil, in order that by the dissolution of the body, sin might be destroyed root and branch from beneath, that there might not be left even the smallest particle of root, from which new shoots of sin might break forth.” Again, “Christ was crucified that he might be adored by all created things equally, for ‘unto him every knee shall bow,’” etc. Again: “The Scriptures usually call ‘destruction’ the turning to the better at some future time.” Again: “The world shall be set on fire in order to purification and renewal.”

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Then there is Theodore of Mopsuestia (early 400s A.D.)

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“The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of his grace. For he never would have said, ‘until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,’ unless we can be released from suffering after having suffered adequately for sin; nor would he have said, ‘he shall be beaten with many stripes,’ and again, ‘he shall be beaten with few stripes,’ unless the punishment to be endured for sin will have an end.”

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It is important to know that while some kind of ultimate universal salvation was common among the fathers, the reasons for it were not consistent. When Origen, Theodore, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Gregory of Nyssa (and others) were condemn (anathematized) after the Augustinian revolution (infection?), most of these fathers’ writing were destroyed. And inestimable loss.

Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, one of the great Cappadocian Fathers (who were mostly universalists) accepted by Catholicism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, is one whose writings were not so thoroughly destroyed. The tentmaker article states:

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Gregory was devoted to the memory of Origen as his spiritual godfather, and teacher, as were his saintly brother and sister. He has well been called “the flower of orthodoxy.” He declared that Christ “frees mankind from their wickedness, healing the very inventor of wickedness.” He asks: "What is then the scope of St. Paul’s argument in this place? That the nature of evil shall one day be wholly exterminated, and divine, immortal goodness embrace within itself all intelligent natures; so that of all who were made by God, not one shall be exiled from his kingdom; when all the alloy of evil that like a corrupt matter is mingled in things, shall be dissolved, and consumed in the furnace of purifying fire, and everything that had its origin from God shall be restored to its pristine state of purity." "This is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the divine life, penetrating all things, shall absolutely destroy death from existing things, sin having been previously destroyed…

"For it is evident that God will in truth be ‘in all’ when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. Now the body of Christ, as I have often said, is the whole of humanity.

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The medium.com article you linked to, Dan, also mentions the importance of Gregory, and quotes him thusly:

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Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire.

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On the off chance that ANY of you SpareOomers are still with me, here, from the tentmaker article, are citations regarding two more fathers who are important in this regard.

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Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, (died, A.D. 368), is said by Jerome to have translated nearly 40,000 lines of Origen. On Luke xv: 4, he says: “This one sheep (lost) is man, and by one man the entire race is to be understood; the ninety and nine are the heavenly angels… and by us (mankind) who are all one, the number of the heavenly church is to be filled up. And therefore it is that every creature awaits the revelation of the sons of God.” On Psalm. lxix: 32,33: “Even the abode of hell is to praise God.” Also, "‘As thou hast given him power over all flesh in order that he should give eternal life to all that thou hast given him,’ … so the Father gave all things, and the Son accepted all things, … and honored by the Father was to honor the Father, and to employ the power received in giving eternity of life to all flesh.

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Finally, closer to the time of Augustine:

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John Cassian, A.D. 390-440. This celebrated man was educated in the monastery in Bethlehem, and was the founder of two monasteries in Marseilles. He wrote much, and drew the fire of Augustine, whose doctrines he strenuously assailed. Neander declares of him, that his views of the divine love extended to all men, "which wills the salvation of all, and refers everything to this; even subordinating the punishment of the wicked to this simple end.

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But again, to Dan and everyone: I am not staking my view on the opinions of the admittedly varying opinions of the early fathers. On the other hand, it may be helpful to know that the claim that the early church was simply devoted to endless and eternal punishment of non-believers IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE.

I pray that the Spirit of God will guide you into all truth. To the extent I may of help toward that end, I am your willing servant.

Michael

Lord High Heretic of SpareOom and lowly denizen of the central Oregon coast

It directly addresses (and conclusively refutes) your claim that belief in eternal torment originated with Augustine, a claim that is also contradicted by your citation from tentmaker.org.

Did I? I quoted, directly from that article:

Had our old English Bibles been translated directly out of the Greek instead of Latin,

That necessarily includes an assertion that our “old English Bibles”[1] were not “translated directly out of the Greek instead of Latin.” And that assertion is simply (and demonstrably) false, as is their assertion that Gregory of Nyssa attended the Council of Nicaea, which took place ten years before he was born (unless they instead meant the Council of Jerusalem, which took place nearly 300 years before he was born–in neither case is there any possibility of their assertion being correct). Such obvious (and easily-refutable) historical errors render the entire piece suspect at best.

You made the first reference to the early church, in claiming that eternal torment was Augustine’s invention. That claim is demonstrably incorrect; the view was explicitly taught at least 200 years earlier, as your own link demonstrates. Whether it was a majority or a minority view isn’t particularly relevant to your claim.

As to the question about the proper translation of aionian, a position that requires that virtually every translator of the text, into any language, over the past 2000 years, has got it wrong, is suspect at best.


  1. Which translations they mean by this aren’t specified; I can only assume they refer to the KJV due to its near-universal use among English-speaking Christians for over 300 years. If they instead mean the Tyndale Bible, which predated the KJV by nearly 100 years, and was the first translation into something we’d recognize as English, they’re still wrong, as that was also translated from the Greek and Hebrew. ↩︎

I did not say it FIRST began with Augustine, but that it primarily became predominant with him. If you read the post you are replying to, you will see numerous quotes that show that eternal damnation, while a minority view, existed in the early church. I’m replying quickly (so much going on in my life!) so sorry if that escaped your notice. You seem to be willing to ignore the elephant in the room to pick at the gnat on the countertop.

To those whose minds are not closed, I encourage you to read my entire post and follow up some of the links…not so much on the early church, which is more subject to debate, but rather the links to interpreting scripture by means of scripture.