Rethinking Conditionalism – (Part 6a) Eternal Life and Immortality

Rethinking Conditionalism – (Part 6a) Eternal Life and Immortality

I read someone asking a conditionalist in a Facebook thread concerning how they define death. Then one of them responded with, “It depends on how you define life.” I couldn’t agree more! Unfortunately, this is an area that Chris Date and some within Rethinking Hell sorely deviate from. In a debate with Len Pettis during a Striving for Eternity Conference in September of 2016, Chris Date stated that Jesus does not define eternal life as knowing the Father and the Son just as He taught in John 17:3. Chris then wrongly exegetes this Scripture by comparing the translation of the Greek word “is” with other Scriptures that contain the same word. He neglects to make a linguistic and contextual interpretation of John 17:3 by failing to see the other words which Jesus used that explicitly define eternal life.  It is presented below in English and in Greek so that you can see why Jesus defines eternal life as knowing (having intimate fellowship with) God. And please don’t run. As I did in Part 2a, you don’t have to be a Greek scholar to understand what I’m about to show you.

John 17:3

  • (English – ESV) And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
  • (Greek – MGNT) αὕτη δέ ἐστιν αἰώνιος ζωή ἵνα γινώσκωσιν σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν

Now, if you noticed, I highlighted the words that Chris used to make his case in blue. The Greek word ἐστιν is the conjugated form of the word “eimi” that he mentions in the video link above.  It is this word that Chris wrongly interprets in this context. But since conditionalists tend to define death in hyper-literal terms, it is no wonder that they look at Scriptures like this and have to make it fit their own annihilationistic hermeneutic. Nevertheless, Chris explicitly states that “is” does not “equate” eternal life with knowing God the Father and the Son. But let’s look at the other words within this context to help us to understand the semantic function of “is” in this context.
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Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2b) – Eternal Fire

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2b) – Eternal Fire

Since I have written part 2a, there has been an attempt to dilute the argument concerning the article-noun-article-adjective construction (called the second attributive) in Matthew 25. But the attempt is, once again, a linguistic game that seems to be the trend amongst conditionalists. In essence, what is being stated is that there is no special emphasis placed upon this kind of construction in Greek, and that the other kinds of constructions, that are like this one, are used just as much, if not more, in the New Testament, and they too have the same attributive meaning. In other words, there are other grammatical constructions that are used in the New Testament with adjectives that can express the same kind of attribution, but doesn’t give the special emphasis that I claim it makes.

For instance, if you remember from my previous article, “the fire, the eternal one” would be the somewhat literal but awkward translation of this fire. Now, whether the Greek uses another type of adjectival construction (first or third attributive as they are called) to describe eternal fire or not, is something that can be debated. But it doesn’t do away with the fact that the Greek language makes the fire categorically different from all other fires. This is something I mentioned in 2a of this series. Since the Scripture references this fire as a separate location also makes a significant difference. But, what is being rebutted is the fact that the construction I pointed out is no more significant than any other construction. And then, an appeal to multiple resources that point out that there isn’t any difference is how the diffusion is attempted (don’t be fooled). To this I will say a few things before we move forward.

1. There are at least three resources that show the construction I pointed out in 2a are significant. Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, A.T. Robertson’s, GRAMMAR OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT (which Wallace draws from), and Deeper Greek. These resources come from scholars who have practically spent their whole lives studying the Greek Language. However, the other respected scholars affirm that there are no differences in meaning. But it is no surprise to me that linguists would emphasis or not emphasis certain nuances within a language. Language is often complex, fluid, and nuanced. So even if there is a disagreement (which we can’t be sure if the authors are even aware that there is even a contention) concerning the kind of emphasis the word “eternal” places on the fire in Matt 25, there is one thing that is for sure – the adjective describes the fire in and of itself as eternal. An inescapable truth that is still being twisted.

2. Making a case that there are no differences in meaning between the types of constructions ignores the most fundamental thing that adjectives do to nouns. In language, adjectives describe, limit, modify or expound upon the noun and can attribute special characteristics depending on the context. It is clear, even in the English, that the noun (fire) is modified by the adjective (eternal), making the fire in and of itself eternal. This is especially significant since, as I said in 2a, that the fire is indicative of God’s wrath. So if you have a fiery wrath that burns forever, but no one is there to burn against it since they are consumed, you have a huge (perhaps heretical) problem. And yes, the fire exists because the wicked exist. One attempt was made to say that because no one is in the fire even while it is burning means that the fire does not need people to burn against. Once again, this is an attempt to deflect the obvious.

3. There is one other thing about these Greek constructions with adjectives that most people who do not study linguistics may not  know about that other languages demonstrate. It is called apposition. What apposition is is a phrase, word, or description that further expounds upon  another word, phrase, or description. A simple way of explaining this would be like saying, “Ricky, the tall dude over there, likes to eat…” The emphasized portion is the apposition. In our case of eternal fire, the way the Greek is constructed, even if one disagrees with the significance of grammar, the fact that the fire is appositionally described as “eternal” further makes the case that this fire is indeed categorically different than other fires. Therefore, if even some linguists of Greek see no difference in meaning between constructions, at base level, they are appositional. In laymans terms, eternal fire means that it will burn forever.

The next thing to point out is the attempt to say that the fire is eternal in the sense that it is from God. Since God is a consuming fire, then the eternal fire is just another way to point out that it is God doing the punishment of annihilation or consumption of the wicked. There may be nuances as to how this is argued, but the general attempt is to sweep away the obvious. The fire in which Satan, his angels, and the wicked are thrown into is going to be a fire that burns forever. And in Matt 25:46, the fire is semantically linked to eternal punishment (as well as unquenchable fire). This punishment is going to be eternal because, quite simply, the fire is eternal. If an attempt is made to say that the fire is only simply God, of God, or from God (something I wouldn’t holistically disagree with), that is ignoring the fact that the language portrays that this fire is still categorically different. It is created and located somewhere for a specific purpose. And, if it is God who is partaking of this burning, yet the wicked are eventually consumed, then who is He burning against if they are supposed to be eventually annihilated?

There is more to this, and this series will go on for quite some time I assume. But the main gist to grasp from this is that the language is clear in that it makes a distinction  that eternal fire is just that, eternal. I only made this article less technical in the attempts to reach mass amounts of readers. There are more linguistic evidences and arguments that could be made. The only word of advice to the reader I have at this time is this. If you think that the wicked are not going to face eternal conscious torment, whether you realize it or not, it will affect your view of the atonement. This is something I plan to address in detail in the future, but for now, please know that some in the conditionalist camps have defended abhorrent theology like Evangelical Universalism, and there are others that seemingly reject the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. As you read further articles, I pray more connections would be made plain.

-Until we go home

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2a) – Eternal Fire

Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2a) – Eternal Fire

It can be difficult for some people to digest large chucks of complex information. It is even harder for people to pick up on subtle nuances that certain teachers use in order to make their case. What’s even more difficult is the fact that not many Christians read the New Testament with a systematic and linguistic lens that is trained to detect and digest all these subtle nuances that certain teachers use to deceive them. But I have good news! You do not need to know all of how Greek works to understand what I am about to show you. As hopefully some of my readers already know, I like getting to the point. So in this particular article, I will challenge the idea from certain conditionalists that believe hell’s fires are only temporary. Or, to be accurate, the fire is only eternal in the fact that the effect of the punishment they provide the wicked endures forever. If you haven’t picked up on that subtle nuance already, some who believe in conditional immortality believe that the fires of hell are meant to eventually “consume” the person. They contend that this is what Jesus meant by “unquenchable.” That is, the fire cannot be “put out” rather than “die out,” and that it will not stop until the adversaries are totally consumed (or in their case annihilated).

Before I show from Scripture why this isn’t the case, here is the only difficulty I have, or anyone has, who wishes to make a case in writing. This isn’t conversation. In conversation you can investigate and probe in ways that writing cannot. In live debate and cross-examination, you can publically show why a person’s position in a particular area is in error. In blog posts, all people do is write in response to opposing blog posts, and will carefully pick and choose what they will or will not respond to, or write something in such a way that seems like a legitimate response, but it is not. Of course, anyone can use my previous sentence against me, and I should expect that. But the reason I went through all the trouble to write this paragraph is so that the reader is aware that what I am about to deal with in this article is so specific and easy to understand, it would take a linguistic twisting so incredible, that it would have to deny how certain grammars of Greek work. And while some opponents of eternal conscious torment believe this is “insignificant” in comparison to the stacks of evidence that seems to support conditional immortality (CI) or annihilationism, this is just one of the many semantic proofs that will be the proverbial snow ball that rolls down the mountain.

One of the text used by CI folks is Matthew 25:46 when Jesus says:

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I will deal with how the words “eternal punishment” does not mean that the results of the punishment lasts forever as CI presents it. But for now, let’s look at this Scripture in context. The first thing we have to see is that this whole chapter deals with Jesus and His judgment on the wicked at His return. Starting in verse 31 of chapter 25, He begins a discourse about those who will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and those that are wicked will be cast into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Other than the fact that some CI and annihilationists think that Satan and his angels will also be “consumed” by this fire, some others insist that this “eternal fire” is eternal in the sense that it is from God (because He is eternal), or that its punishment upon the wicked has eternal consequence, but not the fire itself. Don’t run, here comes the easy-to-understand-Greek-grammar that I mentioned earlier.

In Greek, you will sometimes have an article-noun-article-adjective construction. Don’t run. If I lost you, you will get it in a second. It would like literally writing, in Matt 25:41,  “the fire, the eternal one.” Adjectives describe or limit nouns. If I say I have a house. That’s the noun. If I have a yellow house. That adjective describes the noun. If I further mention that my house is eternal, then I have added another element to the noun, but it still describes or limits the noun in some way. If I say, “Hey, look at that house.” And you ask “which one?” It is probably because there is more than one house around and you seek to know which one I am looking at. If I reply, “The yellow one” I am implying that not only is the yellow house significantly different than all the other houses around it, but I am also saying that this one is a certain kind of house in context of all the other houses. In this Scripture, starting in verse 41, Jesus turns to the wicked and says:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

This is what it looks like in Greek. I will highlight the words you need to pay attention to in order to understand my illustration above.

ότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ οἱ κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ

Notice that εἰς  means “into” and τὸ (article) πῦρ (noun), which means “the fire.” But not just any fire, but τὸ (article) αἰώνιον (adjective) – “the eternal one.” In essence, what this Scripture is making clear is that unlike all the fires that die out and/or are eventually put out, this fire that the wicked will be cast into, with the Devil and his angels, is itself eternal. This is not dealing with the consequences or results. The fire itself is of an eternal nature meant to burn for eternity. Despite what some opponents may say about this, this carries huge implications. Because what Jesus is saying that we will be cast into the fire, the eternal one, when we are judged. And here is the kicker. The eternal punishment mentioned in verse 46 sits within the context of this eternal fire that awaits us. This means that the fire that burns forever dictates how eternal punishment in this context is to be understood. No linguistic tricks attached. Even though the word “punishment” by itself can ambiguously represent the result of it dished out, in this particular text, it clearly illustrates that the punishment will be itself eternal. And that the fire, which burns eternally, will be the instrument used to carry out the sentence.

But wait there’s more!

In Matthew 18:8, Jesus uses this same Greek construction (article-noun-article-adjective) to illustrate our reaction toward sin. He says:

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.”

This is what it looks like in the Greek.

εἰ δὲ χείρ σου πούς σου σκανδαλίζει σε ἔκκοψον αὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ καλόν σοί ἐστιν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν κυλλὸν χωλόν δύο χεῖρας δύο πόδας ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον

Look familiar? It should. It is as Matthew 25 says, “the fire, the eternal one.” And Jesus not only says that the fire is itself eternal, but he parallels this with the next verse by saying:

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Another way to put this verse is fiery hell. The word hell used here is “Gehenna” which is the book of Revelation equivalent to the lake of fire. And Jesus spoke about Gehenna differently throughout the gospels then He did about Hades, which just generally meant the place of the dead. But CI and annihilationists want you to believe that this fire is not going to burn those in it forever, but that they will eventually be consumed. However, in this Scripture, Jesus semantically links the two – Gehenna and “the fire, the eternal one” – equally to make His point about what will happen to those who don’t take sin seriously and are not born again.

Hang in there, although I can go on, there is only one more thing I want to show you.

Just like in Matthew 18 where Jesus parabolically encourages you to slice your hand off in comparison to being thrown in hell, Mark 9:43 provides a parallel passage that describes the same teaching. But notice how the eternal fire is mentioned here.

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”

Here is how it looks in the Greek:

kαὶ ἐὰν σκανδαλίζῃ σε χείρ σου ἀπόκοψον αὐτήν καλόν ἐστίν σε κυλλὸν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν τὰς δύο χεῖρας ἔχοντα ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὴν γέενναν εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον

Do you notice something familiar about this verse? I bolded it for you so you can recognize it. Do you recognize the grammar/construction? You should. It is the art-noun-art-adj construction we’ve been talking about. Except we have a new word introduced. It is ἄσβεστον (asbeston) which means to be “unquenchable” in English. And it is only used three times in the New Testament (Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17). It literally means that it cannot be extinguished, put out, or die out. In essence, what this verse is saying is people will go “into Gehenna, into the fire, the unquenchable (inextinguishable) one.” It’s a bit awkward sounding in English, but Gehenna, fire, and eternal burning are all interconnected ideas.

The proponents of CI like to say that unquenchable means that the fire can’t be “put out,” not that it won’t “die out.” This is a subtle nuance, and I find it manipulative and trite. But it is a nuance nevertheless. The difference is illustrated by knowing when I light a fire, it will either die out on its own, or I can snuff it out, extinguish it, or quench it with my fingers, water, blowing it out, etc. This isn’t an entirely bad case to make, because God’s eternal wrath cannot be quenched against those who are His enemies (except by atonement). The difference is that conditionalists believe that this only means that the fire will not be quenched until it has entirely consumed the wicked. In other words, it can’t be put out until it has finished consuming. But as we already learned from these other passages above, the fire itself is indeed eternal. So whether it cannot be extinguished or put out or die out, really makes no difference seeing that the fire will burn perpetually. Even if it meant that it can’t be “put out,” the point is the fire will not stop burning, ever! But perhaps the Scripture means what it has always meant for the majority who read it, and the Greek scholars who interpret it. That is, the fire burns forever because those in that place of punishment, as Matthew 25 implies, are there forever. Unquenchable means it can’t be put out, extinguished, or die out because God is the only one who can do it! And even if it is taken from Isaiah 66, and various other passages in the Old Testament that have similar semantic value, it does not negate Jesus’ exegesis that the fire will remain and so will those who are in it.

Although more could be said, for the sake of brevity, I will close with this. In a future article, I will deal with “unquenchable” fire and arguments that proponents of CI and annihilationists make to justify their reasoning as to why the fire is a “consuming” fire and not an eternal one. But for now, ponder the grammatical construction and think about how the fire could burn for eternity, and yet there will be nothing left to burn? A predictable rebuttal will be that God Himself is a (or The) consuming fire. I agree. But that is not what the Greek is implying. This fire resides within the “place” where the Devil, his angels, and all those who are wicked will go. It is its own fire. It is categorically different than other fires that burn. That is what the grammar reveals. Of course, it is a fire that comes from God, is kindled by God, and can only be put out by God. And, It is God administering the punishment, and it is God who is present within the fire. But if the persons are eventually consumed, why would the wrathful anger of God burn forever against an enemy that no longer remains? Therefore, the fire cannot be simply from God, because the implications are not as simple to deal with, and the grammar doesn’t point in that direction.

-Until we go home

*For more information on Greek grammar, I recommend getting a copy of Dan Wallace’s book “Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics” which verifies this grammar and many other constructions.