Origin of Endless Punishment
When our Lord spoke, the doctrine of unending torment was believed by many of those who listened to his words, and they stated it in terms and employed others, entirely differently, in describing the duration of punishment, from the terms afterward used by those who taught universal salvation and annihilation, and so gave to the terms in question the sense of unlimited duration.
For example, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, regarded the penalty of sin as torment without end, and they stated the doctrine in unambiguous terms. They called it eirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment), while our Lord called the punishment of sin aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement).
Meaning of Scriptural TermsThe language of Josephus is used by the profane Greeks, but is never found in the New Testament connected with punishment. Josephus, writing in Greek to Jews, frequently employs the word that our Lord used to define the duration of punishment (aionios), but he applies it to things that had ended or that will end.1 Can it be doubted that our Lord placed his ban on the doctrine that the Jews had derived from the heathen by never using their terms describing it, and that he taught a limited punishment by employing words to define it that only meant limited duration in contemporaneous literature? Josephus used the word aionos with its current meaning of limited duration. He applies it to the imprisonment of John the Tyrant; to Herod's reputation; to the glory acquired by soldiers; to the fame of an army as a "happy life and aionian glory." He used the words as do the Scriptures to denote limited duration, but when he would describe endless duration he uses different terms. Of the doctrine of the Pharisees he says:
"They believe that wicked spirits are to be kept in an eternal imprisonment (eirgmon aidion). The Pharisees say all souls are incorruptible, but while those of good men are removed into other bodies those of bad men are subject to eternal punishment" (aidios timoria). Elsewhere he says that the Essenes, "allot to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing torment (timoria adialeipton), where they suffer a deathless torment" (athanaton timorion). Aidion and athanaton are his favorite terms for duration, and timoria (torment) for punishment.
Philo's Use of the WordsPhilo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally used aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matt. 25:46, precisely as Christ used it: "It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and æonian punishment (chastisement) from such as are more powerful." Here we have the precise terms employed by our Lord, which show that aionian did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ. Philo adopts athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. In one place occurs this sentence concerning the wicked: "to live always dying, and to undergo, as it were, an immortal and interminable death."2 Stephens, in his valuable "Thesaurus," quotes from a Jewish work: "These they called aionios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations." 3 This shows conclusively that the expression "three generations" was then one full equivalent of aionian. Now, these eminent scholars were Jews who wrote in Greek, and who certainly knew the meaning of the words they employed, and they give to the aeonian words the sense of indefinite duration, to be determined in any case by the scope of the subject. Had our Lord intended to indoctrinate the doctrine of the Pharisees, he would have used the terms by which they described it. But his word defining the duration of punishment was aionian, while their words are aidion, adialeipton, and athanaton. Instead of saying with Philo and Josephus, thanaton athanaton, deathless or immortal death; eirgmon aidion, eternal imprisonment; aidion timorion, eternal torment; and thanaton ateleuteton, interminable death, he used aionion kolasin, an adjective in universal use for limited duration, and a noun denoting suffering producing improvement. The word by which our Lord describes punishment is the word kolasin, which is thus defined: "Chastisement, punishment." "The trimming of the luxuriant branches of a tree or vine to improve it and make it fruitful." "The act of clipping or pruning--restriction, restraint, reproof, check, chastisement." "The kind of punishment which tends to the improvement of the criminal is what the Greek philosopher called kolasis or chastisement." "Pruning, checking, punishment, chastisement, correction." "Do we want to know what was uppermost in the minds of those who formed the word for punishment? The Latin poena or punio, to punish, the root pu in Sanscrit, which means to cleanse, to purify, tells us that the Latin derivation was originally formed, not to express mere striking or torture, but cleansing. correcting, delivering from the stain of sin." 4 That it had this meaning in Greek usage, see Plato: "For the natural or accidental evils of others no one gets angry, or admonishes, or teaches, or punishes (kolazei) them, but we pity those afflicted with such misfortune for if, O Socrates, if you will consider what is the design of punishing (kolazein) the wicked, this of itself will show you that men think virtue something that may be acquired; for no one punishes (kolazei) the wicked,
looking to the past only simply for the wrong he has done--that is, no one does this thing who does not act like a wild beast; desiring only revenge, without thought. Hence, he who seeks to punish (kolazein) with reason does not punish for the sake of the past wrong deed, but for the sake of the future, that neither the man himself who is punished may do wrong again, nor any other who has seen him chastised. And he who entertains this thought must believe that virtue may be taught, and he punishes (kolazei) for the purpose of deterring from wickedness?" 5
Use of GehennaSo of the place of punishment (gehenna) the Jews at the time of Christ never understood it to denote endless punishment. The reader of Farrar's "Mercy and Judgment," and "Eternal Hope," and Windet's "De Vita functorum statu," will find any number of statements from the Talmudic and other Jewish authorities, affirming in the most explicit language that Gehenna was understood by the people to whom our Lord addressed the word as a place or condition of temporary duration. They employed such terms as these "The wicked shall be judged in Gehenna until the righteous say concerning them, 'We have seen enough.'"5 "Gehenna is nothing but a day in which the impious will be burned." "After the last judgment Gehenna exists no longer." "There will hereafter be no Gehenna."6 These quotations might be multiplied indefinitely to demonstrate that the Jews to whom our Lord spoke regarded Gehenna as of limited duration, as did the Christian Fathers. Origen in his reply to Celsus (VI, xxv) gives an exposition of Gehenna, explaining its usage in his day. He says it is an analogy of the well-known valley of the Son of Hinnom, and signifies the fire of purification. Now observe: Christ carefully avoided the words in which his auditors expressed endless punishment (aidios, timoria and adialeiptos), and used terms they did not use with that meaning (aionios kolasis), and employed the term which by universal consent among the Jews has no such meaning (Gehenna); and as his immediate followers and the earliest of the Fathers pursued exactly the same course, is it not demonstrated that they intended to be understood as he was understood?7
Professor Plumptre in a letter concerning Canon Farrar's sermons, says: "There were two words which the Evangelists might have used--kolasis, timoria. Of these, the first carries with it, by the definition of the greatest of Greek ethical writers, the idea of a reformatory process, (Aristotle, Rhet. I, x, 10-17). It is inflicted 'for the sake of him who suffers it.' The second, on the other hand, describes a penalty purely vindictive or retributive. St. Matthew chose--if we believe that our Lord spoke Greek, he himself chose--the former word, and not the latter."
All the evidence conclusively shows that the terms defining punishment--"everlasting," "eternal," "Gehenna," etc., in the Scriptures teach its limited duration, and were so regarded by sacred and profane authors, and that those outside of the Bible who taught unending torment always employed other words than those used by or Lord and his disciples.
Professor Allen concedes that the great prominence given to "hell-fire" in Christian preaching is a modern innovation. He says: "There is more 'blood-theology' and 'hell-fire,' that is, the vivid setting-forth of everlasting torment to terrify the soul, in one sermon of Jonathan Edwards, or one harangue at a modern 'revival,' than can be found in the whole body of sermons and epistles through all the dark ages put together. Set beside more modern dispensations the Catholic position of this period (middle ages) is surprisingly merciful and mild."3
Whence Came the Doctrine?
Of Heathen OriginWhen we ask the question: Where did those in the primitive Christian church who taught endless punishment find it, if not in the Bible?--we are met by these facts:--1. The New Testament was not in existence, as the canon had not been arranged. 2. The Old Testament did not contain the doctrine. 3. The Pagan and Jewish religions, the latter corrupted by heathen additions, taught it (Hagenbach, I, First Period; Clark's Foreign Theol. Lib. I, new series.) Westcott tells us: "The written Gospel of the first period of the apostolic age was the Old Testament, interpreted by the vivid recollection of the Savior's ministry. The knowledge of the teachings of Christ to the close of the Second Century, were generally derived from tradition, and not from writings. The Old Testament was still the great store-house from which Christian teachers derived the sources of consolation and conviction." 9 Hence the false ideas must have been brought by converts from Judaism or Paganism. The immediate followers of our Lord's apostles do not explicitly treat matters of eschatology. It was the age of apologetics and not of contentions.10 The new revelation of the Divine Fatherhood through the Son occupied the chief attention of Christians, and the efforts seem to have been almost exclusively devoted to establish the truth of the Incarnation, "God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." We may reasonably conclude that if this great truth had been kept constantly in the foreground, uncorrupted by pagan error and human invention, there would have been none of those false conceptions of God that gave rise to the horrors of medieval times,--and no occasion in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries for the rebirth of original Christianity in the form of Universalism. The first Christians, however, naturally brought heathen additions into their new faith, so that very early the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, or their endless torment, began to be avowed. Here and there these doctrines appeared from the very first, but the early writers generally either state the great truths that legitimately result in universal good, or in unmistakable terms avow the doctrine as a revealed truth of the Christian Scriptures. "Numbers flocked into the church who brought their heathen ways with them." (Third Century, "Neoplatonism," by C. Bigg, D.D., London: 1895, p. 160.)
At first Christianity was as a bit of leaven buried in foreign elements, modifying and being modified. The early Christians had individual opinions and idiosyncrasies, which at first their new faith did not eradicate; they still retained some of their former errors. This accounts for their different views of the future world. At the time of our Lord's advent Judaism had been greatly corrupted. During the captivity 11 Chaldæan, Persian and Egyptian doctrines, and other oriental ideas had tinged the Mosaic religion, and in Alexandria, especially, there was a great mixture of borrowed opinions and systems of faith, it being supposed that no one form alone was complete and sufficient, but that each system possessed a portion of the perfect truth. "The prevailing tone of mind was from a variety of sources," and Christianity did not escape the influence.
The Apocryphal Book of EnochMore than a century before the birth of Christ 12 appeared the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which contains, so far as is known, the earliest statement extant of the doctrine of endless punishment in any work of Jewish origin. It became very popular during the early Christian centuries, and modified, it may be safely supposed, the views of Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and their followers. It is referred to or quoted from by Barnabas, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome, Hilary, Epiphanius, Augustine, and others. Jude quotes from it in verses 14 and 15, and refers to it in verse 6, on which account some of the fathers considered Jude apocryphal; but it is probable that Jude quotes Enoch as Paul quotes the heathen poets, not to endorse its doctrine, but to illustrate a point, as writers nowadays quote fables and legends. Cave, in the "Lives of the Fathers," attributes the prevalence of the doctrine of fallen angels to a perversion of the account (Gen. 6:1-4) of "the sons of God and the daughters of men." He refers the prevalence of the doctrine to "the authority of the 'Book of Enoch,' (highly valued by many in those days) wherein this story is related, as appears from the fragments of it still in existence." The entire work is now accessible through modern discovery.
A little later than Enoch appeared the Book of Ezra, advocating the same doctrine. These two books were popular among the Jews before the time of Christ, and it is supposed, as the Old Testament is silent on the subject, that the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees, of which our Lord warned his disciples to beware, 13 were obtained in part from these books, or from the Egyptian and Pagan sources whence they were derived. At any rate, though the Old Testament does not contain the doctrine, 14 Josephus, as has been seen, assures us that the Pharisees of his time accepted and taught it. Of course they must have obtained the doctrine from uninspired sources. As these and possibly other similar books had already corrupted the faith of the Jews, they seem later to have infused their virus into the faith of some of the early Christians. Nothing is better established in history than that the doctrine of endless punishment, as held by the Christian church in medieval times, was of Egyptian origin, 15 and that for purposes of state it and its accessories were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Montesquieu states that "Romulus, Tatius and Numa enslaved the gods to politics," and made religion for the state.
Catholic Hell Copied from Heathen SourcesClassic scholars know that the heathen hell was early copied by the Catholic church, and that almost its entire details afterwards entered into the creeds of Catholic and Protestant churches up to a century ago. Any reader may see this who will consult Pagan literature 16 and writers on the opinions of the ancients. And not only this, but the heathen writers declare that the doctrine was invented to awe and control the multitude. Polybius writes: "Since the multitude is ever fickle there is no other way to keep them in order but by fear of the invisible world; on which account our ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to bring into the popular belief these notions of the gods and of the infernal regions." Seneca says: "Those things which make the infernal regions terrible, the darkness, the prison, the river of flaming fire, the judgment seat, etc., are all a fable." Livy declares that Numa invented the doctrine, "a most effective means of governing an ignorant and barbarous populace." Strabo writes: "The multitude are restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, for it is impossible to govern the crowd of women and all the common rabble by philosophical reasoning: these things the legislators used as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude." Similar language is found in Dionysius Halicarnassus, Plato, and other writers. History records nothing more distinctly than that the Greek and Roman Pagans borrowed of the Egyptians, and that some of the early Christians unconsciously absorbed, or thoroughly appropriated, the doctrines of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans concerning post-mortem punishment, and gradually corrupted the "simplicity that is in Christ" 17 by the inventions of antiquity, as from the same sources the Jews at the time of Christ had already corrupted their religion. 18 What more natural than that the small reservoir of Christian truth should be contaminated by the opinions that converts from all these sources brought with them into their new religion at first, and later that the Roman Catholic priests and Pagan legislators should seize them as engines of power by which to control the world?
Coquerel describes the effect of the sudden increase of Pagans into the early Christian church: "The, at first, gradual entrance and soon rapid invasion of an idolatrous multitude into the bosom of Christianity was not effected without detriment to the truth. The Christianity of Jesus was too lofty, too pure, for this multitude escaped from the degrading cults of Olympus. The Pagans were not able to enter en masse into the church without bringing to it their habits, their tastes, and some of their ideas."19 Milman and Neander think20 that old Jewish prejudices could not be exterminated in the proselytes of the infant church, and that latent Judaism lurked in it and was continued into the darker ages. Chrysostom complains that the Christians of his time (the Fourth Century) were "half Jews." Enfield 21 declares that converts from the schools of Pagan philosophy interwove their old errors with the simple truths of Christianity until "heathen and Christian doctrines were still more intimately blended and both were almost entirely lost in the thick clouds of ignorance and barbarism which covered the earth. The fathers of the church departed from the simplicity of the apostolic church and corrupted the purity of the Christian faith." Hagenbach reminds us that 22 "There were two errors which the newborn Christianity had to guard against if it was not to lose its peculiar religious features, and disappear in one of the already existing religions: against a relapse into Judaism on the one side, and against a mixture with Paganism and speculations borrowed from it, and a mythologizing tendency on the other." The Sibylline Oracles, advocating universal restoration; Philo, who taught annihilation, and Enoch and Ezra, who taught endless punishment, were all read by the early Christians, and no doubt exerted an influence in forming early opinions.
Early Christianity AdulteratedThe Edinburgh Review concedes that "upon a full inspection it will be seen that the corruption of Christianity was itself the effect of the debased state of the human mind, of which the vices of the government were the great and primary cause." "That the Christian religion suffered much from the influence of the Gentile philosophy is unquestionable."23 Dr. Middleton, in a famous "Letter from Rome," shows that from the pantheon down to heathen temples, shrines and altars were taken by the early church, and so used that Pagans could employ them as well as Christians, and retain their old superstitions and errors while professing Christianity. In other words, that much of Paganism, after the First Century or two, remained in and corrupted Christianity. Mosheim writes that "no one objected (in the Fifth Century) to Christians retaining the opinions of their Pagan ancestors;" and Tytler describes the confusion that resulted from the mixture of Pagan philosophy with the plain and simple doctrines of the Christian religion, from which the church in its infant state "suffered in a most essential manner." The Rev. T. B. Thayer, D. D., 24 thinks that the faith of the early Christian church "of the orthodox party was one-half Christian, one-quarter Jewish, and one-quarter Pagan; while that of the gnostic party was about one-quarter Christian and three-quarters philosophical Paganism." The purpose of many of the fathers seems to have been to bridge the abyss between Paganism and Christianity, and, for the sake of proselytes, to tolerate Pagan doctrine. Says Merivale: In the Fifth Century, Paganism was assimilated, not abolished, and Christendom has suffered from it more or less even since. The church was content to make terms with what survived of Paganism, content to lose even more than it gained in an unholy alliance with superstition and idolatry; enticing, no doubt, many of the vulgar, and some even of the more intelligent, to a nominal acceptance of the Christian faith, but conniving at the surrender by the great mass of its own baptized members of the highest and purest of their spiritual acquisitions." 25 It is difficult to learn just how much surrounding influences affected ancient or modern Christians, for, as Schaff says (Hist. Apos. Ch. p. 23): "The theological views of the Greek Fathers were modified to a considerable extent by Platonism; those of the medieval schoolmen, by the logic and dialectics of Aristotle; those of the latter times by the system of Descartes, Spinoza, Bacon, Locke, Leibnitz, Kant, Fries, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Few scientific divines can absolutely emancipate themselves from the influence of the philosophy and public opinion of their age, and when they do they have commonly their own philosophy, etc."
Original Greek New TestamentThat the Old Testament does not teach even post-mortem punishment is universally conceded by scholars, as has been seen; and that the Egyptians, and Greek and Roman Pagans did, is shown already. That the doctrine was early in the Christian church, is equally evident. As the early Christians did not obtain it from the Old Testament, which does not contain it, and as it was already a Pagan doctrine, where could they have procured it except from heathen sources? And as Universalism was nowhere taught, and as the first Universalist Christians after the apostles were Greeks, perfectly familiar with the language of the New Testament, where else could they have found their faith than where they declare they found it, in the New Testament? How can it be supposed that the Latins were correct in claiming that the Greek Scriptures teach a doctrine that the Greeks themselves did not find therein? And how can the Greek fathers in the primitive church mistake when they understand our Lord and his apostles to teach universal restoration? "It may be well to note here, that after the third century the descent of the church into errors of doctrine and practice grew more rapid. The worship of Jesus, of Mary, of saints, or relics, etc., followed each other. Mary was called 'the Mother of God,' 'the Queen of Heaven.' As God began to be represented more stern, implacable, cruel, the people worshiped Jesus to induce him to placate his Father's wrath; and then as the Son was held up as the severe judge of sinners and the executioner of the Father's vengeance, men prayed Mary to calm the anger of her God-child; and when she became unfeeling or lacked influence, they turned to Joseph and other saints, and to martyrs, to intercede with their cold, implacable superiors. Thus theology became more hard and merciless--hell was intensified, and enlarged, and eternalized--heaven shrunk, and receded, and lost its compassion--woman (despite the deification of Mary) was regarded as weak and despicable--the Agape were abolished and the Eucharist deified, and its cup withheld from the people--and woman deemed too impure to touch it! As among the heathen Romans, faith and reverence decreased as their gods were multiplied, so here, as objects of worship were increased, familiarity bred only sensuality, and sensuous worship drove out virtue and true piety, until, in the language of Mrs. Jameson's "Legends of the Madonna," (Int. p. xxxi): One of the paintings in the Vatican represents Giulia Farnese (a noted impure woman and mistress of the pope!) in the character of the Madonna, and Pope Alexander VI. (the drunken, unchaste, beastly!) kneeling at her feet in the character of a devoted worshiper! Under the influence of the Medici, the churches of Florence were filled with pictures of the Virgin in which the only thing aimed at was a cheap, gaudy, ornamented beauty. Savonarola thundered from his pulpit in the garden of S. Marco against these impieties." 26
Chapter 4--Doctrines of "Mitigation" and of "Reserve" - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology - Introductory Note - New Stuff
1 See my "Aion-Aionious," pp. 109-14; also Josephus, "Antiq." and "Jewish Wars."
2 "De Præmiis" and "Poenis" Tom. II, pp. 19-20. Mangey's edition. Dollinger quoted by Beecher. Philo was learned in Greek philosophy, and especially reverenced Plato. His use of Greek is of the highest authority.
3 "Solom. Parab."
4 Donnegan, Grotius, Liddel, Max Muller, Beecher, Hist. Doc. Fut. Ret. pp. 73-75.
5 The important passage may be found more fully quoted in "Aion-Aionios."
6 Targum of Jonathan on Isaiah, xvi: 24. See also "Aion-Aionious" and "Bible Hell."
7 Farrar's "Mercy and Judgment." pp. 380-381, where quotations are given from the Fourth Century, asserting that punishment must be limited because aionian correction (aionian kolasin), as in Matt. xxv: 46, must be terminable.
8 "Christian Hist. in its Three Great Periods." pp. 257-8.
9 Introduction to Gospels. p. 181
10 The opinions of the Jews were modified at first by the captivity in Egypt fifteen centuries before Christ, and later by the Babylonian captivity, ending four hundred years before Christ, so that many of them, the Pharisees especially, no longer held the simple doctrines of Moses.
11 Robertson's History of the Christian Church, vol. 1. pp. 38-39.
12 The Book of Enoch, translated from the Ethiopian, with Introduction and Notes. By Rev. George H. Schodde.
13 Mark vii: 13; Matthew xvi: 6, 12; Luke xxi, 1; Mark viii, 15.
14 Milman Hist. Jews; Warburton's Divine Legation; Jahn, Archaeology.
15 Warburton. Leland's Necessity of Divine Revelation.
16 Virgil's æneid. Apollodorus, Hesiod, Herodotus, Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus, etc.
17 II Cor. 11:3.
18 Milman's Gibbon, Murdock's Mosheim, Enfield's Hist. Philos., Universalist Expositor, 1853.
19 Coquerel's First Historical Transformations of Christianity.
20 See Conybeare's "Paul," Vol. I, Chapters 14,15.
21 See also Priestley's "Corruptions of Christianity."
22 Hist. Doct. I Sec. 22.
23 Vaughan's Causes of the Corruption of Christianity; also Casaubon and Blunt's "Vestiges."
24 Hist. Doct. Endelss Punishment, pp. 192-193.
25 Early Church History, pp. 159-160.
26 Universalist Quartarly, January 1883.
Chapter 4--Doctrines of "Mitigation" and of "Reserve" - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology
Chapter 1 - The Earliest Creeds
Chapter 2 - Early Christianity-A Cheerful Religion
Chapter 3 - Origin of Endless Punishment
Chapter 4 - Doctrines of Mitigation and Reserve
Chapter 5 - Two Kindred Topics
Chapter 6 - The Apostles' Immediate Successors
Chapter 7 - The Gnostic Sects
Chapter 8 - The Sibylline Oracles
Chapter 9 - Pantaenus and Clement
Chapter 10 - Origen
Chapter 11 - Origen-Continued
Chapter 12 - The Eulogists of Origen
Chapter 13 - A Third Century Group
Chapter 14 - Minor Authorities
Chapter 15 - Gregory Nazianzen
Chapter 16 - Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians
Chapter 17 - A Notable Family
Chapter 18 - Additional Authorities
Chapter 19 - The Deterioration of Christian Thought
Chapter 20 - Augustine--Deterioration Continued
Chapter 21 - Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism
Chapter 22 - The Eclipse of Universalism
Chapter 23 - Summary of Conclusions