Christ and the Testimony of Josephus (Chapter XII.).
It is sometimes said that in the days of Christ the belief of endless punishment was universal, and that he so spoke that he would be understood to teach it unless he guarded against such an understanding, and that he did not. Was this belief universal? What shall we say of Philo? Was he the only one who believed in annihilation? Again, in what language did Josephus represent those who believed in endless punishment? Did he express their views by the word aionios? Not in one instance. He speaks of the eternal prison of the bad, but does not use the word aionios, but [Greek letters] (aidios) (“Ant. Jud.,” b. xviii., ch. i., Section 3; Hudson, vol. ii., p. 793). Again (“De Bel. Jud.,” b. ii., ch. viii., Section 14, vol. ii., pp. 1064, 1065), he says the bad are punished with endless torment – [Greek letters] (aidio), not aionio. In the case of the Essenes, he expresses the same idea by [Greek letters] (never ending).
Christ did not use these words, which are definite and unambiguous, but chose a word that had been used again and again to denote punishments already ended, and of which the prevailing sense was, pertaining to an age or ages. If, then, the belief in endless punishment was universal, Christ avoided the language in which it was expressed by Josephus for the people, and chose language not adapted to express it. Of course, he did not mean to teach it by such language.
Origen and Universal Restoration.
To destroy the influence of the great Origen, it is sometimes said, to use the words of Dr. Pond, “he did not teach a system of universal restoration (as now understood), but rather of perpetual rotation. Origen did not deny the existence of eternal sin and suffering somewhere, but rather that there is any such thing as a settled, confirmed state of character anywhere.”
In reply to this, I would say three things:
1. There are passages in which Origen denies and refutes this doctrine of rotation in the most explicit terms.
2. The passages in which he is alleged to teach it do not occur in his works as we have them.
3. Those who alleged them against him have undeniably slandered him on another point. They falsely charged him with teaching the transmigration of men into animals, and professed to prove it by extracts from his works. This has been proved. This fact renders the alleged quotations of these men untrustworthy.
It may be added that, even if Origen ever suggested the idea, it may have been merely to call out discussion, and not as his settled opinion, for he declares expressly that he did state some things for such a purpose.
But however that may be, in his last and mature writings he not only disavows it, but states the arguments sometimes presented for it, and refutes them.
In Rom. vi. 9, commenting on the assertion, “Christ being dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him,” he says, “The apostle decides, by an absolute decision, that now Christ dies no more, in order that those who live together with him may be secure of the endlessness of their life.”
Again, in the same chapter, he states the arguments used for the idea of a fall hereafter in heaven, based on free-will. He replies to them thus: “Free-will indeed remains, but the power of the cross suffices for all orders, and all ages, past and to come. And that freewill will not lead to sin is plain, because love never faileth, and when God is loved with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, where is the place for sin?”
After this, he adverts to the statement of John, on dwelling in love and in God, and adds, “For good reason, then, love, which alone is greatest of all, will keep every creature from falling. Then God will be all in all.”
He considers the trials and temptations of Paul, and his exclamation, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ!” and thus reasons: “If all these cannot separate us from the love of God, much more free-will cannot separate us. For, though that power remains, yet the power of love is so great that it will subordinate all things to itself, especially since God has first given us such causes of love.”
He applies this even to Lucifer. Of him he says: “He once could fall, before he was bound by the power of love, though placed among the cherubim. But after the love of God is shed abroad in the hearts of all, it is sure to be true, even of him that love shall never fail.”
These extracts are taken from one of his latest and most mature works. But even in his earliest, his “Principia,” he sets forth similar views. After describing the consummation of the course of restoration, he says: “When all reasonable beings have been restored to this state, then the nature of this body of ours will be changed into the glory of a spiritual body, . . . in which state we are to believe that it will remain always and immutably by the will of the Creator, and this view is confirmed by the testimony of the apostle, ‘we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’” (“De Princip.,” cap. 6).
Note how expressly this contradicts the charge of Jerome and Justinian, that he taught that the redeemed would hereafter fall and need new material bodies, and a new redemption.
Dr. Tayler Lewis And The Critics.
The views of this eminent orthodox divine on aionios were put forth under the sanction of the learned Prof. Schaff, of the Union Theological Seminary, and as a part of that great ecumenical work, Lange’s “Commentary,” and for four years they awoke no one of the watchmen of Zion to sound the note of alarm. At last I adopted them, and indorsed [sic] them, and applied them to their legitimate use. And lo! An eminent professor at once sounds the note of alarm, and arrays himself against me. Why is this? Was he afraid to encounter such an orthodox host, and did he think me a more vulnerable antagonist? In charity I impute to him an ignorance of the fact that what he deems so dangerous an error had been put forth by such authorities. But, if so, why, when I had called his attention to it, did he confine his censure to me, and leave them uncensured? Ought he to be a respecter of persons? Is not error as dangerous sanctioned by such authorities as it is when I promulgate it?
A case similar to this is called to my memory by this occurrence: My sister, Mrs. Stowe, by speaking sympathetically of one of her friends that believed in a probation after death, created an alarm in an editor of a religious newspaper lest she should spread that error. This led him to publish a piece censuring her, and derogatory to the Beechers in general, and to myself in particular. Upon this I wrote to him stating that, in Lange’s commentary on 1 Peter, the same idea was expressed and defended, and calling on him not to confine his censures for it to my sister, but to meet it and expose it where it could do so much more harm. He declined either to do this or to publish my letter.
Olympiodorus And Aionios.
I have given no reference to the striking passage from Olympiodorus on page 166. It was first brought to my notice by the great lexicon of Henry Stephens, but in a condensed form, and I could not find in any accessible library a copy of the work referred to. Upon this I wrote to my learned friend Prof. Abbott, of Cambridge, to whom I am under great obligation for his many favors and valuable aid. He informed me that, so far as he knew, only one edition of the commentary of Olympiodorus on the “Meteorologica” of Aristotle has ever been published, namely, the Aldine edition (Venice, 551, fol.). That was not in the Harvard College Library. But in Ideler’s excellent edition of the “Meteorologica” (2 vols., fol., Leipsic, 1834-’36, 8vo), he found copious extracts from Olympiodorus containing the passage. He quoted for me not only the passage which I have used, but also all the context in both directions. It may be found in folio 32 of the original Aldine edition of Olympiodorus, and in vol. i., p. 282, ff., of Ideler’s edition of the “Meteorologica.”
It is certainly a very remarkable passage. He is speaking of future punishment, and explicitly denies its absolute eternity; but, on the other hand, says that it is aionian, that is, lasting for a definite aion, or period, in which the sinner is purged.
Olympiodorus was an Aristotelic philosopher, and resided at Alexandria. He was a contemporary of Justinian, and survived him. In the passage quoted he is obviously using the word in its common, popular sense. That this is so is plain from the context, for he proceeds to say that there is another, a philosophical sense to the word, and he develops that, according to Plato, as I have explained it. But our Lord was not a Platonist. He spoke to the people, and used words in their popular sense.
Theophilus And Restoration.
The case of Theophilus, of whom I have spoken on previously, shows strikingly how indefinitely, and, if I may so say, carelessly, men will write on a subject on which there has been no controversy and no sharpening of terms. In him there is now a passage that suggests eternal punishment, another that suggests annihilation, and another like that quoted from Mr. St. John, that suggests universal restoration; and yet each, by sharp criticism, can be rendered uncertain. The passage quoted by Mr. St. John may be explained by saying that he was thinking only of the holy, as is said of Paul in I Cor. 15. Again, he says that to those who do good deeds God will give immortality and aionian life. This seems to imply that the wicked are not rendered immortal, and perish in the aionian fire. Other passages, to those who believe that aionios means endless, seem clearly to teach endless punishment.
Athenagoras is more definite, for he positively and explicitly denies annihilation, and speaks of living a miserable life in fire, and says nothing of restoration.
Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Gregory of Nyssa.
The believers in the doctrine of the Church, and of eternal punishment, are greatly stumbled that three such eminent Christian men should, in different ways, deny that doctrine, and hold to annihilation, or universal restoration. Desperate efforts have been made to remove this great stumbling-block. In the case of Gregory of Nyssa, Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, finding that he could not eliminate the doctrine of universal restoration from his works as they stand, endeavored to prove that all the passages teaching it were spurious, and had been introduced by restorationists to sustain their doctrine. Even if he convinced himself, he has convinced nobody else to this day. For that doctrine is so wrought into his system that to cut it out would destroy his works.
But as to Justin, violent and unprincipled interpretation is resorted to. Thus, Maranus tries to get a denial of annihilation out of the sentence, [Greek words], which means, "“ do not say that all souls die.” He by a wrong position of the negative, and a wrong translation of it, brings out the assertion, “I say that no souls die.” Otto well says that such a position of the negative cannot be defended, and that Maranus must have known it. Besides, it produces an immediate contradiction; for Justin soon goes on to say that some minds are punished and die. In the case of Irenaeus, they rely on the passages in which he declares that punishment is aionian, which need not be translated eternal, and by them needlessly bring him into conflict with his express declarations that the wicked do at length cease to exist. Such criticism is audacious, but it cannot prevail.
Augustine And The Sibylline Verses.
I have said, on page 86, that Augustine, after stating the argument from the sympathy, pity, and prayers of the saints for the lost, in favor of their pardon and restoration, does not answer it. It is true that he does not immediately answer it. He passes to other topics for the five following chapters, but then resumes the subject, and answers the argument. The argument is found in “The City of God” (book xxi., chapter xviii.), and is not there answered; but after five chapters – in chapter xxiv. – it is considered in substance, and answered. This influence of the prayers of the saints is presented as the great means of saving the lost in the Sibylline verses; and the fact that Augustine devotes two whole chapters to the subject shows how extensive and powerful was the influence of those verses.
On the Life of the World to Come – (On pp. 154, 158-162)
Our translation of the Bible, by absorbing all the forms and reduplications of aion and olam in the original, into modern abstract terms, such as eternal, eternity, forever, and forever and ever, has destroyed much of the variety, sentiment, beauty, and sublimity of the Hebrew and Greek originals. Take, for example (in 1 Tim., i. 17), the original expression, that God is the king of the ages, and to the imagination it pictures the dominion of God through the innumerable ages of the past and the future in their sublime procession. Translate this merely the eternal king, and the wings of the imagination are clipped, and we fall down upon a flat, prosaic abstraction. There are, in the Hebrew Bible and in the Septuagint, very many varieties of expression, made by compounding and reduplicating the olamic and aeonic terms of the original, in which there is no blank abstraction, but the living ideas of ages and dispensations in their endless procession; but these are all swallowed up in some abstract phrase, such as forever, forever and ever, and all their variety, vitality, and sublimity, are fatally eclipsed.
In the translation life eternal, there is a similar loss of sublime and affecting associations. At the time when the words were uttered, all minds were absorbed in thoughts of the great, the coming age, called the world to come. Its glory, its purity, its hosts of angels and glorified saints, its vision of the revealed Godhead, its palms of victory, and thrones of power, were the objects which inspired and irradiated every mind. Even the Judge presents to the redeemed the kingdom prepared before the foundation of the world as their final reward. How radiant, how glorious, how affecting to the heart, would be the life of that world! And, even now, what affects the mind more than the thought of heaven as our glorious home. All these thoughts are vividly presented in the hymn “Jerusalem! My glorious home, name ever dear to me,” which, as we sing it, seems to make heaven a reality. All these glorious conceptions are annihilated by the passionless abstract term eternal. It is plan that aionios was changed, in the later creeds, into the full form “of the world to come,” under the influence of a desire to present that world more fully to the imagination.
Our words denoting eternity have their roots in the words of the original, which appealed to the imagination and to the heart.
But they have been deprived of all their vitality, and eloquence, and beauty, and have become lifeless abstractions. They are like dead flowers, faded, dried, and pressed in an herbarium.
Is it not possible to raise a new crop of flowers from the old roots, for they are yet vital, which shall convey to us some of the sublimity, beauty, and imaginative power, of the originals?
The progress of science is revealing to us the successive ages of the immeasurable past. That in the future there are to be successive ages or dispensations, the language of the Bible would declare, if it were not deprived of a true and full utterance. Of the theories of the future which exclude such ages, Dr. Tayler Lewis well says, “What a narrow idea that the great antepast, and the great future after this brief world or olam has passed away, are to be regarded as having no chronology of a higher kind, no other (time) worlds and worlds of worlds, succeeding each other in number and variety inconceivable!” To see the full force of this passage, we must notice that he is not speaking of material worlds in space, but of time worlds, that is, of ages and dispensations.
As things are, heaven is looked on as a finished world in which there is nothing that fires the imagination, to be done in all the vast, the immeasurable ages of the coming future.