We are continuing our study this morning in 2 Thessalonians. In our last study we looked at verse 9 of chapter 1 from a theological perspective. This morning we will look at it exegetically. As we look at verse 9, we must keep in mind the context. Verses 3 through 10, which deal with the second coming, are one sentence in the Greek. The subject here is not what happens in the afterlife but what happens at the Parousia.
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV
The majority of commentators use this verse as a proof text for the doctrine of Hell. Can this verse be teaching the doctrine of Hell? By Hell we mean eternal conscious torment. No, it cannot, simply because the Bible doesn't teach a doctrine of Hell. In our last study, we looked at the Bibles use of the word "Hell." The word "Hell" or the concept of Hell is not in the original language of the Bible, and if you see the word Hell in your Bible, it is a bad translation. You will never get the traditional view of Hell from the Tanakh. It just isn't there.
In the New Testament, "Hell" is translated from the Greek word "tartaroo" once, and 12 times from "Gehenna." Gehenna was a place that had become identified in people's minds as the symbol of national judgment. Gehenna is, therefore, not a reference to eternal conscious torment but is rather a reference to national judgment, a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Gehenna has nothing to do with eternal conscious torment, but most Christians think there is a place of eternal fire and torment called "Hell" which will be the ultimate fate of the wicked. Gehenna refers to a national judgment. That is the background of Gehenna.
So, the Bible doesn't teach a doctrine of Hell. What, then, is it teaching? Well, let's see if we can figure it out.
"They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction"—who is the "they"? Let's back up in our text and see.
since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV
"They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction"—the "they" refers to those who were afflicting the Thessalonian believers. And their punishment is to come at the Parousia. So, those in Thessalonica in the first century who were afflicting the believers were going to "suffer the punishment of eternal destruction" when the Lord Yeshua was revealed from heaven.
"Punishment" is from the Greek word dike, which means "a penalty that which is right, just." This word is closely associated with dikaios, "righteous." What is that punishment? It is "eternal destruction from the face of the Lord."
Let's look at the word eternal. This is from the Greek adjective aionios, which is the adjectival form of the word "aion." That should ring a bell. Aion means age. In most dictionaries you will find that the meaning of the word is given as "an indefinitely long period of time, an age." Abbott-Smith's Greek lexicon renders "aion" as "a space of time, an age," and "aionios" as "age-long." Young translates aionios as "age-during."
who shall suffer justice—destruction age-during—from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 YLT
I'm not crazy about Young's "age-during" because I think it can be confusing unless you understand that to the Hebrews of Yeshua's day, there were two ages—one temporal and one eternal. In reference to the Bible's "this age," aionios is used in its common figurative sense of limited time, but in reference to things of the Bible's "age to come," the literal meaning of forever fits best. The Greek adjective aionios, therefore, does not have to mean eternal or forever. We see this in Philemon 1.
For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, Philemon 1:15 ESV
Paul is talking to Philemon here about his runaway slave Onesimus. The word "forever" here is aionios, which must be limited in this context. Age-during fits well here. But the overwhelming use of aionios in the New Testament refers to everlasting or eternal such as the eternal nature of God,
but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—Romans 16:26 ESV
This is why Thayer translates aionios as (1) without beginning or end, that which always has been and always will be, (2) without beginning, and (3) without end, never to cease, everlasting. Those definitions are accurate in regards to God, but they do not fit so well in Philemon.
Thayer's definition (3) works for the eternal nature of salvation.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Yeshua our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV
However, definitions (1) and (2) don't work of salvation because salvation is not without beginning and end. It is not that which always has been and always will be, and it is not without beginning.
The word aionios occurs 68 times in the New Testament. In over sixty of those occurrences, it has the meaning of an endless duration.
The word "destruction" is from the Greek word olethros, which according to Thayer, means "ruin, destroy, death." Moulton, Milligan say it means "the loss of all that gives worth to existence." For some unexplained reason, most commentators want to make olethros mean eternal, conscious torment. This word is only used five times in the New Testament and in all of those uses, it seems to be of a temporal nature. Nowhere does it portray an idea of torment. The word can refer to physical death, as in 1 Corinthians 5.
you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV
Olethros is also used of physical death in the Septuagint of 1 Kings 13:34; Ezekiel 14:16-18; 3 Macc. 6:30, 34.
And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth. 1 Kings 13:34 ESV
"Cut it off" is from olethros and here it refers to the physical death of the house of Jeroboam. Olethros is also used in the Septuagint of the defeat of one nation by another (Jer. 48:3; 51:55; Obad. 1:13).
the renown of Moab is no more. In Heshbon they planned disaster against her: 'Come, let us cut her off from being a nation!' You also, O Madmen, shall be brought to silence; the sword shall pursue you. "A voice! A cry from Horonaim, 'Desolation and great destruction!' Jeremiah 48:2-3 ESV
For the LORD is laying Babylon waste and stilling her mighty voice. Their waves roar like many waters; the noise of their voice is raised, or a destroyer has come upon her, upon Babylon Jeremiah 51:55 ESV
Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. Obadiah 1:13 ESV
All of these verses are speaking of the defeat of one nation by another, and they all use the Greek word olethros. We see, then, from its use throughout Scripture, that it is speaking of death and often of death that comes by national destruction.
The term destruction (olethros) in our text is the same word that Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 speaking of national destruction on the day of the Lord.
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 ESV
The phrase "day of the Lord" is an expression taken from the Tanakh where it is used many times in regard to the judgments and destruction of various nations. It usually meant a time when God Himself would punish or judge people by means of the armies of other people.
The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. Isaiah 13:1 ESV
In this chapter, Yahweh is talking about the judgment that is to fall upon Babylon.
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Isaiah 13:6 ESV
Here the Day of the Lord refers to the destruction of Babylon.
Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Isaiah 13:17 ESV
Yahweh used the Medes to destroy Babylon. This is an historical event that took place in 539 BC. This destruction is said to be from the Almighty, and the Medes constituted the means that God used to accomplish this task (Isaiah 13:6).
The invading armies of other nations brought judgment and destruction upon various nations. These times were each called "the day of the Lord" when they were proclaimed of the Lord.
While the references to "the day of the Lord" in the Tanakh referred to various nations, all the references in the New Testament to the "day of the Lord" (four of them) are referring to the A.D. 70 judgment that came upon the nation Israel.
So, here Paul uses the word olethros to refer to the destruction that happens on the day of the Lord which refers to the destruction of Jerusalem that happened at the Parousia. And that is also how he uses it in our text.
and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 ESV
It is when the Lord Yeshua was revealed from heaven that He inflicted vengeance on those who afflicted the Thessalonians. They (those who were afflicting the Thessalonians believers) would at that time "suffer punishment of eternal destruction." This destruction is their death! And this punishment is eternal because there will be no resurrection to life for them.
In his commentary of 2 Thessalonians 1:9, G.K. Beale writes, "The actual phrase everlasting destruction (olethros aionios) occurs only one other time in biblically related Jewish literature and refers not to annihilation but to unending suffering in the afterlife (4 Macc. 10:15).
I think Beale is wrong here. In part one of this study, I stated that all references in the Apocrypha to the end of the wicked is that of perishing except for one in Judith 16:17, which talks about eternal torment.
But let's look at Maccabees and see what it says. Maccabees tells the story of the martyrdom of the priest, Eleazar, and followed by the account of the seven pious bothers and their mother under Antiochus Epiphanes.
The issue in 4 Maccabees is whether or not Eleazar will obey the king by agreeing to eat the flesh of a pig in violation of Jewish law. Eleazar refuses. He is then cruelly tortured until he finally dies. Antiochus next orders that seven brothers who have resisted the order to eat pig flesh be brought in and put to the test. The first boldly resists, citing Eleazar's example. Tortured nearly to the point of death, he does not relent. The next brother follows his example. The rest of the brothers follow, one by one, until the last brother is brought out. Finally, it is the mother's turn, and she, too, willingly dies rather than violate her principles, for which the writer greatly praises her.
4 Maccabees 10:12 When he, too, had died in a manner worthy of his brothers, they dragged forward the fourth, saying, 13 "As for you, do not give way to the same insanity as your brothers, but obey the king and save yourself." 14 But he said to them, "You do not have a fire hot enough to make me play the coward. 15 No, by the blessed death of my brothers, by the eternal destruction of the tyrant, and by the everlasting life of the pious, I will not renounce our noble family ties.
He is speaking about the destruction of the "tyrant," Antiochus. How does Beale get "unending suffering in the afterlife" from this? It's a stretch to say the least.
Beale goes on to say that "This 'eternal destruction' is defined by the context not as annihilation but as unending suffering of a persecutor of saints, which is virtually equated with his 'eternal torture by fire'."
Yes, eternal destruction must be defined by the context and the context of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is not the afterlife but is, rather, the national judgment that happens at the Parousia of the Lord. Olethros is used here just as it is in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 and in the Septuagint to speak of death by a national judgment. This destruction is their death! And this punishment is eternal because there will be no resurrection to life for them. Their death is forever. They perish forever.
"Away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might"—this phrase is a nearly exact citation of Isaiah 2:10, 19, and 21 from the Septuagint.
Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty. Isaiah 2:10 ESV
And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. Isaiah 2:19 ESV
to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. Isaiah 2:21 ESV
Each time, Isaiah adds the description, "from the terror of the Lord and the majesty of His power." This text in Isaiah is talking about the "day of the Lord" that was to come upon Jerusalem. The Lord in the Isaiah texts is Yahweh, who executes his judgment in the "day of Yahweh." Again, this ties Olethros with the destruction of a nation at the Second Coming.
In Revelation 6:15-17, John picks up Isaiah's language to portray the terror of Christ's return.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" Revelation 6:15-17 ESV
This is the presence of the Lord in judgment on the nation of Israel. As in 1:9, the presence of the Lord is associated in a number of texts in the Tanakh and the New Testament with the national judgment of God.
"And from the glory of his might"—in the Tanakh, the most common Hebrew word for "glory" is kabad. It was originally a commercial term which meant "to be heavy" and referred to a pair of scales. That which was heavy was valuable or had intrinsic worth. Often the concept of brightness was added to the word to express God's majesty. He alone is worthy and honorable.
The idea that 1:9 conveys is not merely that the disobedient will be excluded from the Lord's presence but that from this presence, the everlasting destruction comes forth.
So, the context of verse 9 is not the afterlife but the judgment-coming of the Lord. The word Paul uses for destruction is Olethros, and it has nothing to do with eternal, conscious torment. It refers to death and national judgment. To use this verse as a proof text for Hell is eisegesis (reading into).
Commenting on our text in verse 9, Richard Mayhue writes: "Outside of liberal and cult theology, not until recently have conservatives seriously considered the possibilities that believers are granted immortality only at the final judgment and that unbelievers are then annihilated or put out of existence. It has been the generally accepted testimony of the church that all humans will live forever—believers blissfully in the presence of God and unbelievers in conscious torment in a real place called Gehenna or Hell."
Mayhue tells us that the doctrine of Hell has been the generally accepted testimony of the church. But a study of early Church history will reveal that the teaching of Hell was foreign to the earliest followers of Christ. The doctrines of "eternal torment" and "Hell" are the product of a domino effect that began with the acceptance of the pagan doctrine of the "eternal soul." Once it was accepted that man had a nature that could not die, it naturally followed that his punishment must also be "eternal." Because the "souls" of the wicked were eternal, punishment must be eternal. "Hell," therefore, became a place of "eternal torment."
The concept of the "soul" originated with Greek philosophers some three hundred years before the time of Christ. In the second century, it found its way into the early "Church" where it became a fundamental truth of the Roman Catholic Church, established by the Nicene council of 325 AD and reinforced by other councils that convened over the next 100 years.
So, where did the teaching that man has an eternal nature that transcends death come from? Historical evidence reveals that it first appeared among the ancient Egyptians. With the expansion of the Greeks under Alexander, the Egyptian philosophy of life and death became a subject to be examined by Greek philosophers. Plato is credited with modifying the Egyptian philosophy that man has two natures so that it could be incorporated into the religion of the Greeks. Plato taught that man had a nature that lived on after death and went on to a higher plane of being.
The soul, whose inseparable attitude is life, will never admit of life's opposite, death. Thus, the soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible…we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and body? Being dead is the attainment of this separation, when the soul exists in herself and separate from the body, and the body is parted from the soul. This is death…death is merely the separation of the soul from the body." Plato, 428-347 BC.
The Greeks prided themselves on their superior intellect and philosophy. Their philosophers had been teaching an undying nature of man. The teaching of the Greek philosophers found its way into Jewish society 300 years prior to the birth of Yeshua through the Pharisees and the Hellenization movement.
Then early converts to Christianity brought the Greek philosophy of the eternal "soul" into the early Church. Origen (ca. 185-254) was the first person to attempt to organize Christian Doctrine into a systematic theology. He was an admirer of Plato and believed in the immortality of the soul and that it would depart to an everlasting reward or everlasting punishment at death.
In Origen De Principiis he wrote:
"… The soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, being destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this …" ( Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, 1995, p. 240).
For Augustine, death meant the destruction of the body, but the conscious soul would continue to live in either a blissful state with God or an agonizing state of separation from God. In The City of God, he wrote that,
"The soul is therefore called immortal, because in a sense, it does not cease to live and to feel; while the body is called mortal because it can be forsaken of all life, and cannot by itself live at all. The death, then, of the soul takes place when God forsakes it, as the death of the body when the soul forsakes it" ( Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, 1995, p. 245.)
Richard Tarnas, in his book, The Passion of the Western Mind, points to this influence: "It was Augustine's formulation of Christian Platonism that was to permeate virtually all of medieval Christian thought in the West. So enthusiastic was the Christian integration of the Greek spirit that Socrates and Plato were frequently regarded as divinely inspired pre-Christian saints …" (1991, p. 103).
Centuries later Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274) crystallized the doctrine of the immortal soul in The Summa Theologica. He taught that the soul is a conscious intellect and will and cannot be destroyed.
A few centuries later, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation generally accepted these traditional views so that they became entrenched in traditional Protestant teaching. For the most part, then, this is what the Church today believes. But is it biblical?
The Jewish Encyclopedia states that "The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical and theological speculation rather than of simple truth, and is accordingly nowhere taught in Holy Scripture…" (Jewish Encyclopedia, "Immortality of the Soul," 1925).
"We are influenced always more or less by the Greek, Platonic idea that the body dies, yet soul is immortal. Such an idea is utterly contrary to the Israelite consciousness and is nowhere found in the Old Testament" (International Bible Encyclopedia, Page 812, 1960).
Does the Bible teach that man has an immortal soul? Is man created immortal? In the Hebrew Scriptures, the term rendered as "soul" is "nephesh." According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, it means "A breathing thing; by extension, a living creature, any animal of vitality."
Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines nephesh as "the essence of life, the act of breathing, taking breath … The problem with the English term 'soul' is that no actual equivalent of the term or the idea behind it is represented in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the combination or opposition of the 'body' and 'soul' which are really Greek and Latin in origin" (1985, p. 237-238, emphasis added).
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible makes this comment on nephesh: "The word 'soul' in English, though it has to some extent naturalized the Hebrew idiom, frequently carries with it overtones, ultimately coming from philosophical Greek (Platonism) and from Orphism and Gnosticism which are absent in 'nephesh.' In the OT it never means the immortal soul, but it is essentially the life principle, or the living being, or the self as the subject of appetite, and emotion, occasionally of volition" (Vol. 4, 1962, "Soul," emphasis added).
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:7 ESV
Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. Genesis 2:19 ESV
The terms "living creature," verse 7 and "living creature," verse 19, are both from nephesh. But the translating committee of the King James Version rendered "nephesh" as "soul" in 2:7, while rendering the same term as "living creature" in 2:19. In the writings of Moses, the Hebrew term "nephesh" is used in reference to the life that was given to both man and animal, without implying any distinction between the two.
While most believe Adam to have been created as an eternal being, the Bible does not teach this. If he were eternal, what was the purpose of the "tree of life"? Absolute proof that Adam was created mortal is found in Genesis 3.
Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. Genesis 3:22-23 ESV
Adam was created mortal and was always subject to death; however, in establishing the "tree of life," God had given him the means to procure everlasting life. Adam sinned in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree and for this was subject to condemnation, which is eternal death.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 ESV
At the Second Coming, immortality was given to believers and only to believers. The mortal put on immortality. All non-believers perish.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown write, "Nowhere is the immortality of the soul, distinct from the body, taught: A notion which many erroneously have derived from the heathen philosophers" (Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1 Corinthians 15:53).
Canon Gouge writes, "When the Greek and Roman mind instead of the Hebrew mind came to dominate the Church, there occurred a disaster in doctrine and practice from which we have never recovered."
Hopefully, this study has shown that the Scriptures do not support the teaching of the traditional view of non-believers suffering in flames of fire for eternity. Man was not created immortal. Man is mortal until he trusts in Christ, and at which point he puts on immortality. So, if the Bible doesn't teach a doctrine of eternal conscious torment, why do so many believe it? I think that S.W. Foss gives us the answer in his poem the "Calf Path":
For men are prone to go it blind, Along the calf-paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun, To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track, And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue, To keep the path that others do.
(This is an excerpt from The Calf Path by S.W. Foss)