The `Everlasting destruction' of the wicked

Posted Dec 09, 2011 by kym Jones in General Hits: 4,553

The testimony of Arnobius (died c. 330 A.D), demonstrates how belief in the Biblical doctrine of the conditional immortality of the soul became corrupted with Greek ideas associated with punishment of the immortal soul in the eternal fires of Hades. Arnobius believed in annihilationalism; which it to say that the penalty of the wicked is a form of `everlasting destruction', in the sense that the destruction of the impenitent sinner has an everlasting result, which is eternal death, or annihlation. However, he also imbibed elements of pagan philosophy, in the idea that at death the soul is punished in Hades for an indefinite period of time, at which it is tormented in the flames of hell according to the punishment which is due to it. His account of the punishment which is metred out to the wicked gives us one of the first extant records which depicts the wicked as suffering in hell for inderterminate periods according to the gravity of their sin, which thus depicts God as delighting in the torment of the wicked, so that satisfaction might be made to God as an atonement for their sin:

`For although the gentle and kindly disposed man thought it inhuman cruelty to condemn souls to death, he yet not unreasonably supposed that they are cast into rivers blazing with masses of flame, and loathsome from their foul abysses. For they are cast in, and being annihilated, pass away vainly in everlasting destruction. For theirs is an intermediate state, as has been learned from Christ's teaching; and they are such that they may on the one hand perish if they have not known God, and on the other be delivered from death if they have given heed to His threats and profferred favours. And to make manifest what is unknown, this is man's real death, this which leaves nothing behind. For that which is seen by the eyes is only a separation of the soul from the body, not the last end - annihilation: this, I say, is man's real death, when souls which know not God shall be consumed in long-protracted torment with raging fire, into which certain fiercely cruel beings shall cast them, who were unknown before Christ, and brought to light only by His wisdom.' (`Arnobius', `The Seven Books', Book 2, 14.)

Arnobius' account formed the basis of later `orthodox' Protestant theology which portrays the souls of the lost as suffering in torment in hell-fire for eternity - and which later also coalesced in the Catholic Church under Pope Gregory I (c. 540 A.D - 604 A.D); who is also called `the Great'. He was the first Pope who came from a monastic background, wrote voluminously, and following in the footsteps of Augustine who had previously written copious amounts of material on this subject one hundred years before him, gave the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul and the eternal punishing of the wicked in the eternal fires of hell the official sanction of the Church. He was canonized as a Saint, is regarded as a Doctor of the Church and is often credited with founding the medieval papacy. The following statement which is attributed to him demonstrates the Platonic influences which he imbibed in the formulation of his theology:

`Since "the body, which is the way of corruption," still "weighs down the soul" [Wis. 9: 15]. It does not have the power to cling long to the light of day, which it sees in a glimpse. For the weakness of the flesh drags the soul down, even as the soul transcends itself. Still panting, the soul is dragged back to think of necessities and the lowest things.' (`Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection', C. Straw, 1991, p. 125.)

By the early sixteenth century, this belief had become so entrenched within the Catholic Church, that in the covening of the 5th Lateran Council in 1513, Pope Leo X condemned the doctrine of the conditional mortality of the soul as abject heresy. By contrast, the early Church Fathers were aware of the Platonising influences which were already threatening the infant Church when the disciples of Christ were still alive, and strenuously resisted this, for as this exhortation from Ignatius Theophorus (c. 30 - c. 107 A.D.) demonstrates, they believed that when we die we `sleep together' in the dust of the earth, and then `awake together as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God' when Christ returns:

`Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together [in death]; and awake together [in the resurrection], as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God.' (`Epistle to Polycarp', Ignatius, A.N.F, ch. 6)

The Syriac translation of `awake together' has been translated as `rise together', which indicates that it is indeed death which Ignatius was speaking of when he used the word `sleep'. Ignatius suffered martyrdom during the reign of the Roman Emerperor Trajan, (98 -117 A.D.) and wrote this epistle to Polycarp (69 - 155 A.D), who suffered martyrdom in 155 A.D for his faith. Both men are reputed to have sat at the feet of John, the `beloved disciple of Christ'. John also testified to this same belief, for he tells us in his gospel that when Christ described Lazurus as `sleeping' in the grave, His disciples believed that He was speaking of natural sleep: `Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Nevertheless Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, "Lazarus is dead".'(John 11: 13 - 14)

Obviously, John `the beloved disciple of Christ' was instructed by Jesus Himself of this doctrine. The apostle Paul was a contemporary of John, and was in agreement with John on this doctrine. Ignatius and Polycarp were students of John and received this doctrine from him, for the Ignatian epistle to Polycarp reveals that not only were the two men close friends, but Polycarp received instruction from Ignatius, and the two men were in agreement on this doctrine. Therefore we have an unbroken testimony of witnesses from Jesus Himself, to John, the apostle Paul and the early Church Fathers Ignatius and Polycarp, who all taught that we `sleep' in the grave until the Resurrection, at which time our corruptible bodies are rendered incorruptible, and we `put on' immortality(1 Cor. 15: 51 - 58).

But if one is to instead believe in the `natural immortality of the soul' instead of the conditional immortality of the whole man, then the whole idea of a judgment that takes place sometime in the future becomes a completely absurd notion - for why is this necessary, as we either go straight to heaven or hell when we die, or our bodies are resurrected with our souls which are already waiting for us when Jesus returns? Why, indeed - for it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6: 18). One of the main problems with doctrines such as this, is how the original autographs have been interpreted, as most translations of the Bible do not closely follow the original Greek - simply because they have a doctrinal bias which favours the doctrine of the `natural immortality of the soul', when (as we have already noted) the original Greek does not teach this doctrine at all! But as the immanent return of Christ languished, first from decades to centuries, the urgency of the Christian message lost its momentum, and philosophical errors began to creep into accepted theology. After all, although Christ informed Peter the disciple of the manner of his crucifixion, and that this event would take place many years in the future, He did not inform them that His return would be over two thousand years in the future, as this would have retarded the growth of the early Church:

`The image or concept which has dominated popular ideas about our "afterlife" and future destiny is probably the immortality of the soul. This shift occured already in primitive Christianity when the parousia or second coming of the Lord at the end of the world did not quickly take place as expected. Speaking of the immortal souls of the faithful departed as being with God became a way to describe existence during the period intervening between the death of the believer and the bodily resurrection expected at the end of the world . . . As any real existential significance of the resurrection on the last day faded . . . consequently, the fundamental conviction of the New Testament that the resurrection involves the human person as a whole, material as well as spiritual, was obscured. This was precisely the point for Paul, who argues in 1 Corinthians 15 against those who deny the resurrection. Judging from Paul's somewhat sarcastic retort ("But some will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' "), it is quite possible that his educated opponents believed in the immortality of the soul and found the notion of bodily resurrection crude and ridiculous. But despite their sarcasm, Paul insistently argues for bodily resurrection rather than the immortality of the soul.' (`Handbook of spirituality for Ministers', Vol. 1, R. Wicks, 1995, p. 433.)

So as time went by, and Christ failed to return, Christians began to imbibe Greek philosophical conceptions of hades and purgatory as a means by which the interminable delay of Christ's return could be explained. Unfortunately, the construct which these men imbibed has (in the view taken by some Protestant Churches), degraded the second coming of Christ to a mere spiritual event which takes place in the life of the sinner when they are converted to Christ, as the `second coming of Christ' is relegated to have already taken place when Jerusalem was razed by the armies of Titus, the Prince and General of Emporer Vespasian in 70 A.D, and is associated with a mode of prophetic interpretion which is called Preterism, which teaches that :

`The dominant version of Preterism says that everything - everything - associated with the second coming of Jesus happened in A.D. 70, in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem as an act of judgment on OT Israel. This includes the antichrist, the man of sin, the second coming of Jesus, the rapture, the resurrection, and the judgment day. Everything predicted in Matthew 24 and in the Book of Revelation (which preterists date c. A.D. 65) was fulfilled at that time. The only way to affirm this, of course, is to say that many of the prophecies were fulfilled not literally or visibly, but spiritually. Jesus return was not visible. . . when Christ came (in A.D. 70), "he literally, yet spiritually, gathered those that were alive to be caught up in the kingdom with Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ spiritually returned with the believers to the earth, to ever be with them. This was a spiritual event that was visibly manifest in the destruction of Jerusalem" ("Rapture"). The "resurrection of the dead happened in A.D. 70 when Christ emptied Hades and took the saved to heaven in "heavenly" bodies; they will experience no further resurrection. The "old heaven and earth" was replaced by a new "heaven and earth," or the New Covenant world. The world we now live in will never be destroyed: it will just continue on without end, with its death and evil enduring forever.' (`The Faith once for All: Bible Doctrine for Today', J. Cotrell', 2002, p. 541.)

So much for living the victorious life in Christ! In this rather depressing view of salvation, there can be no victory over sin, and we are condemned to live in a world where sin and evil are perpetuated forever. Christ `returns' to us when we are converted to Christianity, and will never physically return, as promised by Scripture. If this is indeed true, well can we say that:

`If humans were souls and death was a release of the person from the body, then there would be no reason to retrieve one's body at the end of the world.' (`The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes's Leviathan', P. Springborg, 2007, p. 379.)

It should also be noted that the Catholic interpretation of prophecy is also preterist; but in the Catholic interpretation, it is the Church, and not Christ which is triumphant, as it defeated the perceived antichrist in the form the Imperial pagan Roman Empire, and specifically the Roman Emporer Nero in 68 A.D:

`Perhaps the most significant figure in the origin of this preterist method of interpretation was the Jesuit from Seville, Luis de Alcazar (1554 - 1613). He is often credited with establishing the preterist scheme of interpretation in the post-Reformation Roman Catholic tradition. In his commentary on Revelation Alcazar put forward the view that the book spoke only of the period of the early Church, predicting its conquest over Judaism and paganism. Nero is the Antichrist and the New Jerusalem the Roman Catholic Church. The millenium of Revelation 20 is the period of the Church and hence the period currently enjoyed by Catholic Christians. The book of Revelation does not speak of the future or, except in its description of the millenium, the present. The Antichrist has been and gone . . . ' (`Apocalypse and Millenium: Studies in Biblical Eisegesis', K. Newport, 2000, p. 72.)

As the infant Church grew, its philosophies were challenged by the wisdom of `learned men' who opposed it - but in trying to defend herself against their arguments, she inculcated (in a diluted form) these very same philosophies as she attempted to do so, and applied these philosophies to her interpretation of Scripture:

`When the Church developed a serious intellectual tradition of its own, as it did in the second and third centuries, the driving forces were defence of the Christian faith against learned opponents (an enterprise known as "apologetics") and the development of Christian doctrine. For such purposes, the logical tools developed within Greek philosophy proved indispensable.' (`The Beginnings of Western Science', D. Lindberg, 2007, p. 149.)

The Greek philosopher Celsus lived in the late second century and was one such `learned man', whose teachings the early Church fathers fought against. He thought that Christianity is a thoroughly objectionable creed, and that Jesus was a charleton who learnt magic from the Egyptians, and then proclaimed himself a God':

`[Celsus] accuses [Jesus] of having `invented his birth from a virgin,' and upbraids Him with being `born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greately pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God.' (Origen, ANF, `Contra Celsus', vol. 4, Book 1, ch. 28.)

His main objection to Christianity was the standard Platonic objection - that it is unthinkable for God to descend into the material world and thus risk corrupting His divinity - for according to the philosophies which Plotinus believed, the very nature of God is that God the ultimate essence of virtue, which implies that it is impossible for the ultimate goodness of God to be sullied by assuming the imperfection of a human body:

`And again', he says, `let us resume the subject from the beginning, with a larger array of proofs. And I make no new statement, but say what has been long settled. God is good, and beautiful, and blessed, and that in the best and most beautiful degree. But if he come down among men, he must undergo a change, and a change from good to evil, from virtue to vice, from happiness to misery, and from best to worst. Who, then, would make choice of such a change? It is the nature of a mortal, to undergo change and remoulding, but of an immortal to remain the same and unaltered. God, then, could not admit of such a change . . . ' (ibid, Book 4, ch. 14.)

Pure Platonic belief, such as that believed by Celsus led to a gnostic school of thought within the early Church which was known as Docetism. Adherents of this philosophical school claimed that Christ's humanity was merely a shadow, phantom, or projection; for reason that as God was considered to be the ultimate good, and matter was considered to be evil - then it was impossible for Christ to assume a truly human nature, as this would have made Christ a sinner by default. It also implied that Christ could not have truly died on the cross for our sins, for He never assumed a truly human nature in the first place! It is thought to have been founded by a Christian gnostic named Valentinus (c. 100 - 160 A.D.), and greatly influenced Athanasius who lived one hundred and fifty years later, upon whose work the Chalcedonian (Athanasian) Creed was formed in 451 A.D, which states in doctrinal form the human nature which Christ assumed in His incarnation. The fact that this Creed indicates that Christ was limited to assuming a human nature which could be tempted on `innocent infirmities' such as thirst and hunger, indicates that contrary to Scripture, that not only could Christ not be `in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin' (Hebrews 4: 15). This quarantining Christ from being tempted by a truly human body echoed the gnosticism of Valentinus; for simple reason that Greek logic decreed that the material body is corrupted by the physical realm and therefore of itself inherently evil. Thus, as the Chaldedonian Creed has its basis in Greek logic, then it should not be surprising that this Creed infers that Christ did not assume a truly human nature! This of course has dire implications in relation to orthodox theology regarding the atonement - for it is originally derived from the gnosticism of Valentinus! Unfortunately, millions of Christians unwittingly partake of believing in the Chalcedonian Creed today and regard it as truly orthodox theology, while at the same time being completely oblivious to the fact that it is a doctrine which was unknown to the apostolic Church!

The historical events which gave rise to the development of the Chalcedonian Creed indicates that shortly after the apostolic Fathers of the first century went to their graves, the early Church Fathers who succeeded them began to ignore the warnings which the apostle Paul had given the infant Church about the philosophies of the Greeks, and sought to combat the arguments of men such as Celsus, by applying these very same philosophies to their interpretation of the Scriptures as they began to explore the means by which Christ could descend to this plane of existence, while at the same time avoiding having His divinity corrupted by the material plane into which He descended as He attempted to save fallen man. For the denial of Christ assuming a truly human nature was also accompanied by the belief in the natural immortality of the soul, by reason that as the soul is divine and reflected the ultimate good of God, then the human body must be evil, because the material world is evil, and Christ could not therefore descend into the material world without corrupting His divinity. However, although the early Church Fathers of the second and early third centuries did not generally believe in the natural immortality of the soul, but instead that immortality is conditional and does not result by natural right, by the second century, the Apologists who lived at that time found that Christianity was being attacked by a multitude of heresies, and these men began to utilize corrupted philosophies of Christ, in a misguided attempt to fight the various philosophies of the Greeks.