Note: This article is part of a series. Part 1 presented a clear and consistent understanding of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 based on relevant context. Here, Part 2 justifies that reading by dealing with more complex matters of translation and interpretation, interacting with respected critics.

 

Around the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul wrote the following to the church in Thessalonica:

…which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe…

This is how the NKJV renders 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 (note in particular verse 9, in bold). Some other translations render this passage a little differently, so you might be surprised to learn that it is often touted as a text which speaks in favor of traditionalism. On its face, “affliction” leading to “everlasting destruction” at the revealing of Christ from heaven sounds a lot like the punishment that conditionalists believe will befall God’s enemies. And as the previous article in this series shows, a simple yet thorough reading of the text in its context does indeed support conditionalism.

Despite this, some traditionalists well-versed in the biblical languages have raised arguments suggesting we should look beyond the apparent meaning of this passage. We will now consider their arguments, as we study this passage more closely. What we will discover will add nuance to our understanding, but it will also confirm that the simple, obvious reading is just what Paul intended.

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Note: This article is part of a series. Here, Part 1 presents a consistent, straightforward conditionalist understanding of 2 Thessalonians 1:9. Since conditionalists question the NIV’s interpolation (“and shut out from”)—practically the only time we would quibble with any modern English translation—Part 2 will cover the more complex issues raised by a traditionalist reading, showing that the simple face value reading is correct. All references are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 is one of those texts which first convinced me to take the idea of annihilation seriously. Not just in isolation, where it seems obvious that destruction due to Christ’s coming is the point, but in the context of what is being said in the first couple of chapters of the epistle. (The NRSV even uses the word “annihilating” a mere eleven verses later concerning the “man of lawlessness,” which is intriguing enough on its own!) The overall impact of the passage I think should give anyone pause about this issue, since it portrays the day of judgment and the fire of judgment differently from familiar expectations from Christian tradition. Too often, our critics treat a single word of this verse as an isolated proof-text, or suggest that’s how we treat it, when of course each side must give due consideration to the fuller structural context.

“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”—2 Thessalonians 1:9, KJV

The conditionalist reading is that the glorious presence and power of the Lord causes the punishment of destruction, which is everlasting because it is God’s permanent judgment. Let’s explore how this makes the best sense. Continue reading

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In a recent Beliefnet article titled “6 Myths Christians Need to Shatter about Hell,” author Lesli White makes a case for the doctrine of eternal torment by rebutting six myths about hell.1 Needless to say, we at Rethinking Hell disagree with White’s conclusion. The doctrine of eternal torment in hell, frequently called “traditionalism” or the “traditional view,” is not biblical. Rather, the Bible teaches that only those in Christ will have life in any sense of the word. The unsaved will die the second death and be destroyed forever, unable to know either joy or pain because they will be gone forever.

Below are six myths that we really do need to shatter. These all have some connection to the Beliefnet article, although some are more loosely connected than others. Continue reading

  1. The article is actually from a few months back, but I and others still see the Beliefnet page pop up on Facebook and so the conversation is apparently still going. []
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Gregory MacDonald. The Evangelical Universalist (Second Edition). Eugene: Cascade, 2012.*

In 2006, then editor for Paternoster, now with Wipf & Stock, Robin Parry published the first edition of The Evangelical Universalist (hereafter simply TEU) under the pseudonym Gregory MacDonald (combining Gregory of Nyssa and George MacDonald, both notable theologians who were universalists). The goal was to present a case for universalism which was compatible with evangelical commitments to the Gospel and biblical authority. In the preface to the second edition, Parry describes the reasoning behind the pseudonym, and the reasoning behind coming clean that he was the author of this volume. At the time (and to a signficant extent still now, a decade later) being a universalist was taboo in evangelical circles. Perhaps in the so-called “liberal mainline”, but certainly no conservative evangelical Christian who accepts the authority of Scripture could hold this position… right? Parry did not want to raise questions or criticisms for his employer, but, after a few years of blogging under the pseudonym, and interacting with various individuals, he did “come out” in 2009, and in 2012, Wipf & Stock/Cascade published the second edition, with a new preface by Parry, a forward by Oliver Crisp of Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as a few new appendices addressing concerns arising since the first edition, including a response to those who challenged his criticisms of Calvinism, a response to the Rob Bell Love Wins controversy, and a study guide for groups wishing to interact with the book together. Continue reading

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In discussions about hell, sometimes an appeal to personality and authority is made. After all, conditionalism is certainly a minority view, and so conditionalists find themselves disagreeing with many highly venerated theologians and leaders of the Christian faith throughout its history. To someone who isn’t really thinking about it, it can be rhetorically powerful to call out someone who would be so arrogant as to challenge great men of the faith on the topic of hell.1 It can also give some people pause to say that this or that theologian (or many of them) whom they highly respect was wrong on such an important matter of theology.

However, conditionalists don’t even have to make a good case that any given theologian or group of theologians was wrong in order to diffuse this argument. We just need to remind everyone that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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  1. This is not the same are the simple numbers argument, the argument that surely the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow so many Christians throughout time couldn’t be wrong about hell (the way he did with salvation by faith alone vs. works, according to Protestantism…). This numbers argument can be coupled with the authority argument (“surely this many great men throughout time couldn’t be wrong about hell!”), but the authority argument is in many ways its own element. []
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At last year’s conference at Fuller Theological Seminary, my friend Chris Date delivered a compellingly reasonable, passionate plea for evangelicals to maintain unity and charity when it comes to this important topic of hell. Chris’ opening talk helped set the tone for a gathering that, by all accounts, successfully demonstrated just what this should look like. Although he focused in on our view, conditional immortality, and the conference was only about hell, what Chris offered in his presentation has much broader application in the church. Christians of all stripes should set aside the time to consider his important message.

Chris will also be speaking at this year’s conference, which will be held in London next week. The first evening is free, so if you happen to be in that neck of the woods, be sure to reserve your seat! See the conference website for details. To celebrate this third conference, we have just published all the remaining video from our first two conferences. Most sessions were recorded in video, while for most of the remaining sessions we have audio. Please enjoy! Also, see the very bottom of this post for some bonus videos and an announcement.
 

 

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