Part 3 The Eternal Issues

Chapter 20.

The New Testament Terms

He begins of course with the word so decisive, one way or other, to his cause — with "death."

He quotes a number of the passages in which this is applied to the punishment of the wicked,* "without the smallest effort to show that its terms 'death' or 'to die' have any new sense placed on them."

{* John 6:50; John 8:51; John 11:26; Rom. 6:21-23; Rom. 8:13; 2 Cor. 2:16; James 1:15; James 5:20; Rev. 20:14.}

Now if this be so, and we bear with us the remembrance of what death (in the ordinary sense of it) is, and that it never means nor implies the extinction of being, we shall have to consider all the texts he can bring forward of this kind as against, and not for, his view of the extinction of the wicked. No more than the seed is extinct, when, sown in the ground, it is preparing the harvest — no more than man is extinct when the spirit returns to God who gave it — no more, if I am to accept the necessary conclusion from such use of words, no more will the wicked become extinct when eternal death becomes their awful portion. I grant, of course, the body might become extinct upon this view of the matter, but not the spirit or the soul. Even so there is no escape from God into the blank of nonentity. Alas for him who thinks that there is such!

But we cannot avail ourselves of this argument; for this reason, that there is an express statement, that death as applied to the final punishment of the wicked is not mere ordinary death. In Rev. 20:14, the "second death" is explained to be "the lake of fire." The editors of the Greek Testament, without exception, read the passage: "This is the second death, the lake of fire." And to this the first death delivers up its prisoners. This is at the end of all, when the heavens and earth flee away before the face of Him who sits upon the throne of judgment (ver. 11). It is when finally, all enemies being put under His feet, the Son shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father; and then "death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed."* But so far from the second death being then destroyed, it is then that its reign begins, to endure (whatever that may mean) "for the ages of ages."

{*For thus it seems one should read "Eskatos ekthros katargeitai ho Ianatos.}

The first death, then, gives place to the second. They are not the same. The "second death" is the lake of fire. Will even Mr. Constable assert that this is only extinction? Second extinction it cannot be, for there has been none before, and moreover extinction would be deliverance from it. Extinction by it would be as rapid, according to the usual arguments, as by any other process whatever. How long would it take for life to be extinct, or flesh and blood to be consumed by a literal fire of brimstone? Would it consist with "torment for the ages of ages"? Yet that must at least be the distinctive feature of the lake of fire. What then does this "second death" imply? It must be torment AND extinction? But these are contradictory terms. "Life or death," says a writer, "is the theme of the Bible, not life or torment." Yet here torment, and that for ages of ages, must be admitted to ' be the distinguishing feature of the second death! Thus death must in this case mean torment; at least that must be part of what it means; for the lake of fire undeniably means torment. It cannot mean irresistible power of extinction, for any ordinary fire would make quicker work; flesh and blood even can resist it for ages, and so (as all natural comparison is out of question) why not forever? No; it means protracted torment, extraordinary, unnaturally, supernaturally protracted torment; if it can mean this and extinction too, then extinction itself may mean protracted existence and its end alike.

Thus at least "death" here, as applied to the future punishment of the wicked, is not, cannot be, and is expressly stated not to be, used in its ordinary sense. I shall not pursue the matter further here because the fitting place to inquire its precise meaning will be found when we come to look at the intensely solemn and important passages referred to. This we hope to do in the fullest way hereafter, and do not wish to anticipate it here.

Mr. Constable goes on to the passages which speak of "eternal life" as the portion of the righteous alone. This we fully believe, and have looked at already. His quotation of Matt. 10:29 has also been met, and needs only to be referred to briefly again. It runs: "he that findeth his life shall lose it, but he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." Psuche is the word used here in both cases, and, as I have before said, the parallel place in Luke 9:25 shows that "his soul" is just the equivalent of "himself." And this we have seen to be very common phraseology in Scripture. The finding and losing (the same word as elsewhere given "destroying") the soul in the present world are reversed in the world to come. The finding becomes losing, the losing finding there. He who makes himself the object of his life, loses himself and is cast away. He who sacrifices self and its interests for Christ's sake is really preserving all for the world to come. The idiomatic expression is impossible perhaps to put into English without a periphrasis; but the meaning is intelligible enough. And the actual laying down of life in martyrdom is not necessary at all to the application. Can none but those who actually die a martyr's death live eternally? The making it a question of literal death or life would affirm so. It is not "life" then, that properly translates or interprets the verse.

Mr. Constable now turns aside for a moment to Moses' wish to be "blotted out of God's book" (Ex. 32:32). He thinks that "we cannot suppose that he could even for a moment have wished throughout eternity for a life of pain and moral corruption," and so we must infer he wanted "the utter cessation of life" instead. But it is a little too much to decide a question of this moment by our supposition one way or another of what Moses must have wished for at a moment of intense and excited feeling. Granted he did not wish for "moral corruption" at all, much less for eternity, he might have accepted the thought of punishment instead of the people without a question of this. To force his words into perfect and calm consistency — to reason out the feelings of a moment when intense emotion had overmastered reason — is to pervert and not to interpret.

We have heard Mr. Minton's complaint of the use of figurative Scriptures, by which certainly God means us nevertheless to learn something on the subject, whatever it may be. Yet here Mr. Constable would take Moses' wish at a moment of unreasoning excitement, follow it out to all its necessary consequences, and decide the question in his own favor by a simple suggestion that he could not have meant to accept these consequences! To which we need only answer, suppose he could not, what then? Is it so strange a thing in times of much less intensity of feeling for consequences the most obvious to be wholly forgotten and ignored?

We pass on to consider other terms used for eternal punishment.

The first of these is apoleia, "destruction." Mr. Constable says, "There is not in the Greek language a word more strongly significant of the utter loss of existence. 'Its proper meaning,' says Schleusner in his lexicon, 'is the destruction of anything so that it ceases to exist.'" . . . He then quotes Peter's words to Simon Magus, "Thy money perish with thee," literally, "thy money go with thyself to destruction," and adds, "Here we see Peter's sense of destruction. It had the same meaning when applied to a man as it had when applied to metal: disorganization and wasting away until it should disappear, was the idea which Peter attached to it in both cases alike." His next argument is still more extraordinary. Quoting Acts 25:16, he remarks:

"Festus here tells Agrippa that it was not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to death (literally, to destruction) before the accused had an opportunity of defending himself. Festus here calls the destruction of man his death;" — Mr. Constable means, of course, that he calls a man's death his destruction, — "and as Festus, DOUBTLESS, with almost every man of his station at that time, ridiculed the very idea of any future life after this, he could only have intended by the destruction of a man the putting him out of all existence. LUKE BY USING ACCEPTS THE TERM IN THE SENSE OF FESTUS, and we have thus in the usage of two of the inspired writers of the New Testament, Peter and Luke, the sense of destruction established as putting out of existence."

If this argument were in the first edition of Mr. Constable's book, it is rather extraordinary that the book has survived to a fourth. Such reasoning would seem only possible to such mental hallucination as would preclude all serious controversy. Out of the simple fact that Luke chronicles Festus' words in which he uses for "death" the word "destruction," Mr. Constable draws the amazing conclusions: —

First, that because Festus was a Roman governor, he "doubtless" shared the scepticism of his day.

Secondly, that in using the word "destruction" in this case, Festus' (supposed) views gave the word a peculiar significance.

Thirdly, that Luke must have known the scepticism that was in Festus' mind. And —

Fourthly, that by recording his words Luke meant to signify his adhesion to this scepticism which was behind them.

I can only say, that this is logical insanity, and that upon these principles all reasoning becomes impossible. This very Luke elsewhere, as we have seen, in stating the well-known Pharisaic views as to "angel and spirit," tells us that they "confess" both. "Confess" is his own word and surely implies that he believed that to be the truth which they were confessing. Yet Mr. Roberts considers that even too worthless an argument to reply to. What would he say to Mr. Constable's? And here is Luke against Luke! Rather here is Mr. Constable's censure of the unhappy race of historians, who it seems are condemned to endorse every falsehood that they tell us another utters!

On the other hand it is not to be wondered at if from our point of view we should consider this application of "destruction" to death, as the overthrow of the very thing it is sought to establish by it. Not alone do we find it in the lips of Festus. The verb apollumi is used in this way over and over again (Matt. 2:13; Matt. 8:25; Matt. 12:14; Matt. 21:41; Matt. 22:7; Matt. 26:52; Matt. 27:20; Mark 3:6; Mark 9:22; Mark 11:18; Luke 11:51; Luke 13:33; Luke 15:17; Luke 17:27, 29; Luke 19:47; John 10:10; John 18:14; 1 Cor. 10:9), and translated by the words "destroy" and "perish." In all these cases utter extinction is not its meaning.

In his interpretation of the apostle's words to Simon Magus, Mr. Constable again manifests his incompetence as a reasoner. How "thy money be to destruction with thee" shows that the destruction of the piece of metal must be just of the same sort as the destruction of the man, it would be hard for him to show, while it is very easy to assert it. If the man were only a piece of metal like the money the reasoning might hold good, and something like this is really the basis of his argument. He is a consistent materialist all through, and a material destruction for man is all he can according to his principles believe in.

But even as to material things the force of the word is not by any means what Mr. Constable would make out. When the new wine bursts the skins and the bottles are marred (Mark 2:32) the same word is used to express this. Now the bursting of a skin-bottle is by no means its "disorganization and wasting away till it should disappear," as he tries to make out must be as to the coin. It is not even the first step to such wasting away. This would equally go on were the bottles whole. Mr. Roberts urges that the bottles are destroyed as bottles; but that is my argument, not his. The bottles are destroyed for the purpose to which they were originally destined, and so is man whether as the subject of the first death or of the second. In either case he is set aside from the place for which he was originally created, in the first death temporarily, in the second eternally. But the bottles exist, though "destroyed": they do not cease to be; and so neither does man. This is the Biblical force of destruction.

But again, apollumi is used in the sense of "losing" (Luke 15:4, etc.). The "lost" sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24), the "lost" sheep, "lost" piece of money, "lost" son, of Luke 15 are all examples of this use of the word. Also Matt. 10:6; Matt. 18:11; Luke 19:10; 2 Cor. 4:3. Mr. Roberts here contends that "in the case of an article lost, POSSESSION is destroyed for the time being." These gentlemen are sometimes wonderfully easily satisfied. So a man in prison for a week may be said to be destroyed, because, as R. remarks, "SOMETHING is destroyed," and it is no matter whether it be the man himself or anything else, — his liberty, for instance!! But upon this ground it would be hard to maintain the doctrine he so zealously advocates.

Mr. Constable winds up his discussion of these two words with a characteristic challenge, and a re-affirmation of the words of Dr. Weymouth, whom he calls "one of the best Greek scholars of the day," and who says, "My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying 'destroy' or 'destruction,' are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this."

But it is Dr. Weymouth who in this misinterprets, and it does not take first-rate scholarship to see it. For where does he find any one who interprets the words in question by anything else than "destroy" and "destruction"? I never saw or heard of one who violated language in the way he complains of. The words are found just as he would have them in the common version of the Bible which is in all our hands, — a version made too by people of the very views which he assails. Let him tell us who the people are who propose to change them.

The fact is, this is not what Dr. Weymouth means, and the parade of Greek scholarship is thrown away. Dr. Weymouth must mean that we take the English words, — which, thank God, brings the question into a shape intelligible to very many more than can claim to be scholars, — that we take the English words "destroy" and "destruction" (for it must be allowed we leave them in our Bibles) as meaning "maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence."

Even in this he is exceedingly inaccurate. I can answer at least for myself, I never understood these words in any such sense. When just now we were speaking of the bottles being "destroyed," surely no one understood that their "destruction" meant their "maintaining existence" at all. They might exist: true; but their destruction was not their existence, nor ever understood to be so. It was their being set aside as useless for the purpose of their existence; and in a similar way, only remembering the unspeakable difference between an inanimate thing, and a morally accountable being such as man, do we understand the destruction of the wicked.

Mr. Constable adds: "Even the leading modern advocate of the Augustinian view, who all but closed his literary labors in the defence of this wretched cause, looking in blank dismay at these words of doom, can only say of them, They do not invariably mean 'annihilation.' We on the contrary assert that such is in the New Testament, as used of the wicked, their invariable sense; they are there ever connected with death."

And that proves precisely the opposite, while it proves also how Mr. Constable's annihilationism and his materialism stand or fall together. I make no pretension to more than ordinary scholarship, but I dare maintain against all or any, that the words in question NEVER in themselves mean annihilation at all. Let the proof be only from Scripture, and let any that will prove it. We must pass on now to other words.

The next he takes up is aphanizo. It is once used as applied to unbelievers (Acts 13:41), "Behold, ye despisers! and wonder, and perish," and once to the "vanishing away" of life (James 4:14). The latter is its true signification in both places, although it has other meanings. Mr. Constable quotes from Josephus two passages, in which the word is used, once for the annihilation of the sluggish and cowardly at death: "a subterranean night dissolves them to nothing"; and once in describing the doctrines of the Sadducees, "that souls perish with their bodies"; and he adds: "That which the Sadducees taught would happen to all men at the first death the apostle tells us will be to unbelievers the sad result of the second death: they will rise from their graves and see what they have rejected, will marvel at their folly and will vanish out of existence."

But almost all this latter is pure invention: there is nothing in the text about the second death, about rising from the graves, or even of passing out of existence in his sense of it. And this is quite unquestionable, because it is a simple adoption of the language of the Septuagint translation of Hab. 1:5, where Mr. Constable's idea of it suits neither text nor context. It is there added as an appendage to "wonder marvellously"* as if to complete the sense, "wonder marvellously and vanish." The apostle puts it, "wonder and vanish," thus still more plainly making the last words give emphasis to the former by the substitution for "marvellously" of "vanish."

{*The LXX. read Idete hoi kataphronetai [kai epiblepsate,] kai Iaumasate [Iaumasia] kai aphanisthete. The apostle leaves out what is enclosed between brackets.}

We have next four words, intimately united together, phtheiro, phthora, diaphtheiro and kataphtheiro. In the New Testament the first and second are uniformly translated "corrupt" and "corruption," except 1 Cor. 3:17, where we find, correctly enough, "defile" and "destroy," and 2 Peter 2:12, "made to be taken and destroyed." The third is found six times: Luke 12:23, "where no moth corrupteth"; 1 Tim. 6:5, "men of corrupt minds"; 2 Cor. 4:16, "though our outward man perish"; Rev. 8:9, "the ships were destroyed"; and Rev. 11:18, "shouldst destroy them which destroy the earth." The fourth is only found, 2 Tim. 3:8, "men of corrupt minds," and 2 Peter 2:12, "shall utterly perish in their own corruption."

The meanings are sufficiently well given in these passages. Of the third of these words Mr. Constable says, "The sense of the word as signifying wasting away to utter destruction, is constantly found in the New Testament." Now the word is found altogether six times in five passages, as we have seen, and Mr. Constable is able to bring forward two not very clear or certain instances of this "constant" use: the first, "no moth corrupteth"; the second, "though our outward man perish."

But it is upon 2 Peter 2:12 that he naturally lays most emphasis: "Speaking of the ungodly, Peter says, 'These, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, shall utterly perish in their own corruption.' Here the same Greek word is used of the end of beasts, and the end of the ungodly. We know what is the end of beasts taken and destroyed: even such, Peter declares, will be the end of the ungodly in the future life: they shall perish there as beasts perish here."

This argument has more appearance of truth in it, than any we have yet had from Mr. Constable. It is however merely fallacious. The true comparison necessitates no such inference. For the point is really just what we have before glanced at, man's loss of the place for which he was originally created and for which his natural constitution fitted him. From this place he perishes, utterly perishes, and is destroyed: he "loses himself and is cast away." This is the natural thing for a "brute beast, made to be taken and destroyed," — to fill a place temporarily, not perpetually. Man, made for eternal occupation of the position assigned to him, perishes like the beast when he forfeits forever and loses this. The comparison with the beast is here sufficiently obvious without its involving the physical extinction which Mr. Constable's materialism would alone suggest.

Two other words, — exolothreuo and olethros — are "properly and primarily significant," says Mr. Constable, "of utter extermination by death. They are applied in the New Testament to the punishment of sinners hereafter: 'Every soul which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people'; 'the wicked shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord' (1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:9)."

The first of these words occurs but once (Acts 3:23); the second is four times used, — three times applied to the destruction of the ungodly. Exolothreuo is given by Liddell and Scott as "to destroy utterly." Olethros is given as "ruin, destruction, death."

A last word, not given by Mr. Constable, is katargeo, to make void, of no effect, to nullify. It is the word translated "destroy" in 1 Cor. 6:13; 1 Cor. 15:26; 2 Thess. 2:8; Heb. 2:14; "come to nought" in 1 Cor. 2:6; "abolish" in 2 Tim. 1:10.

The effect of this inquiry as to Greek is to bring us back to the English, better satisfied than ever to abide by its decision. We have found no cause to quarrel with Dr. Weymouth when he tells us that the Greek words in question mean "destroy" and "destruction." As this is how they are translated in our common version, we may have confidence in it. The question is after all one of simple understanding of some common English words. It takes no uncommon education to arrive at a satisfactory settlement of the question raised. It is worth while to have gone through the Greek to have discovered this. Our readers will go with us with the more assurance and intelligence, that we may adhere in this to our common English version.

Meanwhile, we shall close this chapter with a remark or two on Paul's wish that he were "accursed from Christ for his brethren" — which Mr. Constable brings forward as "an exact parallel to the prayer of Moses already referred to." Not questioning this, our remarks as to that prayer of Moses apply here with equal force. I also agree with him that "an eternal life of blasphemy and moral corruption" was not in Paul's thought, nor implied in the word used, "anathema." It is punishment he was wishing to bear, not "blasphemy and moral corruption." Nor does Paul say," I could wish," as if it were a deliberate thing, but "I was wishing" — an impetuous wish at a certain time when brooding over Israel's terrible condition. To frame a doctrine out of or support one by, the expression of a moment's fervid emotion is to strain Scripture, not interpret it.

But Mr. Constable thinks that his is the only view consistent with "the use of the term 'accursed' among the Greeks, by whom it was applied to any animal devoted to death, and removed out of the sight of man, in order to avert calamity." It is granted fully it is "devoted to destruction," and occurs thus in a passage much more to Mr. C.'s purpose, though quite inadequate for it: "if any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema" (1 Cor. 16:22). But this in no wise shows what the destruction is, of which the animal sacrifice might be a figure. The argument goes too far, for those same animal sacrifices among the Hebrews spoke of Christ, and were equally "devoted to death, and removed out of the sight of man." Did the Lord suffer what Mr. Constable would imply by "utter death"?