Someone told me they believe the Bible but also believe there is no eternal punishment and that the greek word associated with eternal punishment really meant for a limited time but the church translated it “eternal” to control people through fear. Is that true?
Some refer to this teaching as Biblical Universalism trying to distinguish themselves from traditional universalism that denies the Scriptures. While Biblical Universalism claims to believe the Bible it is important to understand which “Bible” they believe.
First, they deny all major translations of the Bible as being accurate. These “mistranslations” include the King James Version, New International Version, New American Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, the Amplified Bible, New Century Version, New Living Translation, International Standard Version as well as almost all others. Instead, they refer you to a few obscure translations which, if you will check it out, you will find were almost exclusively done by other universalists who were not well educated in the original languages and had a point to prove by “correcting” the translations done by scholarly teams of translators from a broad spectrum of doctrinal and theological backgrounds with no “ax to grind”. A key to cult success and heretical teachers is to undermine the trustworthiness of Scriptures so you are left having to depend upon their word, or their translations, for the “truth”.
It does not take a lot of research to torpedo this heresy and you don’t have to be a Greek scholar to do the research yourself. The foundation of their belief revolves around the meaning of the Greek word “aionios” which they say means temporary. (And two hundred years before Jesus it was used to mean temporary but word meaning changes over time and in Jesus’ time the word clearly meant “eternal” as we will see in Scripture.)
Matthew 25:46 says, “Then they (the unrighteous) will go away to eternal (aionios) punishment, but the righteous to eternal (aionios) life.”
Basically, their claim is that the second time the word is used it means “eternal” but the first time it is used in this sentence it means “temporary”. To an unbiased observer it would be clear that since Jesus used the same term to describe the length of both the punishment and the reward then both are equal in duration. If the punishment ends after a period of time then clearly the reward also ends after a period of time. Obviously Biblical Universalism finds elaborate ways to deny this clear connection and say the same word can mean different things even though used in the same sentence. While a word can mean different things though used in the same sentence (A fly landed on my fly and would not fly away), there is no justification for applying differing definitions in the Matthew statement.
But a simple Bible study of the word “aionios” will further sink the univeralist ship and clarify the meaning of the word without referring to any translations – the major ones or their obscure ones.
Looking up the word aionios we see it – or its derivatives – are used 72 times in the New Testament. Of the 72 passages where the word is used, 59 times it is used to describe things even Biblical Universalism would agree are eternal: eternal Life – 43x, Spirit of God eternal – 1, Everlasting God – 2, Eternal glory – 3, eternal consolation – 1, God’s power is aionion – 1, Eternal salvation – 1, eternal redemption – 1, Jesus is alive aionion – 1, Everlasting kingdom – 1, eternal gospel – 1, eternal inheritance – 1, eternal covenant – 1, eternal habitation prepared – 1. All agree these things last eternally, not just for a period of time.
If in all those instances the word clearly means “eternal, without end” how can we suddenly translate it as temporary when it refers to punishment (1x), damnation(1x), destruction(1x), judgment(1x) and hell’s fire (3x)? Based on the fact that aionion clearly refers to things we would all agree go on without end in the overwhelming uses of the word, there is no justification to suddenly change its meaning when we apply it to things we are not so fond of – fire, judgment, punishment, destruction, damnation.
While Universalism pleases our natural senses (it would be comforting to think the horrors of hell are only temporary – or non existent at all) there is no Biblical evidence to support this. Punishment, damnation, destruction, judgment and the fires of hell are serious matters, they are eternal matters as the Bible clearly teaches and as the church has taught since its beginning. Universalism is the same lie the serpent told in the garden, “Go ahead, disobey God. You won’t die.” The serpent still hisses that lie today through Universalism.
Finally, everything within me wants to say, “I wish their interpretation was true” but to do so would be to question the perfection of God’s judgments. Do I dare think I can improve upon God’s method, or call Him too harsh or too strict because in my natural mind I can’t grasp or justify eternal punishment. All I can do is rest in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, mercy and grace and be confident that at the day of judgment I will agree with the multitude in heaven that declare, “true and just are his judgments”, a declaration made twice in the book of Revelation (16:7, 19:2) and affirmed in history and throughout the ages.
Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice?