Apprehending Apokatastasis: What the Bible Says … and Doesn’t

But that’s not what the Bible says!—a not uncommon cry uttered by many who first encoun­ter the greater hope. If we Christians know anything, we know that the Bible teaches ever­lasting damnation, and we have the verses to prove it. We know that “Jesus taught more about hell than he did about heaven” (J. D. Greear). We know that Jesus spoke more about hell than “all other Biblical authors put together” (Tim Keller). We know that Jesus and St Paul believed “not only that hell is real, but that it is heavily populated” (Dwight Longe­necker). We know that “all of His words about the fate of men in the age to come are em­phatic that hell is eternal, and contain not a hint of universalism” (Lawrence Farley). “Sim­ply put,” pronounces Steven Lawson, “Jesus was a hellfire and damnation preacher.” In conclusion: “To not believe in hell is to not believe in Jesus” (H. B. Charles).

The overwhelming majority of Christians firmly believe that Jesus and his Apostles taught everlasting perdition. 1500 years of tradition has rendered it indubitable. Just pick up one of the standard translations of the New Testament. If believers are to be persuaded that apoka­tastasis is true, weaknesses of the infernalist interpretation of the Scriptures must be ex­posed and an alternative reading persuasively advanced. We need a fresh hermeneutical paradigm that makes compelling orthodox sense of the biblical witness. Biblical scholars and theologians need to do what Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and St Gregory of Nyssa did in the second, third, and fourth centuries.

David Bentley Hart devotes his second meditation in That All Shall Be Saved to the bib­lical witness. In my opinion, this is the weakest chapter in the book. The author’s decision not to include footnotes and not to provide careful exegesis of the key infernalist texts undermines his presentation. Hart knows his ancient Greek, and he knows the New Testa­ment as only a translator can know it; yet the scholarly literature is vast and probably unmasterable. Readers need to know that the author has engaged this literature, and they need to know upon whom he is relying. This is one area upon which Hart cannot simply speak from his own authority and erudition, not if he wishes to convince others.

An example: Hart states that the notion of an eternal hell is “entirely absent from the Pauline corpus, as even the thinnest shadow of a hint” (p. 93). This will come as a surprise to many. What about 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10‽ This passage is often quoted by defenders of the infernalist position, yet Hart fails to mention it. Here’s the RSV translation:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering— since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eter­nal des­truction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (RSV)

The bolded sentence sure seems to speak of an everlasting punishment, and it’s easy to see why those who rely on English translations interpret the text as affirming what we would call damnation. But now compare Hart’s rendering from his translation of The New Testament (DBHT):

A clear indication of the justice of God’s judgment in finding you worthy of God’s Kingdom (on behalf of which you also suffer), since it is just on God’s part to repay those afflicting you with affliction, but you who suffer the affliction with repose in our company at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, along with the angels under his power, in a flaming fire, exacting justice upon those who do not know God and do not heed the good tidings of our Lord Jesus—who will pay the just reparation of ruin in the Age, coming from the face of the Lord and the glory of his might. On that day when he comes to be glorified by his holy ones and to be worshipped with wonder by all those who have been faithful (because our witness to you was trusted). (DBHT)

The bolded sentence reads quite differently. No wonder Hart insists that eternal hell is absent from the Pauline corpus. But he should have quoted the text in the chapter, accompanied by exegesis and argument. As it is, we are only left with his categorically expressed but unsubstantiated opinion that hell is not to be found in the letters of the Apostle.

A similar concern might be made raised regarding Hart’s decision not to provide us with a detailed exegesis of Matt 25:31-46, perhaps the most important infernalist text in the gospels. Compare two verses, as rendered by the RSV and DBHT:

Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (RSV)
Go from me, you execrable ones, into the fire of the Age prepared for the Slanderer and his angels. (DBHT)

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (RSV)
And these will go to the chastening of that Age, but the just to the life of that Age. (DBHT)

Again, very different translations, in this case made possible by the wide semantic range of the adjective aionion/aionios, which derives from the noun aion (“age,” “epoch”). Whereas the RSV has rendered aionion as “eternal,” Hart gives it an eschatological twist: “of the Age,” “of that Age.” Given the context of the last judgment, Hart believes that “aionion punish­ment” need not signify duration of punishment but may intimate the kind of punishment the wicked will suffer (specifically, punishment proper to the final aeon). His translation there­fore leaves open the possibility of corrective, remedial punishment. Similarly, “aionion life” need not be speaking of duration but of the life that belongs to the Kingdom. Its intended meaning, in other words, is qualitative rather than quantitative: it points to the age to come (see “Sometimes Eternity Ain’t Forever“). Hart elaborates:

And so, if one assumes that the teachings recorded in the gospels are indeed faithful transpositions of the Semitic terms he used into their recognized Greek equivalents, then one must ask precisely which of the former lurk behind the latter in the texts of the New Testament. Here, happily, the Septuagint provides something of a guide. In its pages, the words aion and aionios correspond to various forms and uses of the Hebrew ‘olam (or alma in Aramaic), which can mean an “age,”or “epoch,” or a time hidden in the far past or far future, or a “world” or “dispensation,” or even occasionally perhaps “forever,” but which can also mean simply any extended period with a natural term, and not necessarily a particularly long period at that….

No matter how we interpret the discrete terms, however, we must never forget that today the entire ensemble of references that we bring to these phrases is wholly detached from the religious world of Christ’s time, and particularly from its eschatological expectations. It seems absolutely certain, for instance, that the words aion and aionios are frequently used in the New Testament as some kind of reference to the ‘olam ha-ba, “the Age to come,” which is to say the Age of God’s Kingdom, or of that cosmic reality now hidden in God that will be made manifest at history’s end. It seems fairly certain, at least, that in the New Testament, and especially in the teachings of Jesus, the adjective aionios is the equivalent of something like the phrase le-olam [“unto an age”]; and yet it is no less certain that this usage cannot be neatly discriminated from the language of the ‘olam ha-ba without losing something of the special significance it surely possessed in Christ’s time. The issue then is not one of how long, but rather of when, or of what frame of reality—what realm, that is, within or beyond history. (pp. 125-127; my emphasis)

One might add that if the persons who originally translated the sayings of Jesus’ from Aramaic into Greek had wanted to emphasize the perpetuity of punishment, they had other perfectly good words available to them—for example, aidios (“eternal”) and atelevtos (“endless”). In the postscript of his New Testament translation, Hart offers the following lexical information:

The first is that there is a genuine ambiguity in the term in Greek that is impossible to render directly in an English equivalent. Aiōnios is an adjective drawn from the substantive αἰών (aiōn, or aeon), which can sometimes mean a period of endless duration, but which more properly, throughout the whole of ancient and late antique Greek literature, means “an age,” or “a long period of time” of indeterminate duration, or even just “a substantial inter­val.” Its proper equivalent in Latin would be aevum. At times, it can refer to an historical epoch, to a time “long past” or “far in the future,” to something as shadowy and fleeting as the lifespan of a single person (in Homer and the Attic dramatists this is its typical meaning), or even to a considerably shorter period than that (say, a year). It can also, as it frequently does in the New Testament, refer to a particular universal dispensation: either the present world or the world to come or a heavenly sphere of reality beyond our own. Moreover, the adjective aiōnios, unlike the adjective ἀΐδιος (aïdios) or adverb ἀεί (aei), never clearly means “eternal” or “everlasting” in any incontrovert­ible sense, nor does the noun aiōn simply mean “eternity” in the way that the noun ἀϊδιότης (aïdiotēs) does; neither does aiōnios mean “endless,” as ἀτέλευτος (atelevtos) or ἀτελεύτητος (atelevtētos) does; and, in fact, there are enough instances in the New Testament where the adjective or the noun obviously does not mean “eternal” or “eternity” that it seems to me unwise simply to presume such meanings in any instances at all. Where it is used of that which is by nature eternal, God in himself, it certainly carries the connotation that, say, the English words “enduring” or “abiding” would do in the same context: everlasting. But that is a connotation by extension, not the univocal core of the word. (p. 538; see Terms for Eternity by Konstan and Ramelli)

Supporters of eternal perdition may feel that Hart is exploiting a lexical loophole to advance his universalist agenda; but the objection also works the other way, with perhaps even greater plausibility. Whereas Origen and Gregory recognized the polysemy of aionios, and therefore refused to interpret the word in eschatological con­texts as meaning “eter­nal,” other theologians had no problem importing their infernalist commitments back into Scripture itself. The 19th century scholar J. W. Hanson notes that when the Emperor Justinian ordered the patriarch of Constantinople in 543/544 to convene a local synod to condemn the teachings of Origen, he wrote: “The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aiónios (ATELEUTETOS aiónios) life to the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked.” Hanson comments: “Aiónios was not enough in his judgement to denote endless duration, and he employed ateleutetos. This demonstrates that even as late as A. D. 540 aiónios meant limited duration, and required an added word to impart to it the force of endless duration.”

In his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? Hans Urs von Balthasar maintains that Scripture confronts us with two forms of absolute statements, asserting both eternal damnation and universal salvation (the latter significantly outnumbers the former). We must not attempt to reconcile them, he says, but must hold them together in antinomic tension. Hart rejects this tactic and proposes instead a hermeneutic of dual eschatological horizons:

For myself, I prefer a much older, more expansive, perhaps overly syste­matic approach to the seemingly contrary eschatological expectations unfolded in the New Testament—an approach, that is, like Gregory of Nyssa’s or Ori­gen’s, according to which the two sides of the New Testament’s eschatological language represent not two antithetical possibilities tantalizingly or menac­ingly dangled before us, posed one against the other as challenges to faith and discernment, but rather two different moments within a seamless narra­tive, two distinct eschatological horizons, one enclosed within the other. In this way of seeing the matter, one set of images marks the furthest limit of the immanent course of history, and the division therein—right at the threshold between this age and the “Age to come” (‘olamha-ba, in Hebrew)—between those who have surrendered to God’s love and those who have not; and the other set refers to that final horizon of all horizons, “beyond all ages,” where even those who have traveled as far from God as it is possible to go, through every possible self-imposed hell, will at the last find themselves in the home to which they are called from everlasting, their hearts purged of every last residue of hatred and pride. Each horizon is, of course, absolute within its own sphere: one is the final verdict on the totality of human history, the other the final verdict on the eternal purposes of God—just as the judgment of the cross is a verdict upon the violence and cruelty of human order and human history, and Easter the verdict upon creation as conceived in God’s eternal counsels. The eschatological discrimination between heaven and hell is the crucifixion of history, while the final universal restoration of all things is the Easter of creation. (pp. 103-104)

A few pages later he succinctly distinguishes the two horizons:

the more proximate horizon of historical judgment, where the good and evil in all of us are brought to light and (by whatever means necessary) separated; and the more remote horizon of an eternity where a final peace awaits us all, beyond everything that ever had the power to divide souls from each other. (p. 109)

I find this two horizons model suggestive, and I hope that preachers and biblical scholars will take note. As Hart comments, it makes “exceptionally cogent sense of the grand eschatological vision of 1 Corinthians 15. At least, Paul certainly appears to speak there, especially in verses 23-25, of three distinct moments, distributed across two eschatological frames, in the process of the final restoration of the created order of God” (p. 104). Those three moments are (1) the exaltation of Christ, (2) the exaltation of all who are united to Christ, and (3) the Son’s deliverance of the Kingdom to the Father, when God will be all in all. Hart then points us to 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, where Paul describes God’s final judgment upon humanity:

For no one can lay another foundation beside the one laid down, which is Jesus the Anointed. Now, if on this foundation one erects gold, silver, precious stones, woods, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it is revealed by fire, and the fire will prove what kind of work each person’s is. If the work that someone has built endures, he will receive a reward; if anyone’s work should be burned away, he will suffer loss, yet he shall be saved, though so as by fire. (DBHT)

Hart contends that the bolded verses refers to all of humanity, not just the baptized. If Paul believed that there is a third class of people, namely, the eternally damned, he has forgot­ten to mention it.

At this point it may prove fruitful to introduce Douglas Camp­bell’s new book, Pauline Dogmatics, into the conversation. Campbell would disagree with Hart’s reading of 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. In this text, he argues, Paul is speaking only of the baptized. Campbell points us to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, which restricts the general resurrection to the faithful followers of Jesus. As far as unbelievers and the wicked, they suffer absolute annihilation, either at the moment of death or at the glorious return of Christ (1 Thess 5:3; 2 Thess 1:8-9):

Paul seems to have believed that the resurrection is a gift to the loyal followers of Jesus, with only a limited number of folk receiving it. This scenario, essentially of an entirely positive but limited bodily resur­rection, can explain why, on the one hand, he excludes recalci­trant sinners from any part in the future blessed kingdom at all…. But on the other hand, his account of the future kingdom’s consummation is explicitly saving and universal. “Everyone” in the new cosmos will be bending the knee to Christ and confessing him on that glorious day, he says clearly and repeatedly. (pp. 418-419)

But as interesting as a discussion between Campbell and Hart on the question of the general resurrection would be, this is not why I have referenced Pauline Dogmatics. Even though Campbell believes that Paul believed that only the righteous baptized will be resurrected on the last day, he also believes that the core principles of Paul’s theology call into question a restricted resurrection and point toward the salvation of all:

Paul himself was not an explicit universalist. However, I believe we are entitled to suggest that he is one implicitly…. Jesus is qualitatively and quantitatively superior to all of humanity as represented by the story of Adam, not inferior. His story, which is God’s story, must dominate the story of Adam, and not the other way around. Moreover, Paul is explicitly universalist in relation to unbelieving Israel. In view of the tensions in his writing, then, it does seem necessary to push through his deepest insights, which are grounded in the God revealed in Jesus, and let Paul reinterpret Paul. God really is love all the way across and all the way down. The covenant is unbreakable, and it ultimately enwraps us all in the gracious purpose of God that was established with us through his Son before the foundation of the world. (p. 436)

The Apostle Paul—explicit or implicit universalist?

And what about Jesus?

(Go to “Predestinating to Perdition”)

P.S. In my next article I will summarize Hart’s exegesis of Rom 9-11, which he presents in his third meditation.

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96 Responses to Apprehending Apokatastasis: What the Bible Says … and Doesn’t

  1. apoloniolatariii says:

    I haven’t read Campbell’s recent book yet. I know he’s a Barthian, so that interpretation is not surprising. I pretty much think Paul was a universalist (see E.P. Sanders and Robert Jewett on this).

    But I do think that the best verse for an eternal hell (or destruction) for humans is 2 Thess. The best response to this is that it is ambiguous.

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  2. Jeremy Suess says:

    So Douglas Campbell is an annihilationist? I was under the strong impression he’s a universalist.

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  3. Ben says:

    The verse from 2 Thessalonians says nothing about eternal hell no matter how you translate it. The word olethros means destruction or downfall, and usually doesn’t refer to some continuing process.

    Of course , Hart doesn’t believe Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians.

    I think Meditation Two is wonderful. The richness of the theology of time and eternity sort of blew me away.

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  4. Ben says:

    Where does the RSV find the word “exclusion” in the Greek of 2 Thessalonians? Just from the preposition “apo”?

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    • SF says:

      Indeed. The language is actually literarily dependent on a verse from Isaiah, where “from” here suggests *hiding* from God. But in the particular way that 2 Thessalonians quotes this (and also based on other parallels), it’s likely that it means “by means of” here and not “away from.”

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  5. Mike H says:

    Your critique of the 2nd meditation – the absence of footnotes and careful detailed exegesis, no mention of 2 Thessalonians1:5-10, etc. – seems very fair.

    Really though, it doesn’t seem to me to be too far of a stretch to suggest that DBH simply doesn’t think that such exegesis will convince anyone one way or the other because there are other forces at play (maybe best exemplified by the gymnastics that the Calvinist employs to effectively dismiss a far more numerous and less ambiguous set of “all” texts).

    He makes several statements about circular arguments and/or dogmatics similar to this one on p22:

    –“rather, it is that I think most rhetorical engagements on these issues are largely pointless, partly because they are interminably repetitive, but mostly because they have less to do with genuine logical disagreement than with the dogmatic imperatives to which certain of the disputants feel bound. I am convinced that practically no one who holds firmly to the majority tradition regarding the doctrine of hell ultimately does so for any reason other than an obstinate, if largely unconscious, resolve to do so, prompted by the unshakable conviction that faith absolutely requires it.”

    This also seems fair to me. If critics admit ambiguity in the text itself on this issue, that’s just the point at which the pivot to tradition or ecumenical councils or free will or justice, etc. starts. There’s a constant and dynamic process between pulling back to look at the big picture and zooming in to look at the details, each one influencing the other. And hovering in the background of the exegesis is the question, “how could the vast majority of the church, generation after generation, have gotten something like this so wrong for so long?”

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    • TJF says:

      For the less learned, like me, it would have been great to see arguments against the usual verses trotted out against universalism from such a luminous mind as DBHs. I do wish he would’ve went more in depth on exegesis, especially of the infernalist verses. Perhaps in another book.

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      • Mike H says:

        It may also be that a lot of the exegesis has been done elsewhere – there’s a shout out to Ramelli, Talbott, and Reitan/Kronen in the Acknowledgments.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ben says:

          And Hart. Remember, this book is explicitly a supplement to hos NT translation, where he deals with every verse.

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        • SF says:

          It’s a bit odd to say that Hart “deals with every verse.” He *translates* every verse, but offers little interpretation/commentary on any verse in particular.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Given that translation is itself an exercise in exegesis, perhaps we might describe the DBHT as David presenting the final results of his exegetical work. But of course we all want to know how he got where he got. This sharing, of course, is necessary to an acceptance of the DBHT by the wider Church.

          As it stands, it is now up to biblical scholars to constructively engage David’s translational work and test his conclusions. This is a necessary step if the greater hope is ever to be accepted by Christians. We universalists are great at talking in generalities. What we need to become good at is providing compelling, detailed readings of the biblical texts.

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          • SF says:

            I’d say I’m 80% done with the most comprehensive engagement yet with Hart’s interpretation (mainly implicit) of all the cited verses in TASBS. I’ll be posting it by the end of the week, hopefully.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I should add that there are different levels of exegesis and interpretation. Historical-critical exegesis might be described as the ground level, the “neutral” level which all scholars may operate, no matter what their faith. But Christians also engage in allegorical and theological exegesis, which engages Scripture not just as historical artifact but as divine witness. It is this kind of exegesis that is able, e.g., to find the crucified and risen Christ on every page of the Old Testament. I’m not sure where David would locate himself in all of this. I suspect he is doing a combination of both.

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  6. Iain Lovejoy says:

    As far as I can tell in my amateurish way, that is exactly where they get it from. To be fair “apo” can mean “separated from”: what is pure invention is their addition of the word “and” after “aionios destruction” which simply isn’t there. The “out from the presence of the Lord” isn’t a separate thing that happens but rather a description of the destruction. If “apo” meant “separated from” in this context, the passage would be saying that they would suffer a destruction which had nothing to do with God, which is obvious nonsense, so “apo” must mean “from” here.
    FWIW, I think DBH’s own translation is trying too hard to go the other way here by trying to avoid aionios’s basic sense of a long period of time. I’ve followed lots of people’s arguments about what aionios is supposed to mean, and while it is not exact, in almost every case I have seen where it gets used, it’s principle use as an adjective seems to be to indicate that the thing being described is neither short term, with a fixed end date nor intermittent, and in most cases the English word “lasting” (rather than “everlasting”) seems to fit the bill as a translation. In the Thessalonians passage its use seems to be to indicate that the destruction of God’s enemies will be once and for all and final, not that they will be continually destroyed forever.

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    • SF says:

      To add to this a little, the three sort of mega-“categories” that virtually all uses of aionios can be fit into are signifying 1) permanence, 2) a complete amount of time (a la “as long as possible” or some sense of finality, etc.), and 3) endurance. https://i.imgur.com/0x6Xncf.png

      Exceptions are very rare, e.g. when it denotes temporal *frequency* — viz. “constant, continual.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Grant says:

    If I remember correctly in the introduction Haet said the book should be read with and as part of hus New Testament translation which does have the footnotes and references that you ask for. While I can see that since they are in two different books with their own specific purposes amd it fair to say it might be frustrating for someone to necessarily get both, I imagine this is why Hart said this, not wanting to change narrative style half way through.

    And to me at least, St Paul seems a clear universalist if you read conditions in where he gives none (or for that matter his promise that death is defeated and will be destroyed, few if any infernalists deal with what that means without so conditioning what it says (where St Paul is relating it to rescue all creation and all in it, so God can be all in all, to be meaningless and in fact to say the opposite, that death is not destroyed but reigns eternal over parts of creation in either infernalism or annihilationism).

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  8. SF says:

    I posted this on the DBH Facebook group, too, but just in any case anyone is interested:

    Origen himself actually does use ἀτελεύτητος to describe afterlife punishments, parallel/synonymous with αἰώνιος in Selecta in Ezechielem 7.26.

    Neither Origen nor Gregory ever addresses the meaning of adjectival αἰώνιος itself anywhere, as far as I’m aware. At most we can make *inferences*/guess about how they understood it when they employ it, when they do; but as far as I’m aware they don’t actually discuss it explicitly.

    Ramell and Konstan’s contrast of αἰώνιος and other words is also very unusual. Not only is αἰώνιος demonstrably used synonymously to things like (adverbial) ἀεί on dozens and dozens of occasions — even in the Septuagint itself, as I’ve exhaustively catalogued (https://i.imgur.com/IJGfA8k.png) — but elsewhere Ramelli and Konstan themselves understand it to denote permanence on any number of occasions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ben says:

      DBH says I can copy out this part of an email reply to me:

      >>Actually, you don’t need to go far in reading the Greek literature of Greco-Roman Judaism, Christianity, and paganism to figure out that none of the adjectival forms is used with a precise consistent meaning. Sometimes they’re used hyperbolically and sometimes intentionally vaguely. There are times when “apeiros” for example, means “infinite”, but it sometimes just means “innumerable” or “indefinite” (as in Origen’s use in De Principiis, which Rufinus renders as “innumerabilis”). “Atelevton” literally means “endless” but is often used to mean “very very long” or “indefinite” while “aionios” literally means “over an age” or “for a long period” but can be used to mean “eternal”. Isn’t this true of modern usage too, though? “I’m infinitely bored.” “The conference was endless.” “You’re going to jail forever.” “They lived happily ever after.” I’m sorry to say it, but adjectives with a “superlative” tendency are more often than not used as hyperbolic comparatives, not as real superlatives. So being literal-minded here is pointless. The figurative language of exchatology positively bristles with extreme locutions and outlandish images, and Jesus himself never offers a synthesis of the various metaphors. A debtor’s prison and an oven and a wedding party are simply not interchangeable images, nor are the adjectives attached to them interchangeable qualifiers. The point isn’t what one verse would mean if taken literally and isolated from the text as a whole. It’s a matter of how one fits human language into the overall story told in (for example) 1 Corinthians 15, and into the whole logic of scripture. There it helps to focus on the explicit promises, like 1 Corinthians 15:22.<<

      I think Hart is right to focus on the philosophical argument and then invite people to go back and read the text according to his translation or, if possible, in the original.

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      • SF says:

        People don’t find it the least bit hypocritical when he says “being literal-minded here is pointless,” and then proceeds to premise pretty much an entire Biblical theology on (his interpretation of) the literal etymology of this word?

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          SF, if you have read TASBS, as I presume you have, then you know that DBH has not built his biblical theology on the literal etymology of a single word. That’s a silly remark. Let’s avoid silliness in this discussion.

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          • SF says:

            I was ever-so-slightly exaggerating for comedic effect; but so much of this argument about the “horizon of two ages” is understood by Hart to be precisely found and reflected in the morphological components of the word: punishment, etc., taking place “aionios” as “IN the (eschatological) Age,” and not durationally at all (and certainly not permanently).

            In this sense, I’d argue that it’s a lot more essential to some of Hart’s interpretation here than you may realize.

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          • SF says:

            A corollary to this is that most Biblical scholars think that the New Testament authors (and others) conceived of the eschatological age as the true end of history. They wouldn’t have conceived of anything lying “beyond” this at all.

            Yet I’m pretty sure it was precisely the overly literal interpretation of phrases like εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ἐπέκεινα (LXX Micah 4.5; cf. LXX Exodus 15.18 too) by those like Origen that led to this idea in the first place — an idea that Hart seems to perpetuate with varying degree of cognizance.

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          • Ben says:

            SF, most biblical scholars are the products of their traditions. Most repeat one another. Most are secondhand classicists at best. So maybe Origen (and Hart) are right and you’re not being sufficiently suspicious of what “most” say.

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          • SF says:

            I regularly see creationists saying much same thing about mainstream scientists, too.

            If you have an actual counter-argument that substantively addresses the various points I’ve raised and doesn’t just rely on throwing experts under the bus, lets hear it. Until then, I’m inclined to group you with the creationists.

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          • Ben says:

            I haven’t seen substantial points. I’ve seen assertions. I am myself a classicist, not a New Testament scholar, but I am keenly aware of the variety of uses made of words like aionios and aion, and in the NT I know there is a two ages discourse throughout.

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          • SF says:

            Every argument that’s made is an “assertion” of sorts, and could be dismissed on that basis if someone didn’t want to take the time to address it.

            In any case, the most significant thing here is the fact that no one — neither Hart nor anyone else — has been able to offer a single corroborating citation in the entirety of ancient Greek literature where there are contextual markers (or any evidence whatsoever) that αἰώνιος plausibly denotes the specific eschatological αἰών to come, as opposed to its actually attested senses.

            Certainly none of the existing Greek lexicons cite anything to this effect. Neither has my own lexicographical entry, which is by far the most detailed one on αἰώνιος that’s been produced to date: https://i.imgur.com/nK594rc.png (this is just the top few paragraphs; there’s a lot more below that I didn’t screencap).

            This lacuna could of course be filled in the next 3 words uttered in this conversation, if someone could just offer a single citation for this.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            SF, did you say you are publishing a review of Hart’s book soon? Where and when can we expect that?

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          • SF says:

            Well, for the time being, I’m not necessarily going to submit it for publication; and it’s not of the book as a whole, but just the section on universalism in the New Testament (mainly the catena of verses he cites). I’m going to post it the same place I posted the first part on eschatological damnation (semitica.wordpress.com) — and I hope I should have it finished in the next four or five days.

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          • Ben says:

            That’s the point, isn’t it? Not that the word means that out of any context? That one of the uses of aionios (anent an age, for an age, epochal) in the context of the two age language of the NT perhaps refers to the age to come? That would make sense of context, of odd usages, of retro-fitting itto Aramaic, of apocalyptic tradition, and so forth. You’re not making an interesting argument because you’re not actually responding to what Hart is saying. You’re making a boringly obvious observation about lexicography whereas the argument of Hart and others has to do with a specific textual employment. Within the terminology of the synoptics on this age and the age to come, what is the “age” of the “age-ian” reference? What is going on in Luke.18:30? It amazes me that you seem not to know that this is an old issue in biblical studies. Even many scholars who would go with “eternal” in that verse argue that “eternal” is inferred from the nature of the olam haba and not vice-versa. You are not making an argument relevant to the specific issue Hart is talking about in biblical studies. No dictionary covers the special application of a term in every conceptual setting. What you’re saying is not interesting and not a valid critique.

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          • Ben says:

            By the way, Hart’s translation “of the Age” is intentionally vague. As he says, he sees aionios as perhaps referring to the last age or to the divine aeon above or as meaning for a long time or eternity. He actually doesn’t decide on one meaning–that’s why he doesn’t render it “of the Age to come.”

            As for Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30, it’s pretty clear that it would be hard to write those verses without there being some explicit lexical connection between the aion to come and the aionios life it brings.

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          • SF says:

            What a shocker — turns out I haven’t grossly missed this point, and actually addressed issues like that at great length; for example:

            // Elsewhere in Biblical literature, there seems to have been no concern about using at least αἰών and αἰώνιος in the same sentence: cf. Mark 3.29; 10.30; John 4.14. In the first and last examples, the idiomatic sense of εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα as signifying permanence is obvious and otherwise well-attested,[12] ruling out the possibility of αἰών (much less αἰώνιος) signifying a particular era here, contra both Ramelli and Hart.[13] In the middle example of Mark 10.30, ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζωὴν αἰώνιον, the eschatological era is clearly signaled by the specification of the αἰών “to come.” The occurrence of the same root in αἰώνιος here may be incidental, or more speculatively the product of wordplay (viz. polyptoton); but in any case, using this simple co-occurrence of roots to reanalyze αἰώνιος in terms of signifying the eschatological era — in a way that, again, seems to be completely unprecedented in any other ancient literature — is highly unwarranted.[14]

            Beyond the general lack of attestation for this meaning, making any substantive connection between “αἰών to come” and αἰώνιος in Mark 10.30 in terms of both signifying a specific era would seem to invest the sentence with a redundancy that accords strangely with this differing terminology. Even in English translation, Hart can only capture something of a tolerable reading by rendering ζωή αἰωνία as if it were ἡ ζωή (τοῦ) αἰῶνος ἐκείνου, with his imagined “that” implicitly referring back to the previously specified “αἰών to come.”[15] This syntactically unwarranted interpretation only mitigates the redundancy on one level, though; and in any case it doesn’t change the fact that the distinct signification of everlasting life would also supply more information here, in terms of the imperishability awaiting the righteous beyond any temporary livelihood. This in effect brings us back to the Maccabean literature, too, where e.g. 4 Maccabees 15.2–3 also frames everlasting life very much in contrast to temporality (and in relation to ἀθανασία elsewhere) — as αἰώνιος does in places like 2 Corinthians 4.18–5.1, too. //

            https://semitica.wordpress.com/2020/01/20/eternal-punishment-in-the-septuagint-and-new-testament-a-response-to-ilaria-ramelli-and-david-bentley-hart/

            Also, if you had bothered to glance at my lexical entry, I don’t see how you could possibly presume that I didn’t know that the meaning of a word is established based on its contextual signification.

            Liked by 1 person

          • SF says:

            I’ll also note that in my original comment which included my lexical entry, I explicitly said “…where there are contextual markers (or any evidence whatsoever) that αἰώνιος plausibly denotes the specific eschatological αἰών to come, as opposed to its actually attested senses.” (Note “contextual markers,” etc.)

            In any case, the reduction of αἰώνιος to “of the Age” isn’t just some neutral, objective rendering, but a particular interpretive choice — and one that’ can appear strangely similar to the sort of etymological fallacies that first-year seminary Greek students learn about. This applies even (and in the case of things like Mark 10.30, perhaps *especially*) when we duly note that there was a well-known idea in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament of two cosmic eras.

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          • Ben says:

            Once again you demonstrate you don’t get it. you have the answer. The constant eschatological context of the two ages doctrine is the marker you’re demanding. All the eschatological imagery of the text is saturated in the disjunction between the ages. A verse like those in Mark and Luke that explicitly juxtapose the aion to come and the modifier make the issue clear.

            As for your lexical compendium, fine cumulative scholarship. But that is not the same thing as interpretive acuity.

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          • SF says:

            That also isn’t to skip over what you’ve said about the general “two age” idea that we all acknowledge was prevalent in Second Temple Judaism. It’s simply to not read that into the morphological components of this particular word just because there happens to be etymological interface between this and the αἰών to come. (Again, unless you want to build your argument more specifically from, say, Mark 10.30.)

            And I was in fact a lot more specific about the perils of doing so elsewhere:

            // Αἰώνιος had likely by the fifth century BCE entered the standard Greek lexicon; and as reflected in my extended lexicographical entry, there are no attested instances in non-interpretive literature which the adjective can be understood to evoke αἰών as an “era” in a historical periodization scheme, or otherwise. When this is appreciated alongside the fact that adjectival עוֹלָם in Hebrew and עָלַם in Aramaic already regularly signified permanence and perpetuity (and wherein αἰώνιος functioned as the adjectival equivalent of לעולם in Greek; cf. Hart, New Testament, 542–43), seeing it as signifying the eschatological era already circumvents its well-established natural meaning for both Hellenized and Jewish audiences.

            To propose not only that, upon encountering αἰώνιος, hearers and readers might have disregarded the universally received meaning of the term in Greek literature — deconstructing it to find a particular denotation of αἰών as an era, and from here understanding this to implicitly suggest the very specific future era of late Jewish eschatology —, but also that the standard modifying adjectival form itself can be easily understood and translated as something like a locative adverbial clause (e.g. seeing ἔνοχός αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος as “answerable for a transgression in the Age” or ὄλεθρος αἰώνιος as “ruin in the Age”), simply has too many explanatory disadvantages to be even remotely plausible; and in many senses this can be said to run against fundamental principles of lexicography and general linguistics. //

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          • DBH says:

            Ben

            Thanks, but SF is not going to get your point. He’s arguing tautologously, you’re arguing conceptually. Either one thinks the NT idiom of “ages” inflects “aionios” and suggests a particular reference or one doesn’t. So who cares?

            I will confirm one point you made. If SF had read my notes to my translation with care, he would have seen that I do not claim that “aionios” in the New Testament is a clear reference to the olam ha-ba, but only that such an association is in keeping with the two ages language in the synoptics and Paul. Neither was my translation meant—again, as should be clear from my notes—to suggest that the only reading on offer was a reference to the coming age. I take “of the Age” to be open to numerous readings: for an age, for the totality of chronos that the aeon comprises, eternal or indeterminately long, of the Age to Come, of the divine aeon of the superlunary or supercelestial realms, of the Age Above as opposed to the Age of the Cosmos, and so on. And, as I also said, I wanted a phrase that would preserve the echo and seeming association between the language of the two ages and the adjective (understood as a rendering of an Aramaic idiom).

            I do not, incidentally, think that aionios means the same thing in John as in the synoptics. I also think there are Pauline uses that fit neither model.

            But, again, who cares? SF’s argument is that this has not been the way of dealing with intertestamental or NT texts, which is a tautology. I agree with a handful of NT scholars whose arguments are speculative and based on their own understandings of the intertestamental, NT, and late antique rabbinic texts. No one can win an argument between prejudice and speculation.

            And of course the book’s argument remains untouched by this debate.

            Liked by 1 person

          • SF says:

            Ben: if your argument is that the eschatological connotation of αἰώνιος in Mark 10.30 is established by its proximity to αἰών alone… unless there’s something *else* to corroborate the probability of this interpretation, I can’t see it as anything other than question-begging.

            And I have no idea why you’d think some of the specific counter-arguments that I already offered against this are somehow irrelevant — about ζωή αἰωνία in Mark 10.30 being anarthrous (vis-à-vis Hart’s translation, etc.); about the possibility of polyptoton here, without entailing any other semantic significance; about the particular salience of immortality/imperishability in this context (which certainly wouldn’t *require* any additional connotation involving eschatological chronology).

            Not to mention the fact that even if one *could* establish this as a probable meaning here, you’d still need other arguments if you wanted to extrapolate this to other uses of αἰώνιος where there is no such proximity.

            Finally, I’ve offered a more detailed rejoinder to Hart’s comment that I’m replying to, as well as to some of what you said: https://semitica.wordpress.com/2020/02/07/the-multivalence-of-ai%d0%ben-and-ai%d0%benios-in-the-new-testament-a-rejoinder-to-david-bentley-hart/

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  9. For me, I read the Bible, and so much of it appeared to be, at least almost, promising universalism. “A time is coming, and is now come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and those that hear will live.” “The gift is much greater than the trespass… If, by the transgression of the one man, the many died, how much more, by the obedience of the one man, will the many be made alive.” “Every knee will bow, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” “He is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” This is what comes to my mind in a minute while I type.

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  10. Maximus says:

    To your question, Father, whether the Apostle was an explicit or implicit universalist: If he is one, it would seem to be implicit. He writes quite clearly that some people will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–10; Gal 5:19–21; Eph 5:5). Maybe he’s being inconsistent with his other (alleged) universalist statements, or maybe the above texts speak of Hart’s “first horizon” judgment. I personally think it’s neither, but simply to answer your question: if Paul is a universalist, this teaching resides somewhere deeper, under the surface of his more apparent doctrine.

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    • David says:

      Maximus, do you really think those verses are as obviously inconsistent with Paul’s apparent universalism elsewhere as you claim? Speaking personally, I have only ever read those particular verses as stating the necessary conditions of entering the Kingdom, not as permanently excluding anyone i.e. one cannot enter the Kingdom while doing X or Y, but this does not imply that anyone remains doing X or Y forever. Only the most pitifully literal reading of the verse could hold otherwise: after all, the verse excludes murderers from the Kingdom, but Paul himself is a murderer! I can honestly say that, not being a natural universalist at all, that has always been the plain meaning of the text to me, driven by no presuppositions of the greater hope at all (I took eternal hell pretty much for granted before I read the Bible more widely). It might also be worth mentioning that these verses have come up in conversation with at least a few dozen people, teachers of theology and biblical studies numbered among them, and not one has thought they teach that anyone will be permanently excluded – we’re aware of the view of course, but I had to say I thought it was pretty much limited to a very particular type of North American evangelical, but I guess not (I don’t mean infernalism generally, just thinking that those particular verses teach it). Anyway, all of that is anecdotal and by no means proves that the verse categorically does not teach some will be eternally excluded, but I hope this shows that the plain meaning of the text may not be so obvious as you think it is, and that it rather overstates the case to claim that Paul ‘quite clearly’ endorses the positions your hermeneutic ascribes to him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • SF says:

        I think your account about personal experiences of Biblical scholars can be a little misleading. The overwhelming majority of Biblical scholars, religious and secular, still see the contrast of salvation and damnation/destruction in the New Testament within the same framework as that of the same binaries in Second Temple Judaism (and beyond) more broadly.

        Yeah, whenever we see something like “those who steal won’t inherit the age to come,” obviously this is above all trying to exhort guilty audiences to *repent* of their theft, etc. But this also certainly isn’t just the same thing as saying “theft won’t exist in the age to come.”

        Now, the idea that our earthly lives offer a finite amount of time for any sinners/wicked to repent, and that death represents the *end* of that opportunity, is perhaps most well-known from later patristic theology. But it actually has several expressions in Second Temple Judaism itself, too, and seems to be implicit in a number of New Testament eschatological texts as well.

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        • David says:

          I agree that the verses are saying more than just “theft won’t exist in the age to come” – they are also saying “you need to stop committing theft, you need to repent committing theft, in order to inherit the age to come.” What the verse says nothing at all about though, in my view, is whether the possibility of repentance is closed off at the end of this life, or whether or not God has the will and the means to turn all to repentance eventually.

          On the question of biblical scholarship, I didn’t mean to imply that the majority don’t recognise some kind of eschatological dualism between heaven and hell, but just that none of the individuals I’ve spoken to felt those particular verses clearly taught that anyone would be permanently excluded form the age to come.

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          • Maximus says:

            David, these verses do indeed teach that repentance is closed of at a certain point, namely, whenever the inheritance of the Kingdom is given. Whenever the Father apportions the Kingdom to His children, the people who practice these vices will not share in this inheritance. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9). The moment of inheritance for some (the righteous) will be the moment of exclusion for others (the unrighteous).

            A different question pertains to whether individual physical death locks one into a certain eternal trajectory. The Church teaches that *prior to the Final Judgment,* many more souls may be reconciled to God through the prayers of the Church, by God’s grace, through faith and repentance.

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          • Maximus says:

            By the way, “the moment” when the inheritance will be given is variously identified in the NT as the Lord’s Second Coming, “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Pet 1:4-7). At this point, all will give a *final* account of their lives.

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      • TJF says:

        Same here. Even as an infernalist, I took it to mean be a pretty banal statement, almost a tautology. You can’t be sinning in heaven pretty much. Only the pure of heart can see God. Not that if you’ve ever done these things you would be forever excluded, or we’d all be thrown out. I guess if you read those in conjunction with the idea that if you don’t repent before you die you are doomed then together you can get eternal hell, but it isn’t there in just those statements by themselves. It’s just the usual avoid evil and pursue good speech, to me anyways.

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        • SF says:

          I think 1 Corinthians 6.11 is unambiguously clear that it isn’t suggesting “if you’ve ever done these things you would be forever excluded.” At the same time, though, I think it also attests to the idea that being “washed” was of paramount importance at what was thought to be the (imminent) end of history, and that it was precisely one’s repentant choice here that secured salvation.

          Incidentally, “washing” is also the operative metaphor for repentance in the final chapters of Revelation — where it couldn’t be any clearer that the unrighteous who weren’t found in the “book of life” were to be annihilated in the second death.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ben says:

            And yet then the gates are opened and those outside are invited in. So maybe “annihilated” is your reading.

            I actually agree with Hart that Revelation is a political allegory about the end of Rome. I don’t think it has any literal eschatological significance at all. It’s about a warrior messiah conquering the gentiles. So interpret it however you like.

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          • SF says:

            And here all discourse and interpretation collapses into delightful relativism.

            But hey, if you’ve developed a sophisticated interpretation of Revelation, I’d be more than happy to hear about it.

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          • Ben says:

            Actually, a great many very good NT scholars read Revelation as a political allegory in apocalyptic mode, about the overthrow of Rome, the restoration of Jerusalem, and the conquest of the gentiles by a messiah now identified with Jesus. If you read it that way, it makes very good sense.

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          • SF says:

            By the same token, the majority of scholars don’t *reduce* it to events that may (or may not) have been fulfilled in the first century; and they also affirm that despite some of its imagery which is clearly figurative, it expresses any number of standard and truly eschatological expectations; especially in the final chapters.

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          • Ben says:

            And again you demonstrate you don’t get it. The constant eschatological context of the two ages doctrine is the marker you’re demanding. All the eschatological imagery of the text is saturated in the disjunction between the ages. A verse like those in Mark and Luke that explicitly juxtapose the aion to come and the modifier make the issue clear.

            As for your lexical compendium, fine cumulative scholarship. But that is not the same thing as interpretive acuity.

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        • Maximus says:

          TJF, I agree with you that Paul doesn’t mean, “if you’ve ever done these things you will be forever excluded.” Good point – because we’d all be excluded from the Kingdom.

          But neither does Paul basically mean that there is no sinning in heaven. In all three of those texts, he employs terms of inheritance, implying that one’s life now—repentant or not—has implications for one’s future relation to the Kingdom. In other words, he is teaching that when the Father finally apportions the inheritance (i.e. the Kingdom) to His children, those who have not repented form these sinful ways of life will be excluded.

          “I warn you, as I previously warned you, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21)

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          • TJF says:

            To which I would respond that no good universalist believes you don’t have to repent to get into the Kingdom. We just believe all eventually will.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            TJF is right, Maximus. All Christian universalists assert divine judgment (which is always a judgment of absolute love, mercy, and restorative justice) and the necessity of personal transformation and repentance (however God chooses to accomplish it). For a very good presentation of this, see “The Severity of Universal Salvation.”

            Liked by 2 people

          • Maximus says:

            Fr Aidan and TJF,

            Agreed. I do not dispute that claim at all. The point I wish to make is that such repentance and personal transformation must occur *before* the Father apportions the inheritance of the Kingdom to His children. At that time, some will inherit the Kingdom and others, those who have not repented, won’t inherit the Kingdom. The timing at which this inheritance is given is crucial: the inheritance “kept in heaven for you” will be revealed “in the last time,” specifically, “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (see 1 Pet 1:4-7). Thus, at the Second Coming, Paul’s words about some people not inheriting the Kingdom will be fulfilled. If one is a universalist, and seeks to be consistent with these apostolic teachings, it would seem necessary that all be saved *before* the multiplex event of the Second Coming, at which the dead will be raised, the Final Judgment will be issued, and the inheritance of the Kingdom will be apportioned by the Father. If unrighteous persons fail to repent of the vices enumerated by Paul before that point, they shall not inherit the Kingdom.

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      • Maximus says:

        Sorry for the confusion, David. My understanding is that those sinful persons Paul mentions can certainly repent and enter the Kingdom. But those who don’t, won’t.

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        • markbasil says:

          Hello Maximus;
          I wrote a lengthy reply to your position variously expressed in the comments thus far. Out of love for the Orthodox Tradition which I’m disappointed to see you misrepresenting so far, I am of a mind to post it publicly.

          However, it’s so easy for me to give in to the desire to just argue and be triumphant over you. I do not trust myself and feel uneasy posting it publicly. (I’ve had it waiting for a couple of days, not sure to post or not.) I have instead such a primacy of care for genuine change of heart (in us all), and for actual communion between you and me as brothers. And I find it so difficult to connect in this sort of forum, at a level that really respects the whole of your personhood. I’ve decided I will not post it publically. Let others judge as they will if you have truly represented the witness of the Orthodox Church on this.
          Would you be open to a private email?
          You can reach me at: man or they [all one word] at gmail dot com.

          With love in the truth who is Christ;
          -Mark Basil

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          • Maximus says:

            markbasil, forgive me if I have scandalized you or anyone else here. I will contact you presently and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. eandrewschenk says:

    Re the eschatological horizons and the “of when and of what frame of reality”, I don’t recall that DBH said anything regarding the destruction of the temple, did he? This would have been fruitful, in my opinion, as part of a more thorough examination of the scriptures as suggested above.

    History was completely tied to the fate of the temple for many if not all variants of Judaism in the 1st century, as far as I know. The temple WAS the eschatological horizon. It may have also been much more significant for the apostolic church than has been generally recognized and in a way that directly influences how we understand universal salvation.

    For example, I found The Temple and the Gospel of Mark by Timothy Gray to be fairly convincing in demonstrating that the Day of the Lord may in a true sense have actually occurred when the temple was destroyed. You’ll have to read book, the Gospel of Mark is actually a highly sophisticated world of its own. Anyway, if this is correct, and if St Matthew follows and expands upon St Mark as he undoubtedly does, then the Shepherd may have started separating the sheep from goats around 70 AD. Just a thought.

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    • Grant says:

      I think he did touch on this approach and the strength of this position (that of much if not all judgement passages being apocalyptic language in the prophetic tradition warning of the Temple and Jerusalem’s coming destruction of the Lord’s warning was not headed, having particular resonance with Jeremiah). That these passages could refer wholly to this and having no reference beyond this to the final judgement or of the coming destruction being the main focus and horizon in view (and know some significant biblical scholars hold a version of this position).

      In this case we already have two horizons in view no matter our further position, but anyway yes Hart did both acknowledge this position and stated the strength of it’s argument.

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  12. Pingback: What is Eternal: God or Rewards and Punishment? – Forging Ploughshares

  13. sybrandmac says:

    It seems to me that the concept of eternal perdition is defended most fanatically by Protestants.
    “Escape Protestantism, and you will be saved.” (2 Romans 10:9)

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  14. Pingback: The Multivalence of Aiо̄n and Aiо̄nios in the New Testament: A Rejoinder to David Bentley Hart | Semitica

  15. Chris Tilling says:

    Hey Al, great job and you really ask the right questions. Three points:

    1) ‪I’m not sure the reading of aionion presented by Hart is “eschatological” (simply alert to ‬semantics)
    2) polysemy is one option, so I’m wondering how the recent trend to monosemy will impact this debate.
    3) you write: ‘and, in fact, there are enough instances in the New Testament where the adjective or the noun obviously does not mean “eternal” or “eternity” that it seems to me unwise simply to presume such meanings in any instances at all’.

    I’d hesitate to group the NT texts together like this. I’d prefer to keep it focused on specific writers and how they use the language (I’m still digesting the insights of relevance theory, which would be relevant here)

    Great job with all this, thanks for helping us think things through more clearly

    Liked by 1 person

  16. mercifullayman says:

    What if ultimately everyone is arguing over a semantic point in which both could be correct? One thing I’ve been hung up on in the root passage of 1 Cor. 15 lies in the phrase “all in all.” I think about God’s existence as the root of being as DBH discusses in The Experience of God…and I think about creation and the constant creative act, as well as torment, if it is to cease, would almost have to in some way, necessitate the “eternal” life ending in the finality of submission to be “all in all.” In some weird way, I can’t help but keep coming back to God returning to a prior state before Creation…To the fully realized self/all that He enjoys. Not in some dialectical/process way, but merely the ultimate fullness indwelling within Itself through a final creative act. The tormented would cease to be tormented precisely because all would be enveloped in the famous “No-Thing” of the culmination of souls experiencing his Love through purification, as the blessed would already be enraptured into what is already the blissful arms of the Love they chose to accept/recognize within the world. The Godhead would be resplendent in its ultimate fullness….creative potential realized and actualized back to itself. A complete circle so to say

    Maybe that’s to “Nirvana”-esque in my amateurish mind but it seems that if we are to talk about submission for something to be all in all, it’d have to lead to a final complete act. What would existence be after that final Act but what it already is…. Also, as God is outside Time….why would a term like aionios even matter in either respect. Eternity is still time bound to the decision of the root of Being…even if it is a continual “Now”….an “Age” is still counting down for even those who will ultimately come to the knowledge of the truth. In essence, God could torment someone so long that even the final reprieve of that the final moment could the consummation so that the freedom of release would only be the submission that Chris makes.It literally, could be/feel like, eternity.

    I don’t know….Just wondering where it all ultimately leads.

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    • NicholasofKentucky says:

      I’ve been thinking along similar lines lately myself. The story of creation in Genesis with God’s “truly good” comment in the 1st chapter, and the seeming “half-in-half-out” that it becomes in the 2nd chapter with regards to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil seem to me to point this way. I’ve also wondered if the Parable of the Vineyard Owner couldn’t be read this way, in that no real vineyard owner would think it to be a “good” idea to pay all the workers the same wage. Perhaps this suggests that Jesus comes not only to destroy evil, but also evil perceptions about what goodness really is (i.e., so much of what we think of as being “good”). Another avenue that could be possible is to say that the “aionios life” does have an end, and that end is God. This seems to me to be how Origen reads it; an end which can be the only end that is itself eternal.

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  17. Bill K says:

    Hello F KImel,

    I stumbled onto this site and am enjoying it. The eastern orthodox view of Hell, as I have come to understand is that it is eternal in duration, but that both the righteous and the unrighteous will spend eternity in Gods presence (tormented in the presence of the Lamb). Both groups will be engulfed by the consuming fire of Gods love, but the unrighteous will experience it as torment.

    Being Greek Orthodox myself, it just seems to me that this description suggests the church has Apocatastasis “on the tip of its tongue”, even as it condemns it as heresy repeatedly.

    Your thoughts?

    Thanks!

    Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  18. mercifullayman says:

    Has anyone else read Ignatius Green’s intro to the Nyssen “Catechetical Discourse?” He has some interesting commentary on how “universalist” the great Saint may have been or not been based on what text you read and his historical context . He makes a good case for reading him as either view, dependent upon the text you’re reading. He uses a lot of examples spread across the whole Nyssen corpus to make that point. Just curious if anyone else has taken a look and what their thoughts were?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Yes, I have and have reached out to two respected patristic scholars to ask them what they think of Green’s thesis. Both of them disagree with him and the handful of other scholars (and it really seems to be just a handful) who are advancing this view. One cannot help but wonder whether it’s the texts that are driving this revisionist reading of St Gregory or the desire to reconcile him with the dogmatic tradition.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mercifullayman says:

        I didn’t really take it as him reclaiming either position, but more trying to promote some “balance” to the conversation. The only claim I disagreed with was the assertion that you couldn’t really read him systematically. To have such a great intellect, he has to have a system. That would be a bit wild to think of someone with such a title and stature as just an occasion specific thinker. There has to be a consistency. Although, Green does do a good job of at least “selling” a potential narrative based on how he interprets those hand selected texts out of context. I noticed he thanked Behr….I figured he’d have something to say about it, as I know he leans towards the universalist reading of Nyssa.

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        • DBH says:

          There is no other reading of Gregory. He was explicitly and lavishly universalist in his theology. More so than Origen, in fact. So explicitly universalist, in fact, that no real scholarly debate is possible. At most, one can isolate the odd phrase or word in his writing that–in abstraction from the context of his entire oeuvre–could be taken as contrary to universalism (one use of the word “apeiron” to mean “indefinite,” one or two conventional phrases, and so on). But that is true of every theologian. In his greatest treatises touching on the matter, he declared his universalist vision without ambiguity and without restraint: De Anima et Resurrectione, In Illud: Tunc Ipse Filius, De Hominis Opificio, Oratio Catechetica, and so on. Don’t be led astray by tiny factions trying to advance a tendentious reading for obviously bad reasons.

          Liked by 2 people

          • mercifullayman says:

            Thank you for the response DBH, and I am sincerely prayerful for you in times that seem somewhat tenacious and tedious from all angles. I, too, reached your final sentence’s conclusion. I just found it odd for someone to try and de-systematize someone whose sole basis seems to be to systematize a whole belief set and defend the faith “systematically” during his life. It isn’t like he’s getting called before Councils for no reason after all. I’d venture to suggest that he couldn’t theologize/philosophize in any other way than what we have and see from his corpus of work. It may be an appeal to authority, but I find it fascinating that we all look at these guys in such a high light on everything from the Trinity, to Christology and more, and yet suddenly, much like people are saying about you, that they’ve lost their minds for no other reason than they reached a speculative conclusion they’ve backed up with reason and fact. I just merely shake my head and ask, what is truth then?…If people can trust these giants in one respect, why are people so quick to try and negate them in another? This whole debate reeks of a scab wound being peeled off as the slavery debates in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

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          • mercifullayman says:

            Also wanted to add, that if you read Green’s translation of the Discourse, he still translates those phrases so that they still appeal to the Universalist view. So he’s at least allowing the Greek to hold true to the overall sentiment….his preface is just odd for trying to balance him out. It’s like he thought no one was going to read the actual translation, just the introduction.

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          • eandrewschenk says:

            Dr. Hart, to use words you have used many times on this blog, who cares? What does it matter whether St Gregory was thoroughly Universalist or not? Yes, everyone is eager to affirm what is accurate in an scholarly sense. But aren’t we just restoring antique furniture when we do so? Does the truth, the faith, really hinge on what St Gregory taught? I gather by your response that you believe it does.

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          • DBH says:

            Eandrew

            Obviously not. A silly comment. I am interested in good scholarship.

            Like

          • eandrewschenk says:

            The argument of your book is completely convincing with or without St Gregory. Im glad it was made, thank you. But your main appeal to church tradition, to the extent it exists at all, seems to be one to St Gregory as a universalist standard of the faith. Is this wrong? Clearly that identifier has some meaning to you, and that your argument doesnt exist only in the realm of ideas disembodied from history. Otherwise, why would you reapond to one of your reviewers that they need to “become Orthodox”. When you say that, i cant figure out what you might have in mind other than they embrace the vision of St Gregory. This is what i mean by everything hinges on St Gregory for you (as a badge of Orthodoxy, not the argument in your book per se) and to the extent it does, then it matters a great deal that St Gregory’s universalism be properly understood. And of course St Gregory was thoroughly universalist and everyone can be happy that the scholarship proves this.

            But, as the foxhole from which you fight off Thomists, Calvinists, and fundamentalist converts has clearly been identified as “O”rthodox, then it is legitimate to ask what that means. Did you have something else in mind other than St Gregory? The Orthodox Faith which sprung up around the tail end of the reign of the Romanovs perhaps?

            Like

          • TJF says:

            eandrewschenk, this seems like a very weird and unfitting place and time to have a Protestant bashing of Orthodox ecclesiology.

            Like

          • eandrewschenk says:

            Seems like an honest discussion to me about what it means to honestly identify as Orthodox. I have in fact been Orthodox for several decades. My experience has been that the Orthodox Church does not wear it’s ecclesiology or it’s eschatology in a consistent fashion. There are many reasons to convert to the Orthodox Church. Orthodox eschatology seems to perhaps be the least stable of these reasons.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            eandrews, as a general rule we avoid extended disputes about our respective denominational traditions. There are plenty of other sites around the web where such discussions take place. Obviously, our ecclesiological commitments inform our interpretation of Scripture and dogmatic commitments. Eclectic Orthodoxy is a safe space where we can be honest and upfront about them without being either attacked or proselytized. Dr Hart is of course free to talk about Orthodoxy, if he so chooses; but he is also free not to.

            Liked by 1 person

          • eandrewschenk says:

            I apologize. I meant my comments to be directed to assumptions and assertions Dr. Hart made in his book and in the discussion about the book that ensued after its publication. I also meant them to be part of a conversation going back to when you posted your essay “What is Orthodox hell?”, not to be personal attacks on Dr. Hart. But they weren’t made in the right spirit anyway. Please feel free to delete the posts.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Lord, man–context. The “become Orthodox” line was directed at Peter Leithart and concerned solely the question of scriptural exegesis. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the question of universalism. I was saying that he needed to stop reading the Bible as a fundamentalist literalist (which Peter, whom I’ve known for many years, happens to be), because it is an incoherent approach to scripture.

            Taking a phrase from a conversation entirely out of context and applying it to entirely different issues is simply bad form. Keep proceeding in that fashion and you may have to start writing for First Things.

            Liked by 1 person

          • eandrewschenk says:

            I did indeed take that out of context, my apologies.

            Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Can a Loving God Send People to Hell? | The Redwood Center for Spiritual Care & Education

  20. mercifullayman says:

    No one happens to have any downloaded pdfs on Julian of Eclanum do they? I’m behind the cart here, but I’d love to read more about this guy, as he seems to be coming to many of the same conclusions of Gregory, probably on his own. Besides, I’d like to experience more of the the guy who was the thorn in Augustine’s side. To pay for all of those subscriptions as a non-college student these days would break the bank.

    Anyone else know much about the guy? Seems he may have had some of the same conclusions that we discuss here.

    Also to eandrew…Isn’t all speculation that becomes dogma or accepted teaching ultimately hinged upon consensus? I mean, take the above mentioned material, Augustine was reaching back to try and use the fathers to justify his own viewpoints on Original Sin via translation, and that worked for many in the West…hence the prevalence of consensus in the west we all see . Regardless of the detriment, his own intellect knew he had to have that credence to stand. The use of the Nyssen as an anchor for a perspective merely gives a starting point of consensus. No one wants to stand alone without some form of intellectual assent that is generally accepted as true. DBH merely seems to be leaning towards that idea, IMO. Orthodoxy, uniquely, makes claims that are held to be true via consensus (read apostolic succession, right?). Why else appeal to councils, patristics, and more? If any claim is to be true about Orthodoxy, it seems that you’d want the founders of the essential ideas we all assent to (Trinity, Christology, etc) to be on your side. I don’t really see the issue with his deference there? If I’m understanding you correctly, I may not be.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      As it happens, I invoke no one as an authority and take my stand on no particular ecclesial tradition. I speak of Gregory as I do simply because I happen to think he got it right. He has always been the pater patrum for me. Even as a student at Cambridge, my M.Phil. thesis was on Gregory’s universalism. But the only authority I draw upon in TASBS, apart from scripture as read through the theologians I most admire, is the authority of logic and moral intelligence. I am, it turns out, a rationalist. Who knew? (And yet I still believe in fairies and continue to believe the Orioles will win another championship in my lifetime.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • mercifullayman says:

        I can only imagine the immense weight of what an Oriole fandom, particularly post-Cal has entailed. At least your fervor and commitment runs deep. I’d believe in the fae too if only for the solace of joy during and post-baseball season. 🙂

        I understand your point. I also was not trying to speak for you, I just didn’t seem to find the issue with general consensus to be an issue. If someone finds support for a rationale, and it is grounded, processed, and sound, what is the ultimate issue in dealing with them as a point of credence was all I was pointing towards. My intellectual pebbles merely litter the ground when surrounded by mountains on every side. I’m just glad I get to be a part of the scenery.

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      • sybrandmac says:

        “But the only authority I draw upon in TASBS, apart from scripture as read through the theologians I most admire, is the authority of logic and moral intelligence. I am, it turns out, a rationalist.”
        I think it is exactly this point where you and others divide. And I am curious about what authority the others rely on. “Political authority” is part of the answer, I guess.

        Like

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