(Notice: the blog series has moved to Rethinking Conditionalism on Our Common Salvation)
The distance that certain conditionalists will go to deny the obvious linguistic nature of eternal conscious torment is very disturbing. While I have already revealed in Part 2a why the fire is categorically different and in and of itself eternal, AND how it is semantically linked as the instrument and reason why those that are in it will continually endure eternal punishment (since it is indicative of God’s wrath, read Part 2b), the twisting of Scripture continues. The basic premise is that eternal punishment is not an eternal “punishING” but one of eternal “punishMENT.” In essence, what is proposed is that the eternal punishment that Jesus speaks of in Matthew does not refer to the process of being punished for an eternity, but that Jesus’ administration of the punishment (in their case the punishment is death/annihilation brought about by fire) is what is meant by eternal punishment. Therefore, that punishment which He administers lasts forever.
There are several personal observations that I must bring to the forefront before I address the linguistic/scriptural issue of this argument. 1) Language is messy business. It is one thing that I learned from studying linguistics is that many of what we take for granted everyday can often be arbitrary and ambiguous. Many of the points conditionalists make, from a linguistic standpoint, are notable nuances, but too often are exploited for their benefit. In other words, they capitalize on the ambiguities of language. This is to not say that I or anyone else is not guilty of doing such a thing, but they do it so often with clearly understandable texts like Matthew 25 that I have no choice but to assume deception (which is once again, what we are accused of). 2). A dictionary is not meant to regulate language. I know it is a habit for some to use dictionary definitions of words because it is an easy reference, but this wonderful tool simply records how the language can be used in any given context, not regulate how is should be used. In other words, it describes not prescribes. It tells you how words have been used and are conventionally used (that means by agreement) depending on the kind of dictionary you have. But they do not always capture every nuance. However, internet is changing that. So whenever we go to our dictionaries, remember that it is good to have an general understanding of what a word entails, but syntax, grammatical structuring, discourse structuring, and even idioms can break the “rules.” Therefore we are to be cautious how we bring dictionaries to make our points. Look up lexicography if you care to know more. It really is a fascinating field of linguistics. Now, unto my arguments.
Here is the first problem I see. In my last post, I mentioned how conditionalists believe that the result of the punishment is eternal. I wrote it this way because whether it is Chris Date in his podcasts/debates, or recently William Tinksley (a contributing author to Rethinking Hell), I am told something along the lines that this is not what they believe. Their correction to my statement is that they too believe in “eternal punishment,” and I am apparently wrong for saying that they believe in the results of the punishment. But then they go on to say (perhaps not all of them) that the punishment is the result of Jesus’ punishing action, or it is the duration of the punishment inflicted once which is eternal (the example given is capital punishment). So what we have here is an example of saying the same thing, just differently. By asserting that eternal punishment refers to “the result of Jesus’ punishing action” is to say, in essence, that you believe that eternal punishment in Matt 25 is implying the result, not the process. So to be corrected by saying that conditionalists do not believe that the results of the punishment is eternal is being semantically illusive. They are very good at making distinctions without making any difference, as well as proving their point without proving their position (which I’m sure I will be accused of doing).
Here’s the second problem. In order to prove their point, conditionalist compare the words redemption (using Hebrews 9:12 as an example) and punishment. Since redemption can refer to a one time act, or can refer to the results (there’s that word again) of an act, they say that this is a comparable example to the punishment administered by Christ in Matt 25. From a linguistic perspective, this is a notable nuance in any given context. Even though conditionalists are correct that punishment and redemption both can refer to a single act or a result of an act, they overlooked the very same Scripture tells us what exactly that punishment is (eternal fire), and they assume we will be burned up. But they also don’t realize that the suffixes of both punishment and redemption can imply a state or condition. Before I go to Matt 25, here is a quick breakdown of suffix usage.
The suffix -ment can refer to a state or condition. It is a way to “noun” a verb (notice I just verbed the word noun because how I placed it in the sentence. This kind of syntax is key when having these sorts of discussions. Not just how words are defined, but how they are used in any given utterance or text). For the word redemption, the suffix -tion does the same. In both words, the suffix can imply a state or condition. In Jesus’ case, He went into the Holy place to obtain eternal redemption for us. In this case, eternal punishment refers to the state or condition of being punished. In other words, while Jesus’s obtaining the state of condition of eternal redemption for us is accomplished by the one time act of enduring the wrath of God and death, we experience the state or condition of punishment by being in eternal torment by the one time act of being thrown there (we I will explain below). But also in this case, if you are given a punishment, depending on the punishment, it can be temporary or eternal based off of how or by what means it is being administered. The effects can last even after the infliction has has passed (just like the death penalty), or you can remain in a state of condition of being punished (like a lifetime in prison). The downfall in our case is that any punishment that is meant to endure can only endure in our lifetime. And, if it does endure throughout our lifetime, it can be a punishment that is consistently being administered or undergone by an instrument or agent, or it can simply leave a lasting result (sort of like a physical scar, although emotional “scaring” is not outside the realm of semantics). In Matthew 25, eternal punishment into eternal fire is a state or condition that the wicked find themselves in forever, eternal punishment being another way of appositionally (see Part 2b again to remember what I’m talking about here) describing that state.
Now, lest you think this can also sway in the conditionalist favor, one must understand that verbal nouns like punishment keep some semantic value of the verbal form, although they do not function as a verb. I can get pretty technical at this point, but I will save that for other posts or conversations that I may have with conditionalists. For now, punishment always has the sufferer in mind. That is, whatever the means, whatever the outcome, punishment always has the person receiving it as its focus. Seeing that the fire mentioned earlier in Matthew is eternal, and is the instrument that will forever administer the punishment, and since that fire is indicative of God’s wrath and judgment, if the fire is eternal, then the one who is experiencing that fire is in that state or condition for an eternity.
It is clear that any punishment administered in this life that is administered by man or by God, even physical death, is not eternal. The first death we experience is not forever. We will one day be resurrected. Jesus came to save us from the power of the first death (Rev 20:6; 1 cor 15:54), which by natural consequence saves us from second death. But the first death is not like the second in nature. And Scripture clearly demonstrates, at the very least in Matthew 25, as making the day of judgement and final judgment different by saying that out of all the punishments, this one will last forever. If death is the punishment as conditionalists make it out to be, then why would God have to resurrect them to only do the same thing again? This question cannot be redirected at us who believe in eternal conscious torment because while we may die, we have yet to face the wrath of God that Jesus took upon Himself on the cross before He died. And we can’t, because we would die in our current state. And if conditionalists continue to assert that the eternal fire in Jude 7 is equivalent to the eternal fire in Matthew 25 (in the sense of how they use it) then if Sodom and Gomorrah suffered punishment by eternal fire, why resurrect them and do it all over again? Eternal conscious torment is consistent in that the only thing that the wicked have not yet faced is God’s full wrath in the body. This is something Jesus did. And He doesn’t need to suffer eternally like we do to do it. Which is the reason why we need a resurrected body designed for such an occasion. Because if we use the Old Testament as an example, which Sodom and Gomorrah is just a taste of, then there is a reason why that body would have to be a body fit for eternal punishment. Because the current one we have will whittle away.
But guess what, in one sense, the conditionalists are right! When you read verses 41 and 46 of Matthew 25 which reveal that the wicked “go away into” eternal punishment while the righteous to eternal life, it is a one time act of sending them to their respective locations. And when they arrive, they will experience the bliss or the pain of what God has in store for them there, and they will experience that state or condition for an eternity. So to say that the punishment can be a one time act, or the result of the act really makes no difference seeing that the punished will experience their state of punishment eternally, just as the natural understanding of the text is to be interpreted. So even if this is what it means to be punished, this one time act of being thrown into the fire indeed has an eternity behind it, and those that are there will be in a state of eternal punishment. In other words, how conditionalists argue their points still doesn’t prove their position, nor does it prove that those that are thrown into the fire will be eventually annihilated.
But what of the words “eternal destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and the parts in Scripture where Jesus uses parables to describe what happens to the wicked when they are judged? Like in Luke 13:40 where the Greek word katakiaw is used to illustrate the wicked being “burned up”? What about those? Those will be dealt with later on in upcoming articles. For now, remember to take all these article as a collective whole. What I mean is, each article is designed to build off of one another. It may be difficult to process all this, but I know many of you reading the New Testament understand the implications of eternal fire and punishment and that it lasts forever. It is something our Church Fathers understood (something I will prove as well), and it is something that has been easily understood by many generations, except for those that have an agenda (whether they realize it or not) to prove otherwise.
-Until we go home