The Inescapable Love of God: The Aiónion Punishment of Gehenna


But what about hell? This is the question we all want answered. Did not Jesus and his Apostles explicitly warn us of the dire consequences of disbelief and impenitence? Did they not plainly teach that those who reject the divine offer of mercy will suffer eternal punish­ment? Universalists must provide plausible readings of the key New Testament texts that speak of Gehenna if they ever hope to persuade their fellow Christians that the omnipotent love of God will triumph in the hearts of every human being. The Parable of the Last Judgment immediately comes to mind as a test case.

Matthew 25:31-46

What is the didactic point of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats? Did Jesus really intend to convey to his hearers divinely revealed information about the eschatological destinies of the righteous and wicked? Even a cursory reading of the parable compels a negative answer. As Thomas Talbott observes, the heart of the parable is its surprising twist—the solidaric identification of the Son of Man with the poor and dispossessed. Like all of Jesus’ parables, its purpose is not to provide details about the afterlife but to elicit a conversion of heart and behavior.

Nonetheless, Jesus did say that the wicked will be condemned to “eternal punishment” (kolasin aiōnion) and the righteous rewarded with “eternal life” (zōēn aiōnion). “Why suppose,” queries Talbott, “that on either occasion of its use in Matthew 25:46 the Greek adjective aiōnios, which many of our English Bibles translate as ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting,’ implies unending temporal duration?”

As many commentators have pointed out, its literal meaning is something like age enduring or perhaps that which pertains to an age; and in some contexts, at least, that literal meaning seems to preclude the idea of unending temporal duration. When Paul spoke of a “mystery that was kept secret for long ages (chronois aiōniois) but is now disclosed” (Rom 16:25-26—my emphasis), he clearly supposed that an age-enduring mystery or a mystery that endures for “eternal times” can come to an end; and if an age-enduring mystery can come to an end, so also, one might argue, can an age-enduring punishment.1

In other words, aiōnion by itself does not necessarily imply endlessness yet the over­whelming number of English translations render the word “eternal” or “everlasting.” Why? Many exegetes have been persuaded by an argument attributed to St Basil of Caesarea in the fourth century:

In one place the Lord declares that “these shall go to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46), and in another place He sends some “to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); and speaks elsewhere of the fire of gehenna, specifying that it is a place “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mk. 9:44-49) and even of old and through the Prophet it was foretold of some that “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be extinguished” (Isa. 66:24). Although these and the like declarations are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly. If, however, there were going to be an end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be an end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be and end to eternal punishment? The qualification of “eternal” is ascribed equally to both of them. “For these are going,” He says, “into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life” (Mt. 25:46). If we profess these things we must recognize that the “he shall be flogged with many stripes” and the “he shall be flogged with few stripes” refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment.2

If eonian life is eternal and unending, then, so the argument goes, eonian punishment must also be eternal and unending—and vice versa. The parallelism is determinative. Talbott, however, does not find this argument compelling. It forgets how adjectives work. “Adjec­tives,” he explains, “often vary in meaning, sometimes greatly, when the nouns they qualify signify different categories of things”3—and there can be no question that eonian life and eonian punishment belong to two different categories of things. We rightly believe that eonian life is everlasting because it is life in and with the eternal God; but we cannot assume that the same everlastingness is to be attributed to the eonian punishment. A tip-off here is our Lord’s use of kolasis, which typically signifies remedial or corrective punishment, as opposed to a purely retributive punishment (timōria). Whereas eonian life with God “is clearly an end in itself—that is, valuable or worth having for its own sake—the punishment (kolasis) is just as clearly a means to an end.4 If the reading of kolasis as corrective punishment is correct, then that end can only be reconciliation with God. Talbott, however, recognizes that Christ’s choice of kolasis alone is not decisive. “The language of correction and that of retribution often get completely mixed up in ordinary linguistic contexts,” he remarks.5

Unwilling to put all of his eggs in the kolasis basket, Talbott returns to the question of aiōnios. Talbott offers the following proposal: “Eternal punishment is simply punishment of any duration that has its causal source in the eternal purposes of God.”6 Consider, for example, Jude 7, which speaks of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by puros aiōniou. Clearly this fire did not burn perpetually—it ended after consuming the cities; it is not burning today—yet most English translations of the New Testament render the Greek as “eternal fire.” In what sense, then, can it be said to be eternal? The most plausible answer: it is a fire that comes from God. Talbott then applies the same reasoning to the Parable of the Last Judgment:

The point here was not that the fire literally burned forever without consuming these cities and continues to burn even today. The point was that the fire is a form of divine judgment upon these cities, a foreshadowing of eschatological judgment, and that its causal source lies in the eternal God himself. And similarly for the eternal fire and the eternal punishment to which Jesus alluded in Matthew 25:41 and 46 respectively: like the fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, this fire will not be eternal in the sense that it will burn forever without consuming anything—without consuming, for example, that which is false within a person—and neither will it be eternal in the sense that it continues forever without accomplishing its corrective purpose. Both the fire and the punishment are eternal in the twofold sense that their causal source lies in the eternal God himself and that their corrective effects will literally endure forever. For anything that the eternal God does (or any specific action of his in the created order) is eternal in the sense that it is the eternal God who does it.7

I find Talbott’s interpretation plausible, but am disappointed that he did not update this section of the 2nd edition of his book in light of more recent scholarship. He relies excessively on William Barclay, who claims that in the New Testament “aiōnios is distinctively the word of eternity . . . it can properly describe only that which essentially belongs to and befits God.”8 And again:

Aiōnios is the word of eternity as opposed to and contrasted with time. It is the word of deity as opposed to and contrasted with humanity. It is the word which can only really be applied to God. If we remember that, we are left with one tremendous truth—both the blessings which the faithful shall inherit and the punishment which the unfaithful shall receive are such as bits God to give and to inflict.9

How reliable is Barclay here? Not very. I have no idea what he means when he says that aiōnios “can only really be applied to God,” when it is widely used in Greek literature and the Septuagint in so many diverse ways. Barclay appears to be positing a continuity between Plato (4th century B.C.), who apparently invented the word aiōnios to signify the absolute timelessness of deity, and the New Testament, without however mentioning that Aristotle and many other Greek philosophers did not adopt Plato’s usage and preferred instead to use the term aïdios to signify divine eternity. Reading Plato into the New Testament is a questionable enterprise, as Talbott I think would agree.

Contrast Barclay with the semantic analysis of Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan. The authors survey the use of aiōnios and aïdios in classical and biblical literature, including the Septuagint. They conclude their survey of New Testament usage thusly:

In the New Testament, then, ἀΐδιος, which is used far less often than αἰώνιος, would appear to denote absolute eternity in reference to God; in connection with the chains of the fallen angels, on the other hand, it seems to indicate the continuity of their chastisement throughout the entire duration of this world—and perhaps too from before the creation of the world and time itself, that is, eternally a parte ante. As for αἰώνιος, it has a much wider range of meanings, often closely related. It perhaps signifies “eternity” in the strict sense—without beginning or end—in reference to God or his three Persons or to what pertains to God, such as his glory or his kingdom; or it may mean “perpetual”—in the sense of “without end,” “permanent,” “uninterrupted”—in reference, for example, to the new covenant mentioned by Christ. Far the most common expression is ζωή αἰώνιος, which, we have argued, indicates life in the future αἰών, in contrast to the present καιρός (or χρόνος, “time,” or κόσμος, “this world,” often used in a negative sense), and which is expressly connected with Christ, faith, hope (for the future), the resurrection in the world to come, and above all to grace in numerous passages, especially Pauline, where grace is said to justify, and Johannine, where it is connected with love or ἀγάπη: for John, God himself is ἀγάπη, and the αἰώνιος life is directly identified with Jesus. This life, which is the goal or finality of the Gospel, is the true life, and is often designated simply by ζωή tout court; and it coincides with salvation. The adjective αἰώνιος is associated too with other nouns (e.g., glory, salvation), always with reference to life in the next world. Although one may infer that life in the world to come is eternal in the sense of unending, it appears that this is not the primary connotation of αἰώνιος in these contexts, but is rather the idea of a new life or αἰών.

On the other hand, αἰώνιος is also applied to punishment in the world to come, particularly in the expressions πυρ αἰώνιος: ἀΐδιος is never employed either for fire or for other forms of future punishment or harm of human beings, and on one occasion (in 4 Macc) ὄλεθρος αἰώνιος is contrasted specifically with βίος ἀΐδιος.10

The difference between Talbott and Ramelli–Konstan is minor, however. The former interprets kolasin aiōnion to mean “the punishment that comes from God”; the latter, “the punishment that belongs to the age to come.” Both call in question the interpretation that the phrase signifies unending retributive torment. Talbott, in fact, expresses his agreement with the reading of aiōnion as “belonging to the age to come” as a complement to his own:

The Gospel writers typically thought in terms of two ages, the present age and the age to come, and they associated the age to come with God himself: it was an age in which God’s presence would be fully manifested, his purposes fully realized, and his redemptive work eventually completed. They therefore came to employ the term aiōnios as an eschatological term, one that functioned as a handy reference to the realities of the age to come. In that way they managed to combine the more literal sense of “that which pertains to an age” with the more religious sense of “that which manifests the presence of God in a special way.” Eternal life, then, is not merely life that comes from the eternal God himself; it is also the mode of living associated with the age to come. And similarly for eternal punishment: it is not merely punishment that comes from the eternal God himself; it is also the form of punishment associated with the age to come. Nor is there any implication here that the life that comes from God and the punishment that comes from God are of equal duration. In fact, there is no implication here of temporal duration at all, and this, I might add, in no way threatens the Christian understanding of an unending resurrection life with God. For that idea hardly rests upon the translation of the Greek aiōnios; it rests instead upon the doctrine of the resurrection (see John 6:40) and that of God’s enduring and unchanging love for us.11

So, brethren, did Jesus really teach an eternal hell?

(19 February 2015; rev.)

Footnotes

[1] Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, p. 79.

[2] Basil of Caesarea, Rules Briefly Treated 267. Some scholars question whether this passage might be an interpolation into the Basilean monastic rule. They deem unlikely that Basil would speak so harshly of his universalist siblings, Macrina and Gregory. They also point to evidence that suggests that Basil himself believed in universal salvation. See Ilaria Ramelli, “Basil and Apokatastasis,” Journal of Early Christian History, 4 (2014): 116-125.

[3] Talbott, p. 80.

[4] Ibid., p. 81.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 83.

[7] Ibid., pp. 83-84.

[8] William Barclay, New Testament Words (1964), p. 35.

[9] Ibid., pp. 36-37.

[10] Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan, Terms for Eternity (2011), pp. 69-70. See “Sometimes Eternity Ain’t Forever.”

[11] Talbott, p. 85.

(Go to “St Paul and Eternal Damnation”)

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20 Responses to The Inescapable Love of God: The Aiónion Punishment of Gehenna

  1. pleppan says:

    My simplistic understanding : If we are metering out punishment to our own children , it should be because we love them. Its crazy to think we would punish our children, just because their wrong must be punished. If punishing is not going to fix the wrong ,then punishment has no purpose … unless I’m missing something. We are Gods family and not sitting in a court room.

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  2. Arthur Peña says:

    When I read universalist arguments, I am often left feeling more hopeful (I very much want them to be true). This line in particular seems compelling to me:

    “Like all of Jesus’ parables, its purpose is not to provide details about the afterlife but to elicit a conversion of heart and behavior.”

    However, when I go back to reading scripture, I am again hit–over and over again–with the seemingly “infernalist” language. So, I guess my question(s) would be:
    –if the universalist interpretation were in fact true, why would scripture paint such infernalist pictures? (maybe “to elicit a conversion of heart and behavior”?)
    –and why would it take such great philosophical effort to argue for the universalist interpretation?
    –and, if the Church(es) are correct in its (their) claim to have received–and accurately transmitted–the fullness of the truth, why would the vast majority of Christianity’s teachers have taught infernalism (if that is, in fact, wrong)?
    –and if universalism is true, and infernalism false, what does that imply about Christ’s ability to transmit his message accurately to his church, and to ensure that his church transmit that message accurately?
    –and, if the Church (or at least the majority of its teachers) have been wrong about this rather important question (or at least it seems important to me), doesn’t that plunge a knife into the heart of any hope one might have of seeking reliable guidance from the Church? (but, of course, if infernalism is true, then that too is a kind of knife plunged into hope…)

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    • Geoffrey McKinney says:

      Speaking as a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church: We venerate saints who were infernalists, saints who were annihilationists, and saints who were universalists. The Church has never dogmatically defined which of those three theological opinions is the truth. The only eschatological statement that I can think of with which an Orthodox must agree is from the Nicene Creed: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” That sentence clearly allows for any of the three eschatological options.

      Given that, I would say that the last three of your five questions proceed from mistaken premises. The Holy Spirit guiding the Orthodox Church into all truth does not preclude the Church from being full of a lot of stupid people with a lot of stupid ideas in their heads.

      Liked by 2 people

    • A Sinner says:

      Exactly. These are questions with which I also struggle, and I hope that someone more knowledgeable than me is able to answer each of them.

      If one accepts universal salvation as true AND also accepts (as at least Catholic and Orthodox do) that the Church has been given the authority to interpret Scripture (“WE wrote it,” the Orthodox claim) AND also accepts that (at least for Orthodox) the 7 Ecumenical Councils have as much validity as Scripture, but the Church has noticeably not taught the greater hope and in fact teaches the opposite, that casts doubt on either the truth of universal salvation or the Church’s claim to legitimacy (because the Church has not taught what universalists claim Christ and His apostles and many of the early Church Fathers really taught). This dilemma arguably affects Protestants less, because whenever there is a dispute, the solution seems to be to start a new church or denomination that affirms whatever one chooses to believe.

      I’m nearly halfway through an Orthodox catechism class and am on the verge of leaving for several reasons, one of which is the question of universal salvation. For homework the class was assigned a podcast by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick in which he lists universalism among the heresies condemned by the Church. When I mentioned to the catechist that there is debate among scholars as to what exactly was condemned by the fifth ecumenical council, universal salvation or a particular form of it espoused by followers of Origen, the catechist laughed. More recently the class was assigned the 7 Council Canons, which states that the fifth ecumenical council “further anathematized even Origen himself, and Didymus, and Evagrius, and their detestable tenets, who foolishly affirmed that . . . that there is an end to the punishment suffered in hell.” Thus, despite Church Fathers like St. Gregory of Nyssa, Desert Fathers like St. Isaac the Syrian, authors like Met. Kallistos Ware and Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, and scholars like DBH, one faces an uphill battle in convincing the Church that they might have been wrong about something as fundamental as eternal punishment. The consensus says otherwise, and if you are a catechumen or an inquirer, you will be taught that there is an eternal hell, but that it is a state rather than a place, and that hell is merely God’s love (the “scourge of love”) experienced as pain by the unrepentant and bliss by the repentant. You will be faced with a choice: accept everything the Orthodox Church teaches or remain outside.

      I don’t know what to make of it all. It’s extremely frustrating. Sometimes I take heart in the words of St. Nektarios (from the movie Man of God): “Woe to me if my faith depends on men.” But that doesn’t resolve the issue of church. There seems to be no church for me, because I cannot become Catholic or Orthodox, and Protestant churches have either become unmoored from their roots or split along conservative/liberal lines and make politics their God. I simply want to love God and follow Christ, but I am a “heretic” in the eyes of those claiming to be Christ’s authority on Earth.

      May God have mercy on us all.

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      • Geoffrey McKinney says:

        Always keep in mind this monumental distinction:

        1. The Orthodox Church does not teach infernalism.
        2. Some fallible people within the Orthodox Church teach infernalism.

        I could not care less who or how many within the Orthodox Church teach infernalism. The fact remains that the Orthodox Church does NOT teach it. She teaches only that we “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”.

        Infernalism is nothing more than a theological opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Sinner, just ignore what your catechist is teaching you about eschatology. They are just giving an opinion. There’s no reason why you can’t become Orthodox because you have universalist convictions! Remember: Sts Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac the Syrian were also universalists. My suggestion: keep your convictions to yourself. I’m hoping you are not becoming Orthodox because someone has persuaded you that Orthodoxy has some doctrine of doctrinal infallibility (see my comment above to Arthur). We don’t. What we have are a bunch of opinions about doctrinal infallibility, i.e., theologoumena. And when it comes to theologoumena, you are allowed to disagree with them in good faith. You don’t need the permission of your priest or catechist to disagree with a doctrinal opinion.

        Keep saying your prayers. If Christ is calling you into Orthodoxy, heed him. His opinion is the only one worthy of your obedience.

        Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Many Orthodox (especially in this country, especially online, especially among converts from Evangelicalism, and especially among young male converts) make all sorts of claims about doctrine and doctrinal authority; but, of course, they do so without the conciliar warrant that alone confers doctrinal authority according to their own views. Thus Neo-Palamites proclaim the binding authority of one local synod while rejecting others; but no synod in the ancient church was regarded as authoritative without conciliar confirmation–and we haven’t had an ecumenical council for some time.

          Even as recently as the 1970’s, the prevailing view among educated Orthodox theologians tended toward at least “hopeful” universalism. It still does in much of the Greek-speaking world. Sts Silouan and Porphyrios, after all…

          Liked by 4 people

      • Matt says:

        There is also an argument which is sometimes neglected that is partecipating the liturgy of the church. For me it’s the only practical reason to be innested in an Apostolic Church. Sacraments are grace giving and the ordinary way where we can experience and be filled with the Holy Spirit no matter what a priest or catechist could think

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      • danaames says:

        Sinner, dear to God!
        What Geoffrey, Fr Aiden and DBH wrote. What I want to add is that in all the liturgies and services I’ve attended in more than 13 years as an Orthodox Christian, I have never heard anything that is absolutely infernalistic, and I seriously doubt I ever will. Lex orendi, lex credendi at work in the best way.
        Dana

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        • A Sinner says:

          Thanks to all who responded with encouragement.

          I don’t know if Christ is calling me into Orthodoxy. If He were, I don’t think I’d feel as much resistance to Orthodoxy as I do, especially now that I’m attending catechism class. The question of universal salvation aside, I’m put off by the anti-Western attitude (and sometimes anti-Catholic hostility) I’ve encountered in several of our homework assignments (YouTube videos, Ancient Faith podcasts, and readings). Had I encountered that attitude once or twice, it might have been just a minor distraction, but I’ve encountered enough instances now that it seems to be a feature rather than a bug in Orthodoxy. In addition, I don’t know what to make of fantastical stories about saints with incredible, superhuman powers and stories about miraculous, healing relics. One could argue that to believe in miracles is to be a Christian, and I do believe in miracles (“Everything in life is a miracle; the main miracle is that by the will of God man lives on earth,” as Father Arseny says). But within Orthodoxy there are too many stories that defy believability, and I don’t think that one’s faith should depend on accepting those stories as true.

          On a related topic, can anyone recommend books by or about more recent Orthodox saints who are at least sympathetic to universal salvation? Wounded by Love and Saint Silouan the Athonite are already on my reading list.

          Thank you, and God bless!

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good questions, Arthur. My brief responses:

      1) Is it really the case that the New Testament overwhelmingly presents a vision of eternal damnation? Or might it not be the case that that is how we’ve been taught to read it? Consider, for example, Jesus’ invocation of Gehenna. Are you automatically equating Gehenna with hell? I suspect most Christian readers do, yet where does Jesus define and explain Gehenna? (Answer: no where!) We know that in the later rabbinical tradition Gehenna was believed by many to be temporary. Might not Jesus have also believed this, too?

      Everything that Jesus talks about shares in the eschatological context of how Jesus understood his mission. The Kingdom is coming and is here! Now is the time for decision! Not tomorrow, not five minutes from now, but now! This becomes apparent in several of Jesus’ parables.

      One further point: the two greatest biblical exegetes of the early Church, Origen of Alexandria and Theodore of Mopsuestia, were both universalists. They certainly did not think they were imposing an alien understanding upon the Bible.

      2) You ask “why would it take such great philosophical effort to argue for the universalist interpretation?”

      Ah, so you’ve been reading David Hart, eh? 🙂 David takes a philosophical approach because he is a philosophical theologian. Also, over the years a goodly number of philosophers have spent a lot of time and energy defending eternal damnation! Their books and essays outnumber universalists writings ten to one if not 100 to one. So one might ask, Why does eternal damnation need such great philosophicl effort to be believed?

      But if you have followed my blog or read my book, then you know that I come at the topic primarily from the perspective of the absolute love of God. Is that philosophy or theology?

      3) Why have so many bishops and theologians taught eternal perdition? I suppose because it came to be believed that the Church had dogmatically repudiated universalism at the 5th Ecumenical Council. But we know that is probably not the case. Now if you’re a Roman Catholic, you have a problem, because your Church believes, or at least appears to believe, that the doctrine enjoys infallible de fide status. If you’re Orthodox, you have a similar problem but not nearly so strong. The simple fact is the Orthodox Church has never dogmatized a theory of doctrinal infallibility. So the question then becomes, is a longstanding teaching reformable? Now Orthodox pastors find this a troubling question and possibility. It seems to undermine the Orthodoxy’s self-understanding as the Church. We aren’t Protestants, right?

      My question to you: Do you really need a dogma of infallible dogma in order to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Can you live with a degree of ambiguity?

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    • DBH says:

      I have found not a single verse in the New Testament that threatens a state of eternal torment. You are, as we’ve been trained to do, reading “infernalism” into the language of the New Testament where, in fact, something far vaguer and more ambiguous (either more temporary or more terminal) is being discussed.

      I hate to admit that NT Wright gets anything correct, but even he recognizes this and lays the matter out at length.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Edj says:

    A hard and honest look at Romans 2.5-11 and Matthew 25.31-46 shattered my former theology, and the rebuild looks like this: Our sins have been atoned for, Τετέλεσται, paid in full. The question remains: will one now live for the will of God? The typical Levitical sacrifice had essentially two components: a blood rite effecting atonement, and a burning rite in which the offering was “turned into smoke on the altar” that arose to God (a picture of spiritual transformation), and it was particularly the latter that was said to be pleasing to God. So therefore the cleansing of the atonement provides a place of residency for the Holy Spirit, who is an ἀρραβὼν, a down payment, and with which we are sealed unto/until the Day of Redemption. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we must: 1. Perform acts of charity to Christ’s brethren, 2. Use spiritual gifts to build one another up in Christ, and 3. Strive to mortify the source of our sins, our flesh, as an act of gratitude for having our sins atoned for (Romans 8.12-13). This will be evaluated on the Day of Judgment (Romans 2.5-11 and Matthew 25.31-46), and those who have failed will be deemed worthless servants and cast into outer darkness/eternal damnation (Matthew 25.14-30). At that time the down payment of the Holy Spirit (the real talent/s in the parable) will be taken from them (but not before then, because the Holy Spirit is an essential component for living a life for the will of God, hence the sealing unto/until the Day of Redemption, also a Day of Judgment according to Matthew 25.31-46). In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells numerous parables of those who seem to make it to the very gates of heaven but are then turned away.

    Not as pleasant as my former theology in which I assumed my ticket to heaven was punched, but for me there is an undeniable cohesiveness which is indeed leading me to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

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    • brian says:

      Edj,

      Luther used a typically earthy metaphor of “snow covered dung hills” to describe the forgiven state of sinners. Forensic justification translates in popular consciousness to “cheap grace” and the “once saved always saved” presumption you appear to now reject. I surmise that by referencing the particular scriptures you have chosen, by adverting to gospel parables, and by employing the phrase “hard and honest look” that the reader is meant to infer that somehow folks who disagree with your current stance are not being honest or that views other than your own cannot account for the parables or equally that somehow forensic justification is consistent with apokatastasis. Strangely, however, Christian universalists have also read the Bible. Try perusing George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons if you wish to honestly encounter the hard truth of the gospel. You will note in a sermon like “Justice” that there is nothing like cheap grace or the slightest deviation from the necessity of personal holiness in the attainment of theosis.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Edj says:

        Hi Brian,

        I apologize if my comment came across as condescending; that was not my intention. My comment was offered in a spirit of sharing. It reflects my own spiritual/theological journey which arrives at a conclusion that I myself would have rejected not long ago, so any form of ungraciousness would certainly be unfitting on my part. I’ll bow out of the discussion now. I will have a listen to MacDonald. Blessings to all.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Calvin says:

      Why exactly should one live for the will of a God who is willing to discard his own work as worthless trash and then compound that by tormenting it forever?

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  4. Andrew says:

    I’ll preface this by saying I’m absolutely unqualified to give an opinion on this subject. I’d rather wish to make an observation (a completely subjective one to be sure) from various things I’ve read on this subject and ask a question. I’ve noticed amongst Orthodox that lean or hold outright to Universalism, that they often seem lean on sources outside the Church. While of course there are (as mentioned already in a comment reply) Sts Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac the Syrian, they seem to represent a very small minority opinion, no? Otherwise I imagine we’d just be citing Orthodox Church fathers left and right to show the clear teaching of the Church on this matter.

    I admit I’m not quite sure what to do with this. On the one hand I wouldn’t suggest someone outside the Church is completely incapable of receiving the light of truth with the aid of the Holy Spirit, but what does it say about those – particularly what would seem to be the vast majority of our Saints – who’ve been Baptized, received the Holy Spirit in Chrismation and partaken of the Holy Mysteries that they have somehow missed this truth, but those outside the Church have discovered it? I realize this is probably more of an ecclesiological question than and eschatological one. Thinking along the lines of the Church being the pillar and ground of Truth and the canon of St. Vincent of Lerins in establishing what is and is not the faith etc.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      As Brian Moore likes to say, revealed truth is not decided by plebiscite.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Geoffrey McKinney says:

      St. Gregory of Nyssa alone illustrates that the Orthodox Church has never dogmatically proclaimed infernalism. The Church glorifies St. Gregory of Nyssa without qualification, which would not be the case if the Church regarded universalism as heresy. The debate among infernalism, universalism, and annihilationism is a debate INSIDE the Church. Saints have held to all three. Counting them up to decide which eschatological position would thereby be true would be risible.

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