Other "Eternal" Passages
The belief in eternal punishment is so ingrained in the minds of the modern church that it is necessary to address a few more passages that use this terminology to describe judgment. Let's look at some of these passages and carefully analyze them.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-10
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed...
This passage is often cited as proof that unbelievers will spend eternity in hell. But once again, it must be noted that the word translated as "everlasting" is aiōnion (αἰώνιον). As we have already discussed in some detail, this word connotes a time period of limited duration.
Still, some will argue that the word "destruction" in the passage indicates a permanent destruction. But this is not the case.
The Greek word used in the passage is olethron. This very same word is used in the following passage, referring to a man of the church of Corinth who was participating in sexual immorality:
1 Corinthians 5:4-5
So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Notice that there is purpose to destruction. Paul is telling the Corinthian church to allow this man to experience the destructive nature of his sin (handing him over to Satan), so that he would be saved! God does not simply destroy. He destroys so that He can rebuild. Like a contractor who has to destroy your wall to get rid of a mold infestation, God must destroy the sinful nature of man, in order to make him new. In 2 Thessalonians, this same type of destruction is being described. We will soon see that this is a well-established biblical pattern in the section on biblical justice.
But for now, let's examine another passage.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
Now some will argue, based on the passage above, that eternal damnation in hell is an elementary, fundamental doctrine of Christianity. But once again, we see that the word translated "eternal" is a form of aionios (aiōniou). And once again, we see that it is a hell-biased translation since the word does not actually mean eternal in the Greek.
The Greek word translated "judgment" is krimatos. According to Strong's Concordance, it is defined as follows:
(a) a judgment, a verdict; sometimes implying an adverse verdict, a condemnation, (b) a case at law, a lawsuit.
So, it is essentially a legal term. We will soon examine God's law and His justice, and we will see that eternal torment has never been part of His legal code. But since the word judgment has almost come to be synonymous with endless hell for many Christians, let's spend a moment dispelling this myth: it isn't. In fact, there is abundant biblical proof that even Christians will experience judgment. We will examine this in some detail in our next major section on biblical justice. But for now, just realize that "judgment" does not mean "hell."
So the pattern repeats. Aionios and its forms are mistranslated repeatedly, giving the distinct impression to the uninformed that hell must go on forever. Literally every verse that says something about "eternal" judgment of people makes this grave error. It is the thin thread on which the entire doctrine of hell hangs. Are you willing to ignore abundant biblical evidence for the salvation of all people because of a stubborn insistence that aionios must mean eternal (when this is clearly false)? If so, why?
What about aidios?
Now, you may recall that there is another word that actually does mean eternal: aidios. You should rightly wonder whether this word is found in the Bible. As it turns out, it is found only two times in the entire Bible, once in Jude and once in Romans. And it never refers to judgment of people! Let's look at how it is used.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Here we see an appropriate usage of aidios, because it is referring to God's eternal attributes. We see that this passage is arguing that people can see certain aspects of God's nature (His power and divinity) by looking at His creation. This is one reason why we are all accountable to God, and therefore all need a Savior (Jesus Christ). Fortunately, He did come to be the Savior of the world, as we have seen.
Now let's look at our final passage that uses aidios. I hope you will see that this severs hell's thin lifeline, because it does indeed.
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal (aidiois) chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Notice that the judgment of angels is being discussed in the first part of the passage that uses the term aidiois (an inflection of aidios). Also, notice that it is used to describe their chains, but that they are only kept in these chains "until the judgment of the great day." So even these eternal chains have a temporary purpose and this is only in regards to fallen angels, not people.
In the second part of the passage, he begins to discuss Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of judgment of people. This is an interesting analogy because the Scriptures actually tell us that even this judgment was redemptive as we will examine shortly. Sodom gets redeemed. It really is in the Bible. Keep reading to find out where.
But here's the really juicy part. Our English texts say "eternal" again in this passage, referring to a punishment of "eternal" fire for humans. But guess what? The Greek does NOT use the same word for the fire of judgment. Instead, it once again uses aiōniou, which we have shown repeatedly to denote time periods of limited duration!
Now, it must be asked: if Jude knew the term aidios, why does he suddenly switch to aionios in the very same sentence? There is only one reasonable conclusion: Jude knew that the judgment of fire for people is temporary, not eternal, so he chose the appropriate word to describe what he meant.
Let's restate that again because it is critical. Jude knew the term aidios. He knew what it meant. He chose NOT to use it in connection with the judgment of humans. Rather in the same sentence, he chose to use a different word with a different meaning that clearly contrasted with his earlier statement about the chains of fallen angels.
There is simply no good biblical reason to insist that hell is a place of eternal punishment for people. Period.
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