One of the important Greek words in the debate on the nature of punishment is kolasin (κόλασιν). The reason for this is that kolasin aiōnion is used in Matthew 25:46 regarding the punishment given to the goats for lacking compassion. Although we have already seen that kolasin has the sense of corrective punishment (and that aiōnion cannot reasonably mean everlasting when describing corrective punishment), those who wish to defend the traditional doctrine of hell attempt to deny that this is the sense of the word. They insist that it is purely retributive punishment that does not serve any reforming purpose. Evidence from Greek thinkers, however, very strongly demonstrates that corrective punishment is the true meaning of kolasin.
We will begin our analysis of kolasin by evaluating the accuracy of the claims of the well-known scholar William Barclay, writer of some of the most popular Bible study materials of the 20th century:
The word for punishment is kolasis. This word was originally a gardening word, and its original meaning was pruning trees. In Greek there are two words for punishment, timoria and kolasis, and there is a quite definite distinction between them. Aristotle defines the difference; kolasis is for the sake of the one who suffers it; timoria is for the sake of the one who inflicts it (Rhetoric 1.1 0). Plato says that no one punishes (kolazei) a wrong-doer simply because he has done wrong – that would be to take unreasonable vengeance (timoreitai). We punish (kolazei) a wrong-doer in order that he may not do wrong again (Protagoras 323 E). Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 4.14; 7.16) defines kolasis as pure discipline, and timoria as the return of evil for evil. Aulus Gellius says that kolasis is given that a man may be corrected; timoria is given that dignity and authority may be vindicated (The Attic Nights 7.14). The difference is quite clear in Greek and it is always observed. Timoria is retributive punishment; kolasis is remedial discipline. Kolasis is always given to amend and to cure. (Barclay, The Apostles' Creed, page 189)
Is Barclay correct in his assessment of the meaning of kolasis? To find out, I cross-verified his references to check them for accuracy. First, let’s begin by checking the claim that kolasin was used of pruning. Although this understanding of the word’s origins is not vital to our understanding of kolasin as corrective punishment (it could still mean corrective punishment even if it never was used of gardening), it is very interesting etymologically. After all, nobody prunes a tree to punish it vindictively, but rather to help it to be more fruitful. The idea of pruning certainly does fit with the idea of corrective discipline.
Not only that, it’s true.
According to Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, a work of such importance to the understanding of ancient Greek that ChristianBook.com claims that it is “used by every student of ancient Greek in the English-speaking world,” kolasin does in fact have the meaning of pruning, as well as correction. Here is the entry which you can verify for yourself here :
A. checking the growth of trees, esp. almond-trees, Thphr.CP3.18.2 (pl.).
You may have noticed that “checking the growth of trees” is the first definition given, followed by a reference: Thphr.CP3.18.2 (pl.). Unless you are a classics scholar, I imagine this reference is not very helpful, so I did further research into it. It refers to On the Causes of Plants (De Causis Plantarum), a botany book about plant physiology by Theophrastus (371-286 BC), who is considered to be the founding father of botany as well as a scientific colleague and close friend of Aristotle (Thanos 1994). The numbers are the volume, chapter, and section of this work.
Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain On the Causes of Plants very easily (apparently botany books from the 3rd or 4th century B.C. are not very popular—I can’t imagine why…). Nevertheless, Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon makes clear reference to checking the growth of trees in order to make them more fruitful as an intended meaning in Theophrastus’ botany book. Pruning, therefore, is definitely part of its semantic range (range of meaning) and indicates that kolasin is beneficial to the one experiencing it.
It is also important to notice that it is listed as opposed to (opp.) timoria, or retributive punishment (vengeance). We will examine Aristotle’s reasoning (as referenced by Liddell and Scott) on this shortly, but for your reference I have hyperlinked the passage of interest here .
For a bit more analysis on this meaning and on the rationale Theophrastus gave for why pruning increases fruit production, you can see The Palgrave Handbook of Infertility in History. In this book, Theophrastus’ logic of pruning almond trees to increase fruitfulness is summarized as follows:
“Cultivation, however, was not without risks to the fertility of plants. It too could lead to barrenness… Plants grown in rich soil could grow excessive leafage and fail to produce fruit. Thus, according to Theophrastus, almond trees planted in too rich a soil ‘grow over-luxuriant (exhubrisasai) on account of the rich feeding, and fail to bear fruit’… The solution was to prune such plants.” (Davis and Loughran 2017)
Kolasin as Defined by Greek Thinkers
Much more important, however, than the visual picture of kolasin as pruning to increase fruitfulness is the fact that prominent Greek-speaking thinkers explicitly define it as corrective punishment. Barclay makes reference to these thinkers in his quote above, but we will now examine them in primary sources in a roughly chronological fashion. You will see that the case for kolasin as corrective punishment is virtually unassailable. Let’s take a look, beginning with Plato (c.428-347 B.C.).
For if you will consider punishment Socrates, and what control it has over wrong-doers, the facts will inform you that men agree in regarding virtue as procured. No one punishes a wrong-doer from the mere contemplation or on account of his wrong-doing, unless one takes unreasoning vengeance (τιμωρεῖται) like a wild beast. But he who undertakes to punish with reason does not avenge (τιμωρεῖται) himself for the past offence, since he cannot make what was done as though it had not come to pass; he looks rather to the future, and aims at preventing that particular person and others who see him punished from doing wrong again. And being so minded he must have in mind that virtue comes by training: for you observe that he punishes to deter.
All of the above references to the word “punish” (which I have made bold for easy reference) are conjugations of the verb kolazo (κολάζω). Here are the forms that kolazo takes in this part of Protagoras: κολάζειν , κολάζει , and κολασθέντα , which you can see in context here . They are also hyperlinked within the Greek text itself so that you can see the definition of kolazo. In addition, I have included several definitions from LSJ here for even easier reference: “check”, “chastise”, “to be corrected”, “chastened”, “punish”. It also once again mentions its agricultural use in the sense of checking the growth of plants (pruning) citing Theophrastus’ other major work Enquiry Into Plants (Historia Plantarum), as well as another part of On the Causes of Plants, yet further confirmation that it does have this sense as a “gardening word” as Barclay claims.
You should also notice that Plato specifically contrasts kolazo (a verb form of kolasin) with taking vengeance (τιμωρεῖται/timoreitai—a verb form of timoria, which we will see again later). Plato is exceptionally clear that kolazo is corrective punishment that is done in order to benefit the person who committed wrong-doing as well as those who see the punishment and learn from it. He contrasts this with timoreitai, the taking of retributive vengeance. This is significant because Plato specifically tells us that kolasin means corrective punishment that serves a didactic purpose and is aimed at reform, as opposed to simply getting back at someone. For Plato kolasin is the type of punishment practiced by rational people because it produces beneficial results (or fruit, if you would like to continue the pruning analogy).
Timoria, or vengeance, on the other hand, is something only done by wild beasts without sense. It must therefore be asked which term is more fitting in describing punishment from God—the rational form of corrective disciplinary punishment or the form of punishment reserved for irrational wild animals? Perhaps Matthew chose kolasin for a reason.
By the way, the fact that the verb forms of kolasin and timoria are used in Protagoras should raise no objection. The words still have the same sense, in the same way that the word “punishment” and the word “punish” have the same sense, with “punishment” being the noun (like kolasin) and “punish” being the verb (like kolazo). In other words, kolasin is the noun form of the verb kolazo, just as punishment is the noun form of the verb punish.
Next, we will examine the words of another of ancient Greece’s preeminent philosophical thinkers, Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC). You should notice that he has the same understanding as Plato, although he does not go so far as to reserve timoria as only pertaining to beasts.
But there is a difference between revenge (τιμωρία /timoria) and punishment (κόλασις/kolasis); the latter is inflicted in the interest of the sufferer, the former in the interest of him who inflicts it, that he may obtain satisfaction.
Again, we see a clear distinction between kolasis (corrective punishment) and timoria (retributive punishment or vengeance). Kolasis is inflicted “in the interest of the sufferer” so that he will mend his ways. It is again specifically defined as beneficial to the one being punished.
Although Barclay does not mention it, another important reference to kolasis is made in the Septuagint version of Ezekiel. As a reminder, the Septuagint is the earliest extant translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek by Jewish scholars. It was composed during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC (nearer than Plato and Aristotle to the time of Jesus’ earthly life) and represents the understanding of Jewish scholars familiar with both Greek and Hebrew. For these reasons, its testimony is very valuable. With this in mind, consider the following:
And thou, son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may cease from their sins; and shew its aspect and the arrangement of it. And they shall bear their punishment (kolasis) for all the things that they have done: and thou shalt describe the house, and its entrances, and the plan thereof, and all its ordinances, and thou shalt make known to them all the regulations of it, and describe them before them: and they shall keep all my commandments, and all my ordinances, and do them. (Brenton Septuagint Translation—available here: https://biblehub.com/sep/ezekiel/43.htm)
It seems quite clear from the passage above that the purpose of the punishment (kolasis) that the house of Israel experienced was corrective. It was meant to result in change, so that they “may cease from their sins” and so that “they shall keep all my commandments, and all my ordinances, and do them.” It would be very difficult contextually to argue that retributive vengeance was in mind. Once again, kolasin clearly has the sense of corrective chastisement, not mere punishment for its own sake.
So far, we have only been looking at examples from before Christ. For this reason, the objection might be raised that kolasin had changed in its meaning by the time of Jesus and the writing of the Gospel of Matthew. However, this is not the case. Again, we have clear, unambiguous evidence that kolasin is corrective in nature.
Aulus Gellius (c. 125 – c. 180 AD) was a Roman author and grammarian who was educated in Athens. While in Athens (located on the Attic Peninsula), he wrote his most well-known work, the Attic Nights which was a “compilation of notes on grammar, philosophy, history, antiquarianism, and other subjects” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aulus_Gellius). Because this work was written shortly after the writing of the New Testament, its testimony is very useful in determining how the word kolasin was understood at the time. Gellius, in fact, gives an undeniably clear definition:
It has been thought that there should be three reasons for punishing crimes. One of these, which the Greeks call either κόλασις (kolasis) or νουθεσία, is the infliction of punishment for the purpose of correction and reformation, in order that one who has done wrong thoughtlessly may become more careful and scrupulous. The second is called τιμωρία by those who have made a more exact differentiation between terms of this kind. That reason for punishment exists when the dignity and the prestige of the one who is sinned against must be maintained, lest the omission of punishment bring him into contempt and diminish the esteem in which he is held; and therefore they think that it was given a name derived from the preservation of honour (τιμή). A third reason for punishment is that which is called by the Greeks παράδειγμα, when punishment is necessary for the sake of example, in order that others through fear of a recognized penalty may be kept from similar sins, which it is to the common interest to prevent. Therefore our forefathers also used the word exempla, or "examples," for the severest and heaviest penalties. Accordingly, when there is either strong hope that the culprit will voluntarily correct himself without punishment, or on the other hand when there is no hope that he could be reformed and corrected; or when there is no need to fear loss of prestige in the one who has been sinned against; or if the sin is not of such a sort that punishment must be inflicted in order that it may inspire a necessary feeling of fear — then in the case of all such sins the desire to inflict punishment does not seem to be at all fitting.
As a Roman educated in Greece (and therefore very competent in Greek), Gellius was explaining the meaning and purpose of Greek words for punishment to his fellow Romans. He makes it clear that kolasis is the type of punishment that is done “for the purpose of correction and reformation,” thus plainly distinguishing kolasin from other terms for punishment, including timoria, which he describes as being done to preserve the honor of the offended party. It should be noted that this view of timoria is more purposeful than mere vengeance and could serve a positive purpose of restoring honor to the offended individual. The third reason for punishment is to deter others from committing the same sins, for which he uses the term paradeigma. This, however, is also a reason given by Plato for kolasin, as we saw above. So, in short, punishment of any type must serve some positive purpose or “the desire to inflict punishment does not seem to be at all fitting,” but kolasin is used specifically to refer to punishment that is beneficial and transformative to the sinner.
Another important point regarding Aulus Gellius’ reasons for punishment is that he notes that not all people observe the distinction between these terms. He hints at this reality when he mentions “those who have made a more exact differentiation between terms of this kind.” This implies that some do not make a differentiation between the Greek words for punishment. Instead, these individuals are seemingly unaware of the nuances that distinguish these words and use them interchangeably. This is significant because it explains why there are some examples from ancient literature in which kolasin appears to be retributive rather than corrective. These examples, however, seem to represent inappropriate and uninformed uses of the word that lack precision and that would be inherently misleading to a person with a better command of the language.
My contention is that the Gospel writer was neither ignorant of kolasin’s meaning, nor imprecise in his diction. He did not misuse kolasin, but instead specifically chose it for a purpose: namely, to clearly indicate corrective punishment to Greek-speakers of the time.
The understanding of kolasin as corrective punishment is not only evident in secular thinkers, but also in Greek-speaking Christians. Consider the words of Clement of Alexandria (150 A.D. to about 215 A.D.), head one of the most significant centers of Christian thought of the early church, the catechetical school of Alexandria.
For there are partial corrections, which are called chastisements (kolasin), which many of us who have been in transgression incur, by falling away from the Lord's people. But as children are chastised (kolazo) by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish (timoreitai), for punishment (timoria) is retaliation for evil. He chastises (kolazo), however, for good to those who are chastised (kolazo), collectively and individually.
This passage makes it clear that Clement views the chastisements of God as corrective rather than vindictive or vengeful. Like all the Greek thinkers discussed so far, Clement views kolasin as beneficial to those who experience it. And he was certainly not alone in this understanding of his native tongue.
Epiphanius and Methodius The Panarion:
Some evidence comes from unexpected sources. Books II and III of the Panarion by Ephiphanius were written to oppose various Christian “heresies” and were written sometime between 374 and 377 AD (Encyclopedia Brittanica). Epiphanius himself was perhaps Origen’s most bitter critic, making it an “obsession” of nearly thirty years to ruin “Origen and Origenism in Catholic opinion” (Fathers of the Church, Saint Jerome: dogmatic and polemical works , page 49). Interestingly, Epiphanius does not attack universal restoration as a heresy in his writing against Origen in the Panarion (I know this because I read the whole attack). His contention instead is about the nature of our bodies at the resurrection. As part of his argument, he extensively quotes another church father named Methodius, whom he considers an authority, in his dialogue with a supposed Origenist named Aglaophon. Consider his words:
“Then those who are judged (κρινόμενοι) are benefited. Their wickedness is removed because it is prevented by their torments (βασάνοις), just as illnesses are removed by surgery and pharmacy at the doctor’s. For the punishment (δίκην) of the criminal is the correction of the soul, which throws off the severe disease of wickedness.”
“Oh? Wouldn’t you say that the punishments (κολάσεις) which are proportionate to their crimes are imposed with justice on criminals, just as surgery proportionate to their hurts is applied to patients?”
“Then one whose crimes deserve death is punished (δίκην) with death, one whose crimes deserve the lash is punished (δίκην) with the lash, and one whose crimes merit imprisonment is punished (δίκην) with prison?”
“And the offender incurs the penalty of prison, blows, or some other punishment (τιμωρίᾳ) of the sort, so that he will reform and abandon his wickedness, like bent wood straightened by hard blows?”
“You’re quite right,” he said.
“The judge isn’t punishing (Τιμωρεῖται) him for his past crime but for the future, so that he won’t do it again?”
“Plainly,” he said. (The Panarion, Books II and III, page 155, 23,4-23,8)
It must be noted that Methodius is taking for granted that punishment is corrective. It is an assumed foundational premise that is considered obvious by all parties. This is something that he, Ephiphanius, Aglaophon, and Origen agreed on wholeheartedly. It is, in fact, the crux of Methodius’ argument against Origen’s view of the resurrection and is much further expounded so that we see that even “death was devised for the sake of conversion” (p. 169).
With this in mind, let’s now analyze the language to see how this relates to the Greek terms for punishment. Although kolasin has so far been the focus of this chapter, it is noteworthy that Methodius and Epiphanius use not only kolasin as corrective, healing punishment but also nearly every other biblical term for punishment. Remember, the entire force of Methodius’ argument is based on this fundamental supposition. With this in mind, let’s now examine each of the Greek terms used in the above passage and how they all, in the minds of these church fathers, indicated reformatory punishment:
1. Kolaseis (κολάσεις) is a plural form of kolasin (for which reason it is translated as punishments). Notice that it is analogous to the application of surgery to patients. It is both proportional to the crime committed and healing.
2. Krinomenoi (κρινόμενοι) is a form of the word krino, which means “to judge.” This word is used quite frequently of judgment in the Bible. Notice that “those who are judged are benefited” because “their wickedness is removed.” It is clear that this understanding of judgment comes from the Bible. Consider, for example 1 Corinthians 11:32 which states that “when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined” for our benefit.
3. Basanois (βασάνοις) is a plural form of basanos, often translated as torment in English Bibles. Basanois is the exact word used to describe the torments experienced by the rich man in Hades (the realm of the dead) in Luke 16:23. It is critical to note that such torments were considered medicinal. As Methodius (and Epiphanius) claim so clearly, “wickedness is removed because it is prevented by their torments (βασάνοις), just as illnesses are removed by surgery and pharmacy at the doctor’s.”
4. Diken (δίκην) is another term for punishment or justice used in the Bible. It is, in fact, used in two of the favorite verses of those who attempt to promote the traditional doctrine endless torment: 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and Jude 1:7. I have already discussed these verses in some detail here and here, demonstrating that they do not in fact provide good support for endless hell, so I will forego repeating this analysis again. The critical thing to notice here is that diken is corrective punishment. Notice that “the punishment (δίκην) of the criminal is the correction of the soul, which throws off the severe disease of wickedness” and that it is proportional to the offense committed (which cannot actually be true of a never-ending punishment). Therefore, by the estimation of these Greek-speaking church fathers, the punishments of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and Jude 1:7 were designed to correct the souls of those punished. Such purpose for punishment or judgment is very well-supported scripturally, as we have already seen.
5. Timoria (τιμωρίᾳ) is the form of punishment that several of our Greek thinkers have contrasted with kolasin as vengeance for the purpose of satisfying the punisher. Timoreitai (Τιμωρεtῖται) is a verb form of this word. But, as Aulus Gellius claimed, not everyone distinguished between these terms for punishment. It seems that we see an example of this in the Panarion. It must be noted, however, that Methodius and Epiphanius view even timoria as corrective punishment, not purposeless vengeance. They claim, in essence, that all forms of punishment in the hands of God are for the purpose of correction and training in righteousness. The punishment (τιμωρίᾳ) of the sinner is meted out “so that he will reform and abandon his wickedness, like bent wood straightened by hard blows” and not “for his past crime but for the future, so that he won’t do it again.” The correction of the soul and destruction of evil tendencies is clearly in view, even for timoria, not just for kolasin.
In summary, this passage from the Panarion shows quite clearly that Epiphanius and Methodius viewed kolasin and every other form of punishment as therapeutic and corrective when applied by a righteous God. It is also worth noting that they, like the rest of the sources discussed thus far, fluently spoke and wrote koine Greek, the language in which the Panarion was originally composed. This further illustrates that the concept of restorative punishment was not isolated to Origen and his followers, but rather completely independent of him. Even his harshest critics viewed punishment in this way, demonstrating just how widespread this understanding was in the early church.
Summary of Evidence
Thus far we have seen that numerous fluent writers of Greek have explicitly defined kolasin as corrective punishment and used it in such a way that demonstrates this to be its clear meaning. These sources include secular writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Aulus Gellius, as well as Christian sources like Clement of Alexandria, Methodius and Epiphanius, spanning a roughly 800-year period from Plato (born in 428 B.C.) to Epiphanius (died in 403 A.D.). It is also noteworthy that these writings occurred both before Christ and after Christ, and that some of them were written near to the time of the composition of the Gospels.
Timeline of Kolasin Definitions and Usage
I have little doubt that more examples could be obtained, but for now this seems more than sufficient to show quite clearly the legitimacy of the claim that kolasin refers to corrective punishment.
In spite of all of this irrefutable evidence, traditionalists still try to cast doubt on the meaning of the word kolasin. The motivation for this is clear: if the punishment in mind is corrective, then it is nonsensical to insist that it goes on forever. It is therefore an absolute necessity to deny corrective punishment as kolasin’s meaning if one is to continue to adhere to a doctrine of eternal torment in hell. For this reason, attempts are made to introduce doubts that this is its meaning. Here is an example of one such attempt, as found in the book Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle:
The argument goes like this: The purpose of “correction” or “pruning,” of course, is to improve something, to bring out its fullest potential. Or in this context, to correct the wicked of their bad behavior until they are no longer wicked. So according to this argument, Jesus is not talking about an everlasting punishment for the wicked here, but rather a time of correction so that those enduring punishment will ultimately be saved. During this time, there may be “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God.”
Part of me wants to believe that this is true. This argument appears to reconcile God’s love with Jesus’ harsh words about hell. But is this what the words aionios kolasis actually mean? Is this what Jesus is speaking of in Matthew 25:46?
I don’t think so, and here’s why. Let’s first deal with the word kolasis. Does it refer to correction or punishment? For three reasons, the word means “punishment.” (Erasing Hell, Chapter 3)
We will shortly evaluate whether the claims made above are valid, but before we do, it is important to discuss a misconception of the author that is very important: he assumes that correction and punishment are mutually exclusive concepts. This is a very significant misunderstanding. Painful punishment is very often described as corrective in the Bible. See, for example, Hebrews 12:4-11 and practically all of the Old Testament judgment passages in which God severely punished nations and individuals so that they will know that He is the Lord (see Section 4: Biblical Judgment: a Consistent Theme of Redemption, especially here and here ).
A further interesting note regarding Hebrews 12:4-11 is that it specifically references the Septuagint version of Proverbs 3:11-12. As a reminder, the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was commonly read in Biblical times. Here is the reference:
Hebrews 12:5-6 (NKJV)
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
Now, you may think that the word “scourges” sounds a bit harsh, but it is actually a very good translation of the Greek word mastigoi (μαστιγοῖ) used in the verse. Mastigoi literally means to whip or scourge. That is certainly a term that denotes painful punishment, but the context is undeniably clear that the punishment is corrective and is done because of God’s Fatherly love.
The false dichotomy between correction and punishment that is presented in Erasing Hell is clearly unjustified. Punishment is very frequently corrective in Scripture as well as human experience. Nevertheless, when Chan and Sprinkle use the term punishment, they insist that it is not corrective, but purely retributive. Although not biblically supported, it is important to understand that this is what they mean when they say “punishment.” It is also key to recognize this misunderstanding as the basis for their incorrect claim that Universalists deny punishment for the wicked. This is certainly not the case. Punishment is not denied, but it is purposeful, corrective, and befitting the God who is the “Savior of all people” (1 Timothy 4:10), rather than purposeless, hateful, and vindictive.
This being said, let’s now analyze Erasing Hell’s first “reason” for why punishment must be retributive, not correctional:
Erasing Hell, Chapter 3
“First, the word kolasis is only used three other times in the New Testament, and in all three passages it clearly means punishment. It is also used in Jewish literature around the time of the New Testament in the same way. 11 Jesus’ Jewish audience would have heard Jesus say “punishment” not “correction” when He said the word kolasis. 12
I left the endnote references above in place on purpose. The reason is that Chan and Sprinkle never list the New Testament kolasis verses in the body of the book but rather only in the endnotes. They never explain why these verses “clearly” mean retributive punishment. The reason I think this is significant is that I doubt that most readers actually investigate the endnotes. Do you regularly interrupt the flow of your reading to flip to the end of the chapter to study the endnotes? I imagine most people do not and instead take these pastors on their word. They said it, so it must be true. The author even said that part of him “wants to believe” that the punishment of Matthew 25:46 could be correction. Given this supposed desire, why would he misrepresent the Bible?
Well, as it turns out, I did look at the endnotes to check the legitimacy of this claim. The authors claim the following New Testament verses as evidence that retributive punishment, not corrective punishment is the “clear” meaning of kolasis: Acts 4:21, 1 John 4:18, 2 Peter 2:9.
Let’s begin with Acts 4:21. You will see that, contrary to Chan and Sprinkle’s claim, it clearly does mean corrective punishment, not retribution.
So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing (kolasōntai) them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.
A little context: Peter and John had just healed a man that had been crippled for over forty years. Following this miracle, they preached the gospel and many people believed them. The religious leaders had them arrested in order to prevent them from preaching the good news. The context of the passage makes it very clear that the religious leaders sought to punish them in order to change their behavior, not to satisfy a thirst for retribution. In fact, their motivation is explicitly stated. Let’s take a look by examining more of the context:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”
So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.
So, here’s the question: Why did the religious leaders want to punish Peter and John?
We do not have to guess. The passage tells us plainly that the motivation of these leaders was to prevent Peter and John from preaching the good news “so that it spreads no further among the people.” It was correctional. They wanted to punish Peter and John to alter their behavior, to make them stop doing what they were doing, to cause them to reform. In the minds of these religious leaders, Peter and John were wrong and needed to be fixed. Their goal in punishment was clearly to correct what they perceived to be wrong action.
It clearly was not to slake their thirst for retributive vengeance. The context simply does not allow this interpretation. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not sitting around thinking how good it would feel to get back at Peter and John for their preaching; they wanted them to stop preaching! Yet Erasing Hell claims that retributive punishment must be the meaning of kolasin based on Acts 4:21. Ironically, Acts 4:21 clearly leads to the opposite conclusion! In context, kolasin must mean corrective punishment. The passage tells us so!
An alleged proof text that proves the opposite of the authors’ emphatic claims should make us pause, especially when the reference to the “proof text” is hidden in the endnotes (which most people ignore).
The other two biblical passages cited in Erasing Hell do no better in making their case.
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment (kolasin). The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
This verse proves nothing about the nature of punishment. It is simply saying that perfect love drives out the fear of punishment and that those who fear are not yet made perfect in love. Curiously, the traditional doctrine of hell promotes fear, the exact opposite of the result of perfect love, which drives fear out.
At any rate, this verse is ambiguous about the nature of the punishment. There is no reason why the punishment cannot be corrective. Isn’t corrective punishment also something to be feared? Don’t we call our penitentiaries correctional facilities? The aim of prisons is to correct and reform criminals (not to say that this goal is always attained). Is there not a fear of being thrown in prison for a crime, even though the time spent there is intended to help the criminal reform?
On a more personal note, did you ever do anything as a child for which you deserved disciplinary punishment? Even if your parents were not abusive and were disciplining you for your good, did you not have any fear of the punishment you would receive? The imagery of being scourged by God in disciplinary, corrective punishment as seen in Hebrews 12 certainly warrants some feeling of fear. But as we are made perfect in love (and who has arrived at that state?), this fear will vanish, as we will understand fully that God is love and His every action is for our ultimate benefit. Children usually fear getting shots, but as an adult I no longer fear them because I believe that they can produce beneficial results. In the same way, a growth in maturity allows us to understand God’s perfect love better, driving out the debilitating fear that used to control us.
This verse provides no support for the claim that punishment is retributive. Instead, we see that perfect love drives out our fear of punishment because we know that all punishment by God is done in perfect love for our benefit. Also, once we are perfected in love, we will no longer fear punishment at all because one who is made perfect does not require any corrective punishment (hence the term “perfect”).
Also, quite ironically, a peek at the immediate context of this verse reveals that a hallmark of true faith is to see and testify that Jesus is “the Savior of the world.” It is one line of evidence that allows us to “know that we live in him and he in us.”
1 John 4:13-18
This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
This passage tells us that Jesus is the Savior of the world, not just of some. By definition, a Savior must save the object He came to save. Our understanding that Christ is the Savior of the world allows us to fully rely on God’s love, to understand that He is love, to emulate His love in the world, and to have no fear because our understanding of this perfect love drives out fear. I can testify myself to the truth of John’s claim here.
Does the God of eternal conscious torment produce the same fearlessness in you? If not, perhaps it is because this view of God is distorted, disallowing the cathartic belief that Jesus is indeed, and truly the Savior of the world.
The final verse referenced in Erasing Hell is 2 Peter 2:9.
2 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment (kolazomenous/κολαζομένους) until the day of judgment,
This verse simply does not tell us anything about the nature of the punishment that the wicked are experiencing. There is certainly no reason why it cannot be corrective. In fact, we have strong evidence based on the contextual references to Noah’s flood and Sodom and Gomorrah that they are corrective. This may sound surprising to you if you have not read all of this website, but both of those judgments ultimately result in redemption, according to the Bible:
1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah…
For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
I [the LORD] will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in their midst.
So, in both of these examples, we see judgment and death followed by restoration and life. By interpreting death as a final retributive punishment, theologians and pastors seem to forget that the Lord kills and then He makes alive, in that order (Deuteronomy 32:39, 1 Samuel 2:6). Death is not the end. Instead “there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15) for “Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). Wickedness is put to an end, not perpetuated eternally in a different location. But this destruction of wickedness is restorative and enables those who experience it to “live in the spirit the way God does.”
Erasing Hell and the Book of Wisdom
Chan and/or Sprinkle also cite “Jewish literature around the time of the New Testament” as evidence that kolasis is not corrective. Again, we must turn to the endnotes for clarification: “For its use in Jewish literature, see especially Wis. 16:1–2, where the verb kolazo is used synonymously with the verb basanizo, which means torment. Retributive punishment is clearly in view” (Erasing Hell, Chapter 3 Endnotes).
The book being referenced here is Wisdom, also known as the Wisdom of Solomon, a second century B.C. book that is absent from Protestant Bibles but included in the Deuterocanonical books (also known as the Apocrypha) of Catholic Bibles. It is also recommended reading in the Eastern Orthodox church (though it does not appear to have canonical status).
Let’s now examine this reference to see if it is true that “retributive punishment is clearly in view.”
Therefore they were fittingly punished by similar creatures,
and were tormented by a swarm of insects.
Instead of this punishment, you benefited your people
with a novel dish, the delight they craved,
by providing quail for their food.
Contextually, it is critical to note that this is a reference to the plagues of the book of Exodus against Egypt. Claiming that these plagues were “clearly” retributive punishment ignores the stated purposes of the plagues which were:
1. To free the Israelites from slavery and oppression by convincing the Egyptians to release them.
2. To convince the Egyptians that the LORD is the true God of all.
Both of these purposes, once again, are corrective. They both are meant to inspire a change in behavior and a change of heart. In fact, prior to the beginning of the plagues, God says the following to Moses in Exodus 7:4-5:
“Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
This concept that the plagues will teach people (especially Pharaoh and the Egyptians) that he is the LORD and the only true God is repeated many times (Exodus 7:17, Exodus 8:10, Exodus 8:22, Exodus 9:14, Exodus 9:16, Exodus 9:29, and Exodus 10:2). Learning is clearly the motivation for the punishments of the plagues, not retributive vengeance. The goal is to make God known not only to the Israelites, but also to those who set themselves up as His enemies.
Although the plagues do not seem to fully convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians of God’s supremacy, we do see hints of the inception of transformation. After the plague of the gnats, even Pharaoh’s magicians exclaim that this work is the “finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). And Pharaoh himself acknowledges his sin in Exodus 9:27: “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.” Pharaoh appears to be getting closer to humility, though we do not quite see him become truly humble in the Exodus itself. In fact, following this confession of sin, Moses calls his bluff, saying “But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Exodus 9:30). In this very statement, however, we see two important things:
1. The intent of the plagues is to bring Pharaoh and the Egyptians closer to having reverence for God.
2. They have not arrived at this state of reverence yet. By its very nature, however, the phrase “not yet” strongly implies that eventually they will reach this goal. They just have not yet.
All of this points to the fact that the book of Wisdom uses kolazo and basanizo (torment) in the same way as Methodius and Epiphanius. They are medicinal, educational, and preventative of further wickedness.
Thus, by investigating the allusion to the Exodus made in Wisdom 16:1-2, we see the Chan and Sprinkle’s claim that “retributive punishment is clearly in view” is clearly incorrect. We do not, however, even need to examine this allusion to see this fact. Just three verses later in the book of Wisdom itself, we see an example of another punishment and its purpose. Once again it is clearly corrective (not vengeful) punishment that is in view.
For when the dire venom of beasts came upon them
and they were dying from the bite of crooked serpents,
your anger endured not to the end.
But as a warning, for a short time they were terrorized,
though they had a sign of salvation, to remind them of the precept of your law.
For the one who turned toward it was saved,
not by what was seen,
but by you, the savior of all.
By this also you convinced our foes
that you are the one who delivers from all evil.
So, even the immediate context of Wisdom 16 makes the clear case that God’s anger is temporary, and that He is the “savior of all.” We see that, though the Israelites were “terrorized” by the poisonous serpents and that many of them died (Numbers 21:6), this punishment was a reminder of God’s salvation and served to not only teach the Israelites righteousness, but also convinced their enemies that God is “the one who delivers from all evil.”
He delivers from all evil as the savior of all, and He uses judgments in order to convince even his enemies of those facts. Let that sink in…
If you do, it should strike you as extremely ironic that Erasing Hell claims Wisdom teaches that God is not the savior of all, but simply doles out non-corrective retributive punishment. The book itself clearly makes the exact opposite claim. By divorcing Wisdom 16:1-2 from both its immediate context and its broader biblical allusions, Chan and Sprinkle distort its meaning in an attempt to defend the indefensible. Corrective punishment is clearly in view, not retributive punishment as they so boldly and incorrectly claim.
Erasing Hell makes some other attempts to bolster its very weak case that kolasin is retributive punishment, not corrective punishment. But all of these attempts are unconvincing and lacking in sound reasoning. Primarily, they rely on either a misunderstanding of the Greek words aion and aionios (which we have already discussed in some detail in earlier chapters) or on a lack of understanding of the biblical symbolism of fire (which we have also already discussed). For these reasons, and because this chapter is already getting to be excessively long, I will refrain from discussing these arguments here (though I may do so in another chapter at some point).
But before we move on from Erasing Hell, there is one more claim worth addressing. You may recall that one of the authors states that “Part of me wants to believe that this is true” in regards to kolasin being corrective punishment, and that “this argument appears to reconcile God’s love with Jesus’ harsh words about hell.” There are three reasons why I think this should be addressed:
1. This is a rhetorical device that may or may not be used honestly, and some people are overly persuaded by such devices. By stating that he “wants to believe this is true,” the author is attempting to present himself as being truthful in spite of his desires. This allows the audience to identify with him in such a way that would be impossible if he stated that he deeply longs to watch other people burn in torment (which would make him appear to be an immoral monster). It also engenders an implicit trust. After all, why would he go against his desire? It is important to recognize the power of such rhetorical devices in order to be able to evaluate evidence critically and soberly.
2. Although this could be a rhetorical device, perhaps it is true that “part of” the author “wants” kolasin to be corrective punishment. If so, I hope that the author will be humble and willing enough to examine the weaknesses of his own arguments and allow that part of himself the freedom to be honest. I would submit that the “part” of himself that he is describing is the compassionate, rational part that intuitively understands that a future of eternal conscious torment for billions of God’s children is wholly incompatible with the character of God as revealed by Jesus Christ. The part that is preventing him from seeing this truth fully, I think, is the part that is enslaved to tradition to the point that it is willing to deny and distort the clear evidence that corrective punishment is the precise meaning kolasin, as we have already demonstrated.
3. The author is very nearly correct in stating that the argument for corrective punishment “appears to reconcile God’s love with Jesus’ harsh words about hell.” My only objection to his phrasing is the word “appears.” It does not just appear to reconcile God’s love and the punishment described by Jesus; it actually does reconcile those two truths perfectly.
The following excerpt comes from an online essay entitled Punishment (kolasis, kolazein) – Eternal or Otherwise by Dr. Larry Perkins, Professor of Biblical Studies at Northwest Baptist Seminary. It represents another attempt to cast doubt on the meaning of kolasin as corrective punishment. Instead, it portrays kolasin as having the sense of permanent or fatal punishment.
“In Ezekiel 14 and 18 the punishment that Yahweh brings upon Israel for its idolatry is death; in 44:12 Yahweh punishes the Levites for their participation in idolatry by never allowing them to act as priests in the new temple. It also occurs in Ezekiel 43:11 with the sense “receive their punishment” applied to Israel and describing Yahweh’s response to their sin. The prophet describes such punishment in 43:8 as “I wiped them out in my fury and by murder.” The emphasis seems to be upon a punishment that is fatal or results in permanent change, and administered by Yahweh, as divine agent, because of sinful action. The use of the verb in LXX Daniel 6:12a describes the punishment Daniel receives for praying to Yahweh, rather than to Darius, and his punishment is to be executed by confinement in a den of lions.”
The basic premise here is that kolasin seems to be used of fatal punishments and that this therefore indicates that kolasin is not corrective in nature but rather results in final, irreversible consequences. Although this train of thought may seem compelling at a surface level, I think that it is ultimately unconvincing. To see why, let’s first begin by analyzing Perkins' references to Ezekiel 14.
The first three references to kolasin in Ezekiel 14 occur as part of a rather strange phrase in the Septuagint, translated as follows: “these men have conceived their devices in their hearts, and have set before their faces the punishment (kolasin) of their iniquities.” This phrase (with some slight variation between the three verses) occurs in Ezekiel 14:3, 14:4, and 14:7. In most English translations it is rendered somewhat like the following: “these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces” (Ezekiel 14:3 NIV). The term “stumbling block” is used instead of punishment for kolasin.
Interestingly, it seems as if idolatry itself is the punishment (the kolasin) that these men were receiving. But this punishment is not purposeless in Ezekiel 14. Instead, it results in learning and restoration:
Ezekiel 14:10-11 (NASB)
They will bear the punishment of their iniquity; as the iniquity of the inquirer is, so the iniquity of the prophet will be, in order that the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me and no longer defile themselves with all their transgressions. Thus they will be My people, and I shall be their God ,”’ declares the Lord God.”
In several Bible versions (the NIV, ESV, NASB, NKJV etc.) this is delineated as the end of a section of Ezekiel’s thought. Although section headings are not found in the original text, this sectioning of the text does make sense since the focus shifts from a discussion of certain elders to a discussion of the judgment of Jerusalem as a city. The reason that I mention this is that the only references to kolasin in Ezekiel 14 occur prior to this section break. And curiously, none of these references to kolasin are described as resulting in death, contrary to Perkins’ claim. Instead the section ends with a statement of purpose: kolasin results in purification and restoration to right relationship.
All of the references to deadly consequences are found in the following section on the judgment of Jerusalem and none of them use the term kolasin to describe these consequences. Instead the Septuagint uses the terms τιμωρήσομαι and εκδικήσεις to describe these punishments for Jerusalem. In short, the argument that kolasin must mean irreversible retributive punishment based on its usage in Ezekiel 14 is a failed one. It is not at all clear that kolasin is used to describe fatal punishment in context. Instead we see that kolasin occurred “in order that the house of Israel may no longer stray from [God] and no longer defile themselves with all their transgressions.”
Ezekiel 18:30-32 ( Brenton Septuagint Translation)
I will judge you, O house of Israel, saith the Lord, each one according to his way: be converted, and turn from all your ungodliness, and it shall not become to you the punishment (kolasin) of iniquity. Cast away from yourselves all your ungodliness wherein ye have sinned against me; and make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit: for why should ye die, O house of Israel? For I desire not the death of him that dies, saith the Lord.
This Septuagint translation is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is fascinating to see that unchecked ungodliness itself becomes the punishment (kolasin) of iniquity. Growing away from God is its own punishment. This reminds me of Romans 1 in which the wrath of God is revealed, in which He turns people over to their sinful and depraved mindsets and they “received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
Another interesting aspect of this passage is that it is a warning of judgment with the intent to spur on repentance. It is not vindictive or hateful, but rather a sincere plea to Israel to turn from evil so they can obtain new hearts and new spirits. God does not desire or take pleasure in the death of anyone, but rather longs for repentance, showing us that his heart is one of love for all people.
Third, if we look at the broader context of the chapter, we see that a person’s destiny is not fixed, but that they have multiple opportunities to repent.
Ezekiel 18:21 (NIV)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
“But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.
Based on the context, it does not seem likely that the death being referred to is an immediate final sentence upon sinning. People seem to have multiple opportunities to turn toward good and turn toward evil. Death is the state that results from turning away from God and life is the state that results from turning toward God. This seems to mirror the concept that God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5).
God can move people from death to life, both figuratively and literally. This is one reason why even passages that explicitly describe literal death as a consequence for sin do not support Perkins’ thesis that divine punishment is final and non-corrective. In fact, after nearly every destructive and fatal judgment described for both Israel and the other nations in the book of Ezekiel, we see a corrective purpose. The refrain, “Then they will know that I am the LORD” is repeated (with some slight variations of equivalent meaning) about forty times in the book of Ezekiel, many of them following judgments that appear to be final (if we ignore God’s power to bring the dead to life). The purpose of these punishments is thus clearly delineated: they are meant to result in learning. In other words, they are corrective.
But Perkins and others seem to ignore both the immediate context and the broader context of Ezekiel when they make claims that punishment is eternal and not corrective. Besides the repeated refrain following judgment that “then they will know” who God is, there is even more explicit evidence in Ezekiel that God’s judgments are purposeful and restorative. Consider Ezekiel 37, the vision of the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel sees after pronouncing so many crushing and fatal judgments on Israel and Judah.
Ezekiel 37:9-14 (NASB)
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’”
The claim that the fatal punishments of God in Ezekiel indicate retributive rather than corrective punishment is explicitly falsified by the book of Ezekiel itself. It is specifically those who were killed (“these slain”) in God’s judgments who are resurrected to new life. Though they assumed that they had no hope and were completely cut off from God’s love, they were wrong. God has the power over death and declares “I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves.” The purpose is clear. The Israelites experienced judgment and death so that they will know that God is the LORD upon their resurrection, when he puts His Spirit within them. This resurrection to Spirit-filled life will be true for the “whole house of Israel” including those slain in judgment for their wickedness (indeed, these are specifically highlighted). This vision truly disallows the interpretation that any form of punishment (including kolasin) is merely retributive in the book of Ezekiel. It is clear that the punishments of Israel are, once again, corrective and restorative, producing the knowledge of God and allowing for the resurrection to new life in the Spirit.
Perkins also claims that God punishes the Levites in Ezekiel 44:13 by “never allowing them to act as priests in the new temple.” This, however, is hyperbole at best. Not a single English translation that I could find said that they would “never” be allowed to serve. Instead they all said that these Levites were “not” to serve as priests but rather to keep charge of the temple and take care of it. You can, and should, confirm this for yourself here: https://biblehub.com/ezekiel/44-13.htm (you should also look at the preceding and following verse). By slipping in the word “never” where it does not occur, Perkin’s attempts to bolster his case that kolasin means permanent punishment. His use of it is therefore very suspect and strikes me as quite disingenuous.
Besides this fact, however, is the reality that these Levites who participated in idol worship and “made the people of Israel fall into sin” (Ezekiel 44:12) are not cut off from God’s favor forever. In fact, we see that God, while causing them to “bear the consequences of their sin” (Ezekiel 44:10), still allows them to serve as priests, “having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it,” slaughtering “the burnt offerings and sacrifices,” and standing before and serving the people (Ezekiel 44:11). They are only restricted from the most sacred of tasks, being forbidden to “come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings” (Ezekiel 44:13). Can it really be argued that God is vindictively punishing these Levites by allowing them to serve in a limited capacity as priests after they led the people of Israel into egregious idolatry? Is it not more reasonable to see this punishment as corrective, teaching these priests that idolatry has consequences, but that God still forgives even the most heinous errors? Should we expect an immediate and complete restoration to the most sacred of tasks for the very people who led Israel to worship false gods without any consequence? I think not. But God in His mercy restores these priests in a limited capacity, so that they will learn what is right and not continue in error.
The last Ezekiel reference Perkins makes in an attempt to bolster his claim is somewhat amusing, because it is a verse that we have already discussed above as indicative of the fact that kolasin has the sense of corrective punishment. Here it is again:
And thou, son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may cease from their sins; and shew its aspect and the arrangement of it. And they shall bear their punishment (kolasis) for all the things that they have done: and thou shalt describe the house, and its entrances, and the plan thereof, and all its ordinances, and thou shalt make known to them all the regulations of it, and describe them before them: and they shall keep all my commandments, and all my ordinances, and do them . (Brenton Septuagint Translation—available here: https://biblehub.com/sep/ezekiel/43.htm )
Again, it must be observed that the punishment (kolasis) that Israel must bear is in the context of learning to “cease from their sins” so that they “shall keep all my commandments, and all my ordinances, and do them.” Why someone would choose to use this verse to attempt to support the idea of retributive punishment is beyond me. Perhaps it is just an act of desperation. The punishment is, once again, clearly in the context of correction and training in righteousness. Attempting to argue otherwise is futile and demonstrates an extreme bias that is preventing an honest reading of the text.
This is demonstrated by his attempt to use Ezekiel 43:8 as alleged proof that the kolasis referenced in Ezekiel 43:11 is retributive, claiming that it states that “I wiped them out in my fury and by murder.” I am still at a loss as to which Bible translation Perkins is using since again I could not find any version that sounded anything like this, which you can observe for yourself here: https://biblehub.com/ezekiel/43-8.htm . None of them say anything about “murder.” Besides this fact, there are two other key considerations to have in mind:
1. Kolasin is not found in any form in Ezekiel 43:8. He is therefore referencing the kolasis described in 43:11 (which we have already shown to be corrective).
2. Even if kolasin were present, the context shows that the destruction meted out to Israel was corrective. To demonstrate this we need only to look also at the immediate context, including the very next verse.
When they placed their threshold next to my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices. So I destroyed them in my anger. Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the funeral offerings for their kings, and I will live among them forever.
We see quite clearly that they experienced destruction so that they would then put away their prostitution and sinful offerings so that the LORD will “live among them forever.” Corrective punishment is undeniably in view. The same people who were destroyed were taught to abandon evil. And God promises that he will live among them forever. It is a certainty that the punishments experienced by those in sin will result in righteous life in the presence of God. At the risk of being repetitive, I will state the obvious once again: the punishment described is corrective and benefits the wicked by causing them to change their evil ways.
Perkins' final reference is to Daniel 6:12.
Daniel 6:12 (NIV)
So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”
Initially, this reference completely baffled me since, as you can see, the English rendering of Daniel 6:12 makes no mention of the word “punishment” or any related word. Considering the possibility that Perkins may have been meaning to cite another verse in Daniel, I decided to search for words related to punishment on Bible Gateway. I looked in the NIV, ESV, KJV, NASB and NET versions and not one of them had any references to “punishment” or any related words that I could find in the entire book of Daniel. I also examined the Hebrew text available on BibleHub and found that there were no Hebrew words for punishment utilized in Daniel 6:12 or its vicinity. Additionally, I could not find kolasin in any of the versions of the Septuagint* that I examined. This led me to state, in an earlier rendering of this chapter, that kolasis is not found at all in the Septuagint in Daniel 6:12. As it turns out, this is only partially true. An astute reader recently made me aware that there are other versions of the Septuagint that do contain the word kolasis and that it does not always occur in 6:12 due to different numbering conventions in certain versions of the Septuagint. I am grateful to this reader for this information, as it explained the baffling conundrum of why Perkins would claim such a verse as evidence. I would thank the reader personally but I am pretty sure that [email protected] is not a real e-mail address.
*Adding to the complexity of this issue, the book of Daniel appears to have been written in both Hebrew and Aramaic originally, with Daniel 6 being part of the Aramaic section.
All this to say that Perkins' argument on Daniel 6:12 is not as bad as it originally appeared to me (since based on the Septuagint versions I had studied, he appeared to be fabricating the usage of kolasin and then using circular reasoning to prove it's meaning based on a text in which it did not exist). Nevertheless, I still think that his argument that kolasin must refer to retributive punishment is very weak, for a number of reasons.
The first is that is must not be forgotten that numerous Greek thinkers have explicitly defined kolasin as corrective, and much of its usage indicates corrective punishment as its meaning, as we saw in the earlier sections of this essay. By contrast, there is never, to my knowledge, any instance in ancient Greek literature where kolasin is expressly defined as retributive punishment. Therefore, at best, the claim could be made that retributive or vengeful punishment could also be part of kolasin's semantic range (range of meaning). It cannot be reasonably claimed that retributive punishment is it's only possible meaning, since there is far too much contradictory evidence to take such a claim seriously. Nevertheless, there seems to be an unwarranted insistence that kolasin must mean purely retributive punishment. Such an insistence runs counter to the facts.
Context is another reason why Daniel 6 is a poor proof text for attempting to demonstrate kolasin's meaning as retributive vengeance. It must be remembered that in Daniel 6, it is the envious, conniving opponents of Daniel who are deceiving the king into making a law against worshipping God, so that they could get Daniel killed. It is these vengeful, immoral men who are seeking the "punishment" of the lions' den for Daniel. For this reason, it seems foolhardy to insist that their usage of kolasin in a retributive sense trumps the clear definitions and usages of so many other Greek writers. This is especially true since, unlike the righteous judgments of God, their purpose in pursuing kolasin for Daniel was not righteous at all, but rather demonstrably wicked and perverse. This, of course, begs the question of whether it is appropriate to assert that Christ was using kolasin in the same way as these evil men, rather than in the sense of corrective punishment, which seems to be better attested by much more reliable sources.
This raises another important point. Even if there are examples in which kolasin appears to be used of retributive punishment (and there certainly are some), it is vital to consider the context and especially the character of the individual using the term. Since the Bible tells us that God is love, that His mercy endures forever, and that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, it makes far more sense to believe that He is using kolasin in its dominant sense of corrective punishment, rather than retributive vengeance. Jesus was not vengeful, but rather cried out "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" while being brutally crucified. Can anyone honestly claim that He must have meant retributive vengeance in light of who He demonstrated Himself to be?
Misuses of Kolasin
I imagine that you are seeing by now that the case for kolasin as corrective punishment is very strong and the case against this view is very weak. This being said, I think it is necessary to say that I think that Barclay’s claim that the distinction between terms for punishment “is always observed” is a bit of an overstatement. It seems to be observed very often, but I have found some cases where it was not (such as the one from certain versions of the Septuagint in Daniel above). For this reason, and in the interest of honesty, I will now address one other instance in which kolasin is used in such a way that it does not seem corrective. These examples, however, seem to stem from a lack of semantic precision. As Aulus Gellius intimates, not everyone uses the Greek terms for punishment with precision. Instead there are “those who have made a more exact differentiation between terms of this kind” and implicitly, those who have not. One example of such imprecise usage that demonstrates a lack of distinction between terms for punishment can be found in Lucian of Samosata’s Phalaris.
A little background is in order to understand this work and its usage of various forms of kolasin. First, Phalaris is a Greek tyrant from the sixth century BC who was infamous for his cruelty. In this work, the renowned satirist, Lucian, is writing a mock defense hundreds of years after Phalaris' death, as if he were Phalaris. The work is therefore written from Phalaris' point of view, although it is generally assumed that Lucian is actually making fun of Phalaris' sick and perverse sense of justice. Nevertheless, Phalaris is attempting to explain that he is not in fact cruel, but rather good and just. As part of his explanation, he tells the men of Delphi, to whom he is sending a brazen bull (an instrument of sadistic torture), the story of the bull.
To summarize, he explains that the inventor of the brazen bull, Perilaus, brought it to him thinking that he would like it since he was known for enjoying torture. The brazen bull, Perilaus explains, slowly cooks its victims while transforming their screams into musical notes that can be listened to as they are torturously killed. Phalaris defends his honor to the men of Delphi by explaining that he was indignant and repulsed by such a device. Therefore, he tricks Perilaus to enter the device himself to demonstrate its musical properties, then locks him in and begins to roast him. After some time of torturing the man, he throws him, still alive, off of a cliff.
Throughout this tale, both Perilaus and Phalaris use forms of the words kolasin or kolazo throughout. Admittedly, they do not seem to be using this in its typical sense of “corrective punishment.” It is, however, quite easy to explain why—both of these men are quite obviously psychotic and cruel. One created the device and the other used it. Both plainly have a skewed sense of justice and perverse understanding of righteous kolasin. It is undoubtedly absurd to take our cues as to the meaning of kolasin from a vicious tyrant and from the inventor of one of the most notorious ancient torture devices (especially since these uses come from a work of satire meant to emphasize Phalaris' twisted sense of morality), rather than from the explicit definitions set forth by the great thinkers and church fathers that we have already seen.
We know that people frequently misuse words, especially if they are distorting them for evil purposes. To claim the use of kolasin as cruel torture in Phalaris as proof of its meaning would be like claiming the definition of “discipline” is “to beat your child senseless” because it is used in such a manner by an abusive father. Such a father should not be considered an accurate source of information on discipline. Rather, it should be understood that he is giving a distorted and perverse definition because of his own twisted perspective. This being said, what type of Father is God? Is he a wicked Father who mercilessly beats his children beyond death and into eternity? The biblical answer is an emphatic “NO!”
To summarize, we have seen that kolasin is clearly defined as corrective punishment by many Greek-speaking thinkers, secular and Christian, from before Christ and after Christ, over an approximately 800-year time span at least. The claim that punishment benefits the sinner by causing them to reform is clearly laid out by Plato, Aristotle, Aulus Gellius, the Septuagint, Clement of Alexandria, Epiphanius, and Methodius, and hinted at by Theophrastus’ botanical use of the word as pruning. Some of the Christian thinkers even make it clear that all forms of punishment (not just kolasin) in the hands of a just God, are curative of the disease of wickedness in the sinner. This view of punishment reconciles Jesus' clear claims that God loves his enemies with his judgment of evil. God’s justice is no longer viewed as a distinct attribute in opposition to his love, but rather as an outflow of his love through which he reconciles the world to Himself, even His enemies. God does not ask us to forgive but refuse to do so himself. He does not misleadingly claim that His love never fails; it really never fails!
Coming against all of this evidence and reason, we have those who, in an attempt to promote the traditional view, distort and decontextualize numerous sources, or simply argue that inconclusive examples of usage prove that it must be retributive, when such examples have no power to do so. We have also seen numerous attempts to claim kolasin as retributive punishment when a closer look at the context demands that we come to the opposite conclusion of corrective punishment. It seems that these authors are so steeped in tradition that they are missing the obvious meaning of the word in context and choosing to ignore the explicit definitions set forth by many of the greatest thinkers of the Greek-speaking world.
They also are forgetting that God has the power over death and can use even such a punishment to reform. Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades and came to set the captives free, even those slain by his judgments, no matter how hopeless their cases seem or how dry their bones are. He is able to literally kill and then make alive, but also figuratively, for which reason Peter tells us “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). We also see that we are baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3) and that a seed cannot bear fruit until it falls to the ground and dies (John 12:24). Such references to death are quite abundant and show that death is not an insurmountable obstacle but rather a tool “devised for the sake of conversion” by a loving God (as stated by Methodius and Epiphanius).
God describes himself to us as a loving Father. In His hands, kolasin must be a corrective tool used to discipline and heal. This is the only reasonable conclusion. It is demanded by reason, it is demanded by His character, and it is demanded by the evidence.
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Citations and Notes
Aristotle. Rhetoric. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 22, translated by J. H. Freese. Aristotle. Cambridge and London. Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd. 1926. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0060%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D10%3Asection%3D17
Barclay, William. The Apostles' Creed. Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, https://books.google.com/books?id=bBOqGJc6tpcC&pg=PA189&lpg=PA189&dq=william+barclay+on+kolasis&source=bl&ots=YDvA18GL7U&sig=QFrdlH_6Q5DyO52rB1BXR8pxhss&hl=en&ei=dDXJTuzfPMOLsQLDmKQx&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false .
Clement of Alexandria. The Stromata. Translated by William Wilson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0210.htm .
Clement of Alexandria. Miscellanies Book VII. Translated by Fenton John Anthony Hort and Joseph B. Mayor, Macmillan and Co., 1902, https://archive.org/stream/clementalexandr01hortgoog#page/n300/mode/1up
Note: The Stromata is also sometimes referred to as the Miscellanies because it was about a variety of miscellaneous topics.
Davis, Gayle, and Tracey Loughran. The Palgrave Handbook of Infertility in History: Approaches, Contexts and Perspectives . Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=L7szDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=%22theophrastus%22+causes+of+plants+pruning+almond+trees&source=bl&ots=iZ6qGi93Yc&sig=c8uuGvLhgNpIJpOkORnqbgMz3U4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiaqZ6zkNfcAhU1O30KHZv8DeIQ6AEwDXoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22theophrastus%22%20causes%20of%20plants%20pruning%20almond%20trees&f=false .
Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis Books II and III. De Fide. Translated by Frank Williams, 2nd ed., Brill, 2013, http://preteristarchive.com/Books/pdf/2013_williams_the-panarion-of-epiphanius-of-salamis_02-03.pdf .
Epiphanius. “Πανάριον.” Epiphanius. Panarion - Greek, http://khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/panariog.htm . The Panarion in Greek published online by Khazarzar, Ruslan.
Gellius, Aulus. Attic Nights, Book VII. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Gellius/7*.html . Note: published in Vol. II of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927
Lucian (of Samosata). Lucian Volume I. Translated by A.M. Harmon, vol. 1 8, The Macmillan Co., 1913, https://books.google.com/books?id=pQt92b9xGogC&printsec=titlepage#v=onepage&q&f=false Phalaris is the first work in this volume.
Perkins, Larry. “Punishment (Kolasis, Kolazein) – Eternal or Otherwise (Matthew 25:46; Acts 4:21; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 John 4:18).” Internet Moments with God's Word, 9 June 2011,
Plato. Protagoras. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 3 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0178%3Atext%3DProt.%3Apage%3D324
St. Jerome. Fathers of the Church, Saint Jerome: Dogmatic and Polemical Works. Translated by John N Hritzu, CUA Press, 1965.
Thanos, Costas A. Plant-Animal Interactions in Mediterranean-Type Ecosystems. Chapter 1: Aristotle and Theophrastus on Plant-Animal Interactions . Kluwer Academic, 1994, www.researchgate.net/publication/258125435_Aristotle_and_Theophrastus_on_plant-animal_interactions .
Section of Panarion quoted in Greek retrieved from http://khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/panariog.htm :
Ὠφελοῦνται ἄρα οἱ κρινόμενοι. ἀναιρεῖται γὰρ αὐτῶν ταῖς βασάνοις ἡ πονηρία κωλυομένη, καθάπερ καὶ πρὸς τῶν ἰατρῶν τομαῖς καὶ φαρμάκοις αἱ νόσοι. τὸ γὰρ ἀδικοῦντα διδόναι δίκην ἐπανορθοῦσθαι τὴν ψυχήν ἐστι, τὴν μεγάλην νόσον ἀδικίαν ἀποβάλλοντα.
Τί δέ; οὐ κατὰ ἀναλογίαν τῶν ἁμαρτηθέντων τὰς κολάσεις τοῖς κολαζομένοις δικαίως προσφέρεσθαι φῄς, καθάπερ καὶ τοῖς ἰατρευομένοις κατὰ ἀναλογίαν τῶν τραυμάτων τὰς χειρουργίας;
Οὐκοῦν ὁ μὲν δράσας ἄξια θανάτου τιμᾶται θανάτῳ τὴν δίκην, ὁ δὲ πληγῶν πληγαῖς, ὁ δὲ δεσμῶν δεσμοῖς;
Ζημιοῦται δὲ ὁ ὀφλήσας, ἔφην, δεσμοῖς ἢ πληγαῖς ἢ ἄλλῃ τινὶ τοιαύτῃ τιμωρίᾳ, ὅπως παύσηται μεταγνοὺς τοῦ ἀδικεῖν, ξύλον καθάπερ διεστραμμένον βασάνοις εὐθυνόμενος;
Ἀληθέστατα, ἔφη, λέγεις.
Τιμωρεῖται γὰρ αὐτὸν οὐ τοῦ παρεληλυθότος ἐγκλήματος ἕνεκα ὁ δικαστής, ἀλλὰ τοῦ μέλλοντος, ὅπως μὴ καὶ αὖθις ποιήσῃ τοῦτο.