When I was a teenager, the leader of the local LDS Congregation I attended advised me not to read anti-Mormon literature as it could mess up my faith. He was correct. It did. Reading theology and related things still causes me to rethink things. I should stop doing this and just find a belief system I am comfortable is consistent with God and Jesus and let others worry about meanings and translations and all that. But I cannot.
Words and what they mean: I have been known to spend literally hours in a dictionary following linkages of word meanings. It just fascinates me. In theological areas, it cause me to rethink things and it never seems to end.
The new phrases, which were found yesterday are “everlasting punishment” and “life eternal” from Matthew 25:46. I want to focus on the eternal punishment phrase for the rest of this posting.
The Greek word we have translated as “everlasting” or “eternal” is “aionion.” The Greek words used herein can all be looked up here.
Most Greek Scholars tell us that the word means an age of indefinate period, but with a beginning and an end, that the common usage of theologians of “without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be; without beginning; without end, never to cease, everlasting.” is not the most precise. Yes, it is possible to have an eon without end, but that is not the most common understanding of the word. Besides, there were better Greek words that would have been used if the writer really wanted to convey the idea of “forever and ever, ” such as “ Aidios, which has only the sense of “eternal or everlasting.
The Greek word we have translated as “punishment” is “kolasis,” which means a penalty, punishment or correction. Corrective? Why would there be corrective punishment if the punishment lasts forever?
Matthew, when dealing with what happened to the goats could have used ” ekdikesis,” which means vengeful punishment, with a sense of vindication.
So, if Matthew intended to convey “eternal punishment” why did he use word that mean “corrective punishment for an age” when he had better choices in front of him?
Could it be that he just didn’t believe in eternal punishment?
No one denies that there were so-called heresies in the early church teaching Universal Salvation, led by church fathers Clement and Origen of Alexandria, Ambrose and Jerome, and others, but in the 5th century, Augustine was converted to Christianity and he brought with him the belief in eternal punishment, which, due in part to his influence, became the orthodox position.
It was also about this time that Jerome was translating the Bible from Greek into the Latin Vulgate, and as Jerome was working pretty much by himself under the charge of the Western Church’s Pope, could have just made a mistake. (There are conspiracy theories about Jerome, but I think error is a better razor than conspiracy.)
Thing is, it is the existing theology that defines heresy. We cannot, however, get around the fact that universal salvation was believe by a significant—if not majority—of Christians in the early Church.
Philippians 2: 10-11 supports universal salvation (as do numerous New Testament verses, which I will leave to another posting or to the reader’s own research):
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What happens after this? After all confess Jesus Christ is Lord (the first statement of faith required to be Christian), some (most) are then cast into the lake of fire and brimstone to be punished eternally? Make no sense and, if true, discloses a really heinous and callous God not worthy of respect, much less worship.
And what of this lake of fire and brimstone anyway? If the Bible is to be read the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then what is important is what the words meant to the first readers, those who read ancient Koinos Greek. If our understanding is different than theirs, it is our understanding that must change. Their understanding was what the writer was trying to pique.
Brimstone is an old word for Sulpher, which was used by the ancients as a purifier. The Greek word for sulpher (brimstone) is theion, a brimstone divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off disease.
To any Greek, or to any trained in the Greek language, a “lake of fire and brimstone” would mean a “lake of divine purification.” The idea of judgment need not be excluded . . . Divine purification and divine consecration are the plain meaning in ancient Greek.— By Charles Pridgeon (See this site).
The picture is from here