A Defense of Apokatastasis
Rebutting “Refutation of Universalism” (Part #1)
The Introduction of Insanity
This “orthodox” Christian seems to be very critical of universal salvation based on his bias and clouded judgement. He isn’t a Protestant, but some eastern Christian retaining much hostility towards the doctrine of apokatastasis. He first makes the mistake that Gnostic believers were the first proponents for universal salvation. He writes:
“Universalists seem to suffer from the delusion that God is either unwilling or unable to communicate the truth to humanity. The overwhelming evidence from Christ, the apostles, Scripture, the Holy Fathers, Orthodox prayers, Church services, scholars, and other ancient texts indicate that the doctrine of eternal punishment is what God intended to convey to humanity. The view that all people will eventually find themselves in eternal bliss was first propagated by some of the Gnostic sects such as the Basilidians, Carpocrations, etc. (McCLintock and Strong, Vol. X, p. 658).”
First of all, no true patristic universalist asserts that God is unable or unwilling to communicate the truth to humanity. And there is no overwhelming evidence for Eternal Torment; there is only this face-value advantage due to flawed but official translations. The mentioned Gnostic sects that Irenaeus was judging in his works were of a Christian mixture, instead of being the original Gnostics. The original Gnostics never held to the doctrine of apokatastasis. If the Christian Gnostics held to this doctrine, but not the original Gnostics themselves, then this only proves that apokatastasis has no Gnostic origin but that it is Christian. These partial Gnostics derived this doctrine from Christianity itself. According to the Britannica, “Some sources distinguish not just three elements within human beings but also three different human types: spiritual, “soulish,” and material…Language about a spiritual race or class of humans saved by revelation has often been understood to imply a characteristic gnostic determinism, yet that notion has proven to be another questionable stereotype. The Apocryphon of John, for example, seems to envision eventual salvation for everyone except those who knowingly reject the revelation after having received it.” The Gnostics were more akin to Calvinism rather than universalism, and they believed only the spiritual person can be saved rather than the fleshly or somatic person. This person seems very misguided in his understanding of Gnosticism. Now, he mentions the notion of the 5th ecumenical council condemned Origen for teaching apokatastasis, which is genuinely absurd. You cannot condemn someone who has already died, especially if you assume they’re in hellfire already. I won’t deal with this issue at the moment because it is not in my interest, so I’ll leave this to someone else to disprove. Link: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/did-the-fifth-ecumenical-council-condemn-universal-salvation/
Wishing the Delusion or the Obvious?
He continues to rant over the nonsense that desiring the salvation of all men is illusory, except it isn’t. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then He should be able to willingly save everyone in due time. This is an axiomatic expectation; this cannot be refuted since infinite punishment for finite sins is much worse than committing sins against others for their sins. If God is vengeful like humanity, then the ethics of this god is neither superior, nor distinct from fallen human ethics. Divine justice and human vengeance become synonymous if one subscribes to the doctrine of eternal retribution. The only defense for this guy’s perspective is to say, “God has the right to do anything.” Yeah, does that include any evil and nonsensical act? God’s moral nature must consist His logical principles, or else God becomes chaotic and not logical. God cannot defy His logic because He is logical (John 1:1). The god of that deluded statement renders morality as arbitrary, meaningless, and chaotic. God has no practical reason to kill for the sake of destruction, because sin and the devil already fulfill this operation. Anyway, this guy writes:
“The Neo-Orthodox heretic Karl Barth and the Philosopher John Hick are contemporary Universalists. Most liberal theologians and cults hold to some form of Universalism. The first major theologian in modern times to teach universalism was Friedrich Schleiermacher (1788–1834). Universalism is actually based in a kind of Freudian illusion. Sigmund Freud called any belief based on a mere wish to be an illusion. It is an illusion to believe that all wishes will be fulfilled.”
I don’t fathom how seeing my enemies redeemed at some point by God, to be this pleasant and wishful thinking induced by the ego. Karl Barth doesn’t necessarily adhere to the belief of a purgative hell or Christian apokatastasis, but perhaps this inclusive universalism. He seems to define hell as merely this state of mind of being in an inferior condition based on their sins, delusion, and trauma. As for John Hick, he seems to be “agnostic to the point that [he] even denies the premises of his earlier argument for universalism. In short, his later agnosticism is at odds with his universalism”. Regardless of their beliefs, in the ages of antiquity, no group or cult has ever deduced Christian apokatastasis, that is, purgative universalism. There are groups like Islam and Rabbinical Judaism in the time of Jesus that taught eternal torture as well, so the same argument can be made against ECT. However, Jesus didn’t use the exact semantics as the Pharisees, to which they said “aidios timoria” while Jesus said “aionios kolasis”. Very different terms conveying very distinct concepts.
Eternal Torture is Fictionally Based [on English]
“The Bible clearly teaches that there is an eternal hell and that human beings go there. (see Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:7–9; Rev. 20:11–15). Eternal punishment is affirmed in Jude 7, 13; Rev. 14:11.”
In plain English perhaps, but not in Koine Greek. A great start to beguile others with the appeal of one’s native language, yet very misleading for sane Christians.
Revelation 14:10: “will be tormented with fire and brimstone [sulfuric fire]” is terminology for eternal torment used in Jewish apocalyptic literature. (Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. V, pp. 438, 439). Eternal torment is the only grammatical interpretation possible here, according to the commentators A.T. Robertson, Alford, Lenski, Lange, Hendriksen, Swete, Hengstenberg, , etc. Lenski states that the phrase “for the eons of the eons” means eternal torment. (Lenski, St. John’s Revelation, ibid., p. 438).
How can “eons of the eons” be ever rendered as an endless duration? It should simply be understood as the conception of a very long-lasting duration, or be rendered as “the age of ages,” conveying how great the duration will be. If the author was conveying an endless duration, why not just simply use ‘aionios’ to convey that intention? There is no consistency to their logic, but it seems their bias precedes honesty in their commentary of Revelation. The meaning behind the imagery of the lake of fire and sulfur cannot be self-explanatory if eternal torment is assumed into the text. It doesn’t answer the question of why sulfur is used for the lake of fire, nor can it explain what the imagery is trying to convey to the reader. The lake of fire along with sulfur seems identifiable with a crucible, which conveys the meaning of moral refinement or purgation for the wicked. According to John’s Apocalypse (22:14, 15), the wicked are outside the city’s gates which is strikingly parallel to Hebrews 13:12, by which it says, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” Just as the people were sanctified by the blood of Jesus outside the gates, so the wicked will be tested and refined by the fires of God. “A crucible for silver and a furnace for gold, but the LORD is the tester of hearts” (Proverbs 17:3). The Koine Greek also reveals these semantic parallels, and it is of no coincidence of the authors since they both hold to the sanctifying power of God. In Revelation, ‘basanismou’ originally meant to “act as a touchstone; testing”. This is the act of determining the purity of a metal whereas the fiery imagery serves the purpose of purgation. It can also mean to cross-question or examine closely, which in this case, would be the means of interrogating them in hopes of changing their mental allegiance (i.e. virtue or egoism). 1st Corinthians 3:13 teaches, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” The apostle Paul creates a contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful, and their works come from their hearts, yet to the one who suffers loss, he is saved only through the fire. This statement alludes to a purgative hell for the unfaithful, which serves the purpose of burning one’s sins in the hopes of him being saved. Because Paul exclusively bases his salvation on the condition of his journey through the fire. Even if this were a mere metaphor, it wouldn’t explain what the exact meaning is for the fire and suffering loss, and the condition of salvation relating to journeying through the fire.
“In Revelation 20:10 we see that they will be tormented day and night forever and ever [eis tous aionias ton aionon]. Says Christ: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46).
“Because aionios (‘eternal”) modifies both punishment and life in Matthew 25:46, it stands to reason that the same quality and temporal connotations are in view. That is to say, however long the life extends is how long the punishment lasts; the duration is identical. It is grammatically unsuitable to drive a wedge between the two uses of the term eternal in Matthew 25:46, suggesting that one refers to endlessness (eternal) and the other to temporal limitation (aeonial)…..Since it is clear to say that the eternal life is temporally unlimited it follows that eternal punishment is also temporally unlimited.” (Scot McKnight, Eternal Consequences or Eternal Consciousness, 154).
The assertion that aionias ton aionion intends the meaning of some abstract eternity is genuinely absurd. If aionios or aionias already means endless or eternal, why not just exclude the meaning to one aionion instead of having this dual usage? He claims that Christ breathed out this eternal suffering conception, yet this is mythology at its best being plainly written in English and Latin. It’s safe to say that Christ wasn’t focused on the duration, but merely on the quality of such events. Aionios cannot convey an eternal duration due to textual evidence like Enoch 10:10 and Mathetes 10:7, 8. Enoch says, “And no request that their fathers make to you shall be granted unto their fathers on their behalf; for they hope to live an eternal [aionion] life, and that each of them will live five hundred years.” The fathers aren’t making one request but rather two requests, that they would have an aionion life and live for five hundred years. It cannot be rendered as one request since kai is used as an inclusive conjunction, instead of some distinctive conjunction. Also, an English mis-translation of Mathetes says, “which is reserved for those that shall be condemned to the eternal fire that shall punish those delivered over to it unto the end.” How can the fire be eternal if there is an end to it? The text better translates as, “[It] is reserved for those who shall be sentenced to the great-abiding fire, which shall discipline and imprison them to it until an end. Then you shall marvel at those who endure the seasonal fire, which is for the sake of righteousness, and you shall consider them blessed when you know what the fire does.” The same fire that is chastising them until an end causes their ultimate redemption afterwards, which is why Mathetes says “you shall consider them blessed when you know what the fire does”. This chapter in context is referring to the second death for those apart from Christ, so this last verse in Chapter ten cannot be an allusion to the righteous or the faithful elect.
“There is no way of scaling down aionios to mean something less than endless eternity (as universalists attempt to do) so far as the torment of hell is concerned without also reducing “eternal life” to something temporary and the abode of the redeemed in heaven to something transient.” (Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 408).
I have already proven that aionios cannot mean an endless duration based on these two texts like Enoch and Mathetes. According to this site, aionios cannot mean an endless duration, but it conveys an age or a long-lasting duration. Either Jesus is referring to the quality of such an event, or is implying a long-lasting duration for both life and corrective judgement. This isn’t the first time Jesus uses a modifier for life to convey its great quality or quantity like in John 10:10. In John 17:3, Jesus explains that aionios life is to know God in an experiential sense, which again, conveys a life of abundant quality when in communion with God. So, despite any further mention of eternal or endless duration based on the aionion semantic, it should be deemed fictitious and extremely delusional to continually insist this position.
Says Christ: “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.” (Mat.18:8).
The definite article “the” (eternal fire) is used in Matthew 18:8. The New Testament Greek scholar A.T. Robertson states on this passage: “The word [aionios] means ageless, without beginning or end as of God (Rom. 16:26)…(Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. I, p. 147).
Before I rebut the statement that quotes Jesus (sort of), I am going to refute this person’s problematic assumption for aioniou used in Romans 16:26. They claim that Paul asserts God having a past and future eternity (i.e. without beginning and end); however, this philosophical concept is too abstract for the ancient readers of their time, so most likely, he used a more fathomable concept. The same term aionos, is used to convey the antiquity of time, instead of this past/future eternity concept (Acts 3:21). Also, why would Paul not assert this conception when these two verses express the same notion about prophesying an antique message from the God of antiquity?
Notice the minor Similarities: It has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the [ancient/aioniou] God, to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 16:26). || Heaven must receive Him until the time comes for the restoration of all things, as He promised long ago [aionos] through His holy prophets (Acts 3:21).
There are great similarities between these two verses, and the transcendental eternity conception doesn’t seem to be present within the minds of ancient readers; more so, those of average or peasant class. According to this book, the author disproves this false understanding of aionias ton aionon, “In some cases, however, the reduplication of olam [aion in Greek] seems to be a rhetorical amplification of the idea, without any comprehension of ages by a greater age. This is especially true when olam is in the singular in both parts of the reduplication, as “To the age of the age.” The use of the word in the plural is decisive evidence that the sense of the word is not eternity, in the absolute sense, for there can be but one such eternity. But as time past and future can be divided by ages, so there may be many ages, and an age of ages.” Then Professor Knapp who is cited says (an author of the best edition of the Greek Testament known, and a man of keen erudition): “The pure idea of eternity is too abstract to have been conceived in the early ages of the world, and accordingly is not found expressed by any word in the ancient languages…The Hebrews and other ancient people have no one word for expressing the precise idea of eternity.” If they wanted to convey a past eternity, they would use a phrase like “before the world was”. As for future eternity, the phrase would be “when the world shall be no more”.
WHAT IS GEHENNA? (Post-mortem Suffering, or Otherwise?)
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that Gehenna refers to “the place of eternal punishment of the wicked.” (Vol. II, p. 1182). || McClintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, defines Gehenna as “the place of eternal punishment.”
Coon and Mills define Gehenna as referring to “the place of eternal punishment.” (Coon, The Doctrine of Future and Endless Punishment Proved (Cincinnati: J.F. & V.P. James, 1850), p. 72; Perspectives on Death (ed. L. Mills; New York: Abingdon Press, 1969), p. 32. || In Talmudic literature, Idolators and blasphemers remain in Gehenna “to be punished for all generations.” (Bab. Tal. RH65).
Matthew 18:8 was mentioned by this person to affirm an endless duration of misery for the wicked, except he is forming assumptions on bias research. Again as I stated, Jesus is not referring to an endless duration of fire in this verse. The conception of Gehenna has three interpretative modes, by which the first two are biblical: the historical, the rhetorical, and the spiritual view. The historical view of Gehenna is the notion that it is a valley in Jerusalem based on a Hebrew word and the history that took place there. The word is derived from the Hebrew: גי(א)-הינום Gêhinnôm (also Guy ben-Hinnom (גיא בן הינום) meaning the Valley of Hinnom’s son. According to New World Encyclopedia, “It is first mentioned in Joshua 15:8. Originally it referred to a garbage dump in a deep narrow valley right outside the walls of Jerusalem where fires were kept burning to consume the refuse and keep down the stench. It is also the location where bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped. In addition, this valley was frequently not controlled by the Jewish authority within the city walls; it is traditionally held that this valley was used as a place of religious child-sacrifice to Moloch by the Canaanites outside the city (comp. Jer. 2: 23).” Child sacrifice within this valley expresses the satanic nature and human chaos that is presented. [Also this valley is mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible: 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings; and Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2–6, 32:35]. The second interpretative mode is the rhetorical use of Gehenna. This harsh and strong device serves as an allusion to satanic influence, belonging to rubbish nature, or being a chaotic misfortune. Jesus uses this device when calling the Pharisees as the sons of Gehenna (or rubbish nature) due to their poor character (Matthew 23:15). Even James uses this device in his epistle, he writes, “And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehenna” (James 3:6). The affairs of the world and the life of an individual cannot be set on fire by a literal post-mortem location, instead it is set on fire by the tongue through demonic influence. The destructive power and origin of the tongue is none other than the wicked spirits’ synergy with rebellious humans. To assume the post-mortem mode of interpretation would be silly, and would only imply God is the direct cause of chaos and destruction channeled by human agents. The commentator Barnes agrees with my analysis, stating: “The idea here is, that that which causes the tongue to do so much evil derives its origin from hell. Nothing could better characterize much of that which the tongues does, than to say that it has its origin in hell, and has the spirit which reigns there. The very spirit of that world of fire and wickedness — a spirit of falsehood, and slander, and blasphemy, and pollution — seems to inspire the tongue.” The last mode of interpretation would be that of spiritual, or post-mortem nature. Jesus never follows this mode of use, but only the Pharisees make use of this device in their own writings. According to Josephus, they use “aidios timoria” to convey endless torture, yet Christ utilizes “aionios kolasis” which not only contradicts the nature of said punishment, but also its quality. It is possible that He meant an indefinite duration, which could extend to infinity or be finite in duration. However, this mode of interpretation is flawed when applying this to James 3:6 and Matthew 10:28. “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” For one, you cannot fear and love God at the same time according to 1st John 4:18, so instead we should take this as a healthy reverence for God. Secondly, Jesus is contrasting God’s indirect justice from human vengeance, which is “handing this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1st Corinthians 5:5). Thirdly, the term ‘apolesai’ is not limited to the idea of destroying something, but it can convey the idea of losing or lack of possession. In other words, He says, “But revere Him who is able to lose both soul and body in Gehenna [or satanic misfortune].” Lastly, the body cannot be destroyed in a post-mortem location since it has already ceased to exist structurally. Therefore, this interpretative mode would not only be silly to directly attribute God to the works of satanic spirits at work with the human tongue (such as in James), but also kind of blasphemous. As for Matthew, God doesn’t cause the said misfortune, but is simply reluctant yet passive to those who stumble in it in hopes of realization to the truth (as evidenced in 1st Corinthians & Wisdom 12:27).
“The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp states that the fire is “everlasting and never quenched.” (2:3). Polycarp is reported to have spoken of “the coming judgment and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the impious.” (11:2).
This text has been questioned as to being a forgery despite some realistic elements in the writing itself. But the notion of unquenchable expressed by Jesus, Judith, Isaiah, and Ignatius does not convey an endless duration. Church Historian, Eusebius, states that certain martyrs of Alexandria “were burned in unquenchable fire,” but the fire was extinguished in the course of an hour. The very expression in English, which Homer has in Greek asbestos gelos, (Iliad, i:599) unquenchable laughter [credit to mercyuponall.org for finding this evidence].
Clements Second Letter speaks of “eternal punishment.” (6:6, 7). “their worms will not die and their fire will not be quenched…undying fire.” (See 17:4–7).
The 2nd letter of Clement has been known to be a forgery, and I don’t find it necessary to tackle this so-called claim. Regardless, neither position whether universalist or infernalist will win in this matter. For the sake of time and concise writing, I won’t touch too much on this.
Letter to Diognetus speaks of “eternal fire.” (See 10:7, 8).
The sloppy work and beguiled audacity behind this guy’s research. Seriously, Mathetes suggests that the so-called eternal fire has an end, but instead this person only looks at the translations based on face-value, ignoring the potential universalist language due to his bias.
Saint Irenaeus was a disciples of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John himself. Irenaeus declared: “Moreover he says the Book of Life was opened and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books according to their works, and death and hell were sent into the Lake of Fire, the second death. Now this is what is called Gehenna, which the Lord styled eternal fire. And if anyone, it is said, was not found written in the Book of Life, he was sent into the Lake of Fire.”
The writings of St. Irenaeus are perplexing and more complicated than what this person is assuming. All hell groups like Infernalists, Annihilationists, and Universalists draw from Irenaeus to support their doctrine, but the most likely position Irenaeus took was Universal Reconciliation. The Latin is a mis-translation of the Greek writings and rhetoric present in his work (Against Heresies). There is a fragment #39 ascribed to Irenaeus, which says, “Christ, who was called the Son of God before the ages, was manifested in the fullness of time, in order that He might cleanse us through His blood, who were under the power of sin, presenting us as pure sons to His Father, if we yield ourselves obediently to the chastisement of the Spirit. And in the end of time He shall come to do away with all evil, and to reconcile all things, in order that there may be an end of all impurities.” How can evil be done away with, or have an end in duration if evil continually exists in hell? Also, he might argue that Irenaeus understood Gehenna as being a place of post-mortem suffering, except he also assumed that Jesus lived until He was in His late forties or fifty. Irenaeus was no historian of the historical context and Hebrew etymology behind the meaning of Gehenna. He safely assumed this to be the case due to a lack of historical context, which modern Christians also mistakenly assume. Mercyuponall.org says the following: “But in process of time Gehenna came to be an emblem of the consequences of sin, and to be employed figuratively by the Jews to denote those consequences. But always in this world. The Jews never used it to mean torment after death, until long after Christ. That the word had not the meaning of post-mortem torment when our Savior used it, is demonstrable: Josephus was a Pharisee, and wrote at about the time of Christ, and expressly says that the Jews at that time (corrupted from the teachings of Moses) believed in endless punishment, but he never employs Gehenna to denote the place of punishment.” As I said before, Gehenna is an allusion to disaster or demonic misfortune.
Tertullian spoke of “eternal punishment” (The Prescription Against Heretics, XIII). Justin Martyr refers to “everlasting punishment,” (The First Apology of Justin, 8); “eternal punishment” (ibid., 18).
[He then appeals to St. Augustine, of course!]
First of all, Tertullian and Augustine didn’t have the Koine Greek scriptures, but a mis-translation of the Latin. And the Eastern Church don’t consider Tertullian and perhaps Augustine as actual Church Fathers who teach orthodoxy with authority. As for Justin Martyr, he seems to be more leaning to annihationism rather than everlasting punishment, or perhaps he wavers in thought. Either way, he seems to teach an indefinite age (aperanto aiona) rather than an endless duration. Here’s a list of various universalists:
The main Patristic supporters of the apokatastasis theory, such as Bardaisan, Clement, Origin, Didymus, St. Anthony, St. Pamphilus Martyr, Methodius, St. Macrina, St. Gregory of Nyssa (and probably the two other Cappadocians), St. Evagrius Ponticus, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, St. John of Jerusalem, Rufinus, St. Jerome and St. Augustine (at least initially) … Cassian, St. Issac of Nineveh, St. John of Dalyatha, Ps. Dionysius the Areopagite, probably St. Maximus the Confessor, up to John the Scot Eriugena, and many others, grounded their Christian doctrine of apokatastasis first of all in the Bible.
— Ramelli, Christian Doctrine, 11.
The apocryphal isn’t too much concerning to me, or of great interest to me at the moment, but this is my rebuttal for this person’s article. He thinks his position is correct out of ignorance, bias, and proper to say, arrogance. Is it egotistical to seek the redemption of your enemies? Think about it. Perhaps, I will continue on in a later post. Amen.