THE EPISTLE TO PHILEMON A Model Of Christian Courtesy (1-25) by Mark Copeland


      A Model Of Christian Courtesy (1-25)


1. There is a book in the New Testament which has been described as:
   a. A model of Christian courtesy
   b. A manifestation of Christian love
   c. A monument of Christian conversion

2. That book is Paul's epistle to Philemon, the shortest of all of 
     Paul's letters

3. In this lesson, we shall take a brief look at this unique letter

[Before actually reading it, it might be helpful to consider some...]


      1. The apostle Paul, of course
      2. As clearly indicated in verses 1,9,19

      1. By carefully comparing this epistle with the one to the 
         Colossians, it is clear that both were written at the same time
         and from the same place
         a. Like Colossians, the epistle to Philemon was written while
            Paul was in chains (Phm 1,10,13,23; Col 4:18)
         b. Timothy joined Paul in both epistle (Phm 1; Col 1:1)
         c. Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke joined in the 
            salutations of both (Phm 23,24; Col 4:10-14)
         d. Onesimus, the subject of the epistle to Philemon, was one of
            the messengers by whom the epistle to the Colossians was 
            sent (Col 4:7-9)
      2. If the epistle to Philemon was written about the time of 
         Colossians and the other "prison epistles" (Ephesians and Philippians)...
         a. Then it was written during Paul's imprisonment at Rome, the
            time mentioned in Ac 28:30-31
         b. This would make it sometime during 61-63 A.D.

      1. PHILEMON
         a. He was likely a member of the church at Colosse
         b. A very hospitable one, as we shall see
         c. It is possible that he was one of Paul's own converts (cf.
            Phm 19)
      2. APPHIA - possibly the wife of Philemon
      3. ARCHIPPUS
         a. Thought by many to be the son of Philemon
         b. A minister of the gospel (cf. Col 4:17)
      4. ONESIMUS
         a. He had been one of Philemon's slaves (Phm 16)
         b. Who had evidently run away (Phm 15)
         c. Somehow, he had traveled from Colosse to Rome, found Paul,
            and was converted to Christ (Phm 10)
         d. He had become very dear to Paul, and very useful (Phm 11-13; Col 4:10)

      1. Paul did not think it right to keep Onesimus with him in Rome,
         and was therefore sending him back to Philemon 2. This letter to Philemon is an appeal by Paul...
         a. To receive Onesimus back, now as a brother in Christ
         b. To forgive him if he had done any wrong

[With this background information, let's now READ the epistle,






[With a reading of the epistle fresh on our minds, let me suggest some...]


      1. Philemon opening his house for the church to meet - Phm 1-2;
         cf. also Ro 16:3-5; 1Co 16:19
      2. His love for all the saints - Phm 5; cf. also Col 1:4; 2 Th 1:3
      3. How he refreshed the hearts of the saints - Phm 7; cf. also
         1Co 16:15-18
      4. How Paul could depend upon on him for a place to stay -  Phm 22
      -- Certainly an example worthy of imitation!

      1. Paul could have "commanded" Philemon, but instead he "appealed"
         to him - Phm 8-9
      2. He introduced the subject of his appeal "gradually" - Phm 10
         (in the Greek, the name of Onesimus is the last word in the
      3. He refused to compel Philemon to let him retain Onesimus in 
         Rome, but sent him back - Phm 12-14
      4. He offers to pay Philemon for any wrong incurred by Onesimus
         - Phm 18-19
      5. He believes in the basic goodness of Philemon, not suspicious
         of how he will react - Phm 21


1. From both the example of Paul and Philemon, there is much to be
   gleaned from reading and meditating on this very short epistle
   a. From Philemon, a model of Christian hospitality
   b. From Paul, a model of Christian courtesy

2. If you have not ever carefully studied this epistle before, I hope
   that this brief lesson has whetted your desire to do so in the future

3. In closing we notice the last verse:

      "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Amen"

Are we living in such a way to allow the grace of the Lord Jesus to be
in our lives?

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

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There is Still Hope for Israel by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


There is Still Hope for Israel

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Many years after God gave laws through Moses in Exodus 34:10-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-5 pertaining to marriage, the people were exiled in Babylon. When the Persians toppled the Babylonian Empire, the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree in 536 B.C. permitting Israelites to return to Palestine and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Zerubbabel led the first wave of Jewish exiles back to their homeland and eventually the temple was rebuilt by 515 B.C. (Ezra 1-6). Over 50 years elapsed when, in 458 B.C., Artaxerxes, then king of Persia, granted permission for Ezra to gather a second wave of exiles to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7-10). Ezra was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses. It took him and his traveling companions five months to get to Jerusalem.
Ezra’s great purpose was to bring religious reform to the Jews in Palestine, to re-establish Mosaic institutions, and to revive the spirituality of a people who had degenerated socially, morally, and religiously. He worked feverishly to call them back to God’s written Word. Ezra sought to do what Jeremiah had tried to do: “ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16). Ezra was just the man for the job: “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). When God’s Israel today (cf. Galatians 6:16) grows lax and neglectful of God’s will, we, too, stand in dire need of men who know the truth and who will teach it to the church!
So in Ezra 8:15, Ezra began to tackle the enormous task before him, beginning by organizing the financial offerings as well as sacrificing burnt offerings to God. But then things got tough. Obeying God and bringing one’s self back into harmony with God’s wishes is often tough. Read carefully Ezra 9:1-­10:12 and notice the following six lessons to be learned:
  1. If a marriage relationship is unauthorized (i.e., not in harmony with God’s will), it must be dissolved. This proves that divorce or putting away is not always wrong, but is, in certain situations, God’s command.
  2. Even if children have been born to the illicit marriage union, the relationship still must be dissolved. Yes, submission to divine authority sometimes entails the sacrifice of human companionship to facilitate fellowship with God (Luke 18:29­-30).
  3. Repentance, in the case of relation­shipsentails more than simply acknow­ledging or confessing one’s sin. It includes the termination of that union in order for God to be pleased.
  4. We need more members of the church who will possess the deep sorrow and penitent shame that Ezra manifested, instead of excusing sin or proposing absurd quibbles or foolish arguments in an effort to dodge the stringency of God’s will. We need people who, instead of grasping for straws or scraping the bottom of the barrel in a frantic effort to justify adulterous unions, will just face and accept the truth like Shechaniah: “We have been unfaithful to our God.... Let it be done according to the Law” (Ezra 10:2-3).
  5. We need to understand that if there was hope for Israel then (10:2), there is hope for Israel now—not by expecting God to just look the other way, or wave His hand and make unrenounced sin go away. God has given “a little space” of grace (9:8). He has punished us less than our sins deserve (9:13). Our hope lies in our resolute decision to repent and turn from relationships that are out of harmony with God’s will. Then He will forgive and bless. Refusal to do so must be confronted with expulsion from the congregation (10:8; cf. 1Corinthians 5:13).
  6. We need to get ourselves back to “trembling at the word of the Lord” (9:4; 10:3).We’re just not too impressed by divine words anymore. We do not know what it means to “fear God” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) or to “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Ezra did. He asked rhetorically: “Should we again break Your commandments and join in marriage with the people of these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed, so that there would be no remnant or survivor?” (9:14). Ezra was right in step with the words of Paul: “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). He knew that there would be no substitute for straightforward obedience if, indeed, “the fierce wrath of our God is turned away from us in this matter” (10:14).
The Bible teaches us that, sooner or later, we will reap what we have sown. Jesus said there are only two possibilities—repent or perish (Luke 13:3). Let us never be reluctant or hesitant to bring our lives into conformity with God’s will, regardless of the hardship or difficulty involved. Let us love Him (1 John 5:3), for “there is still hope in Israel.”

The World Before Sin by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


The World Before Sin

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Imagine living in a world that is free from sin. It is a world where there are no murderers or thieves. It is a place free from racism and war, and from divorce and physical abuse. In this world, there is no strife, hatred, or jealousy. It is a place void of all pain and suffering. You would never be scared, because in this world there is nothing to fear. It is perfect. You live in complete harmony with every creature around you. You love every person you meet (and they love you!). And, most important, you have a perfect relationship with God.
Although you may think that such a world never existed, or that such perfection will be known only in heaven, the truth is, at one time Adam and Eve lived in such a paradise. According to the last verse in Genesis chapter one, after God finished His six-day creation (which included the making of Adam and Eve) He “saw everything He had made, and indeed it was very good.” Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve lived in complete harmony with nature, with themselves, and with God.
Instead of living in a world where animals are scared of humans, and where humans are afraid of various animals, Adam lived in harmony with all of God’s creatures. In fact, on the very day he was created, God brought the cattle, birds, and beasts of the field to Adam to be named. The animals were not frightened of Adam, and Adam was not scared of the animals. They lived in perfect harmony. [The Bible indicates it was not until after the Flood that the animals began to fear man (Genesis 9:2-3).]
Rather than having to work a “cursed” earth full of “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:17-19), Adam and Eve simply picked and gathered the fruit that God freely gave them in the Garden of Eden. And, as long as Adam and Eve ate of the tree of life that was in the middle of the garden, they would live forever (read Genesis 3:22). It seems that if Adam and Eve had remained in a sinless state, having access to this tree of life, they would have stayed in perfect health—being free from the diseases that claim the lives of so many people today.
Aside from all of these blessings, the most wonderful thing about the world before sin was that Adam and Eve lived in complete harmony with God. There was no sin separating them from their Creator. It was a perfect relationship. Blood sacrifices were not offered, and forgiveness of sins was not needed. Truly, before the fall of man, a kind of paradise existed on Earth.
Even though the sin of man brought a tragic end to the earthly paradise once known by Adam and Eve, God graciously has promised that He will give an eternal life (in a heavenly paradise) to everyone who responds, in faith through obedience, to the good news of Jesus Christ (Titus 3:7; 1 John 5:11-13; Acts 2:38).

The Unique Church by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


The Unique Church

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

On Thursday night, April 21, 1938, in a public discussion in Little Rock, Arkansas, before an immediate crowd of 1,000 people and a radio audience of thousands more, N.B. Hardeman engaged the famed debater Ben Bogard on the subject: “The Establishment of the Church.” On that occasion, Hardeman articulated an extremely significant truth about the church of Christ when he stated: “The kingdom, friends, has always existed.… It existed in Purpose, in the mind of God; it existed next in Promise, as delivered unto the patriarchs, and it existed in Prophecy; and then it existed in Preparation; and last of all, when the New Testament went into effect, it existed in Perfection” (1938, p. 178, italics in orig.). More than sixty years have come and gone since that insightful observation. But it remains an accurate expression of biblical truth. Before Adam and Eve inhabited the Garden of Eden together; before the skies, seas, and land were populated by birds, fish, and animals; before the Sun, Moon, and stars were situated in the Universe; and before our planet Earth was but a dark, watery, formless mass—God purposed to bring into being the church of Christ.
Indeed, Scripture describes this divine intention as “eternal.” Central to the great purposes of God from eternity has been, not only the sending of His Son as an atonement for sin, but the creation of the church of Christ—the blood-bought body of Jesus and living organism of the redeemed. Listen to Paul’s affirmation: “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11). It is difficult for human beings to fathom “eternal.” There are times when the notion of “everlasting” is abbreviated—like Jonah 2:6 where Jonah said he was in the fish’s stomach “forever.” It must have seemed like it to him. So the word can be used in an abbreviated way. In Philemon 15, Paul said Onesimus would be with Philemon aionion—“forever when he returns to you.” But the context limits the meaning to just until he dies.
But when we speak of deity (e.g., Psalm 90:1-2) or the church, we are talking about everlasting, eternal, forever. Hebrews 12:28 asserts confidently: “Wherefore we, receiving a kingdom which...” will someday end? No! Rather, “a kingdom that is unshakable,” destined to be around forever—an eternal institution. No wonder Daniel was informed: “The saints of the most high shall take the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (Daniel 7:18). With that grand purpose in mind, God gradually began foreshadowing through promise and prophecy the eventual accomplishment of that purpose.
Some 750 years before Christ came to Earth, Isaiah announced the eventual establishment of the “Lord’s house” in the “last days” in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4). At about the same time, Micah enunciated essentially the same facts (Micah 4:1-3). Some 500 years before Christ, Daniel declared to a pagan king that during the days of the Roman kings, the God of heaven would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). He also stated that the “Son of man” would pass through the clouds, come to the ancient of days, and be given an indestructible kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). Thus, the church, which existed initially in purpose in the mind of God, now existed in promise and prophecy in the utterances of His spokesmen.
With the appearance of John the baptizer and Jesus on the Earth, the church of Christ entered a new phase of existence. Now, more than ever before, the kingdom was presented with a sense of immediacy, nearness, and urgent expectation. Now, God’s emissaries actively prepared for its imminent appearance. John exclaimed: “[T]he kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Jesus echoed His harbinger with precisely the same point: “[T]he kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). As John made preparations for the Lord (Matthew 3:3; 11:10; Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1), so the Lord made preparations for the kingdom. He announced His intention personally to establish His church (Matthew 16:18). He declared that it would occur during the lifetime of His earthly contemporaries (Mark 9:1).
Just prior to His departure from Earth, Jesus further noted that the apostles would be witnesses of His death and resurrection, and would preach repentance and remission of sins in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. He would even send the promise of the Father upon them, which would entail being “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49). This power was to be equated with Holy Spirit immersion (Acts 1:4-5,8).
Now that the kingdom had existed in purposepromise, and prophecy, and in preparation, the time had come for the church to come forth in perfection. After urging the apostles to “tarry in Jerusalem,” Jesus ascended into a cloud and was ushered into heaven. The apostles returned to Jerusalem and for ten days awaited the fulfillment of the Savior’s words.
Then it happened. With stunning splendor, after centuries of eager anticipation (1 Peter 1:10-12), God poured out His Spirit upon the Twelve on the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2). This miraculous outpouring enabled these one dozen “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20) to present a stirring defense of Christ’s resurrection, convicting some in the audience with the guilt of the crucifixion. Peter then simultaneously detailed the conditions of forgiveness and the terms of entrance into the kingdom of Christ. These terms consisted of being pricked in the heart, repenting of sins, and being immersed in water (Acts 2:37-38).
The church of Christ was now perfected into existence on the Earth, consisting of approximately 3,000 members—all of Jewish descent. From this moment forward, the kingdom of Christ on the Earth was a reality. To its Jewish citizenry, were added the first Gentile converts in Acts 10, when those of the household of Cornelius obeyed the same terms of entrance that their Jewish counterparts had obeyed some ten to fifteen years earlier. By the cross, Christ had made “in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body” (Ephesians 2:15-16).
This “one body” is totally unique, and is unlike any other entity on the face of the Earth. She is distinguished by several unique and exclusive characteristics:
First, she wears the name of her head, owner, and savior—Christ (Daniel 7:14; Matthew 16:18; Romans 16:16; Ephesians 1:23; 4:12; Revelation 11:15). Her members wear the divinely bestowed name of “Christian” (Isaiah 62:1-2; Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16).
Second, her organization was arranged by God to consist of Jesus as head, elders/pastors/bishops as the earthly overseers or managers, deacons as the designated workers/ministers, evangelists as the proclaimers of the good news, teachers as instructors in the faith, and all the other members, who are active in serving the Lord (Acts 6:1-3; 14:23; 20:17,28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
Third, her unique mission consists of bringing glory to God (1 Corinthians 6:20). As Peter explained: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11). This task is accomplished by disseminating the Gospel of Christ to the human race (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 8:4; Romans 10:14; Philippians 2:15-16; Hebrews 5:12-14); by endeavoring to keep Christians faithful (Romans 14:19; 15:1-3; Ephesians 4:12; Jude 20-24); and by manifesting a benevolent lifestyle (Matthew 25:31-46; Galatians 6:10; James 2:1-17). In short, every member of the church is to strive for complete conformity to the will of Christ (Matthew 22:37-38; 2 Corinthians 5:9; 10:5; Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Fourth, her entrance requirements are unlike any other entity on the face of the Earth. The individual who is struck with the heinousness of sin, recognizing the purpose of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice through His death upon the cross, comes to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the New Testament as the only authentic expression of His will. This belief leads him to repent of his sins, to orally confess Jesus as the Christ, and to be baptized in water, with the understanding that as he rises from the waters of baptism, he is forgiven of sin and added to the church by Christ (Mark 16:16; Hebrews 11:6; Acts 2:38,47; Romans 6:1-6; 10:9-10). These terms of entrance were given by Jesus to the apostles, who declared them on the occasion of the establishment of the church (Matthew 16:19; Acts 2).
Fifth, her instruction manual is likewise exclusive and unique. The Bible, consisting of both Old and New Testaments, constitutes her one and only authentic and authoritative guide (Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11; 2 Peter 3:16). These 66 books, written by some 40 men over a period of 1,600 years, are actually the product of the Holy Spirit, Who empowered the writers to pen only what God wanted written (2 Samuel 23:2; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The Bible is thus verbally inspired of God, inerrant, and all-sufficient.
Many other characteristics of the church of Christ could be cited. But these five are sufficient to show that the church is easily identifiable and not to be confused with any other religious group. It was inevitable that people would deviate from the simple guidelines given in Scripture (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1-2). The result has been the formulation of unbiblical doctrines, unscriptural practices, and unauthorized churches (Matthew 15:9,13; 2 John 9-11).
The Scriptures make clear that God never has and never will sanction such a state of affairs. The only hope of any individual is to be in the one true church living faithfully to God’s desires. Many in our day are working overtime to obscure and blur the distinction between the New Testament church and the manmade, counterfeit churches that exist in abundance. They seem oblivious to the fact that no denominations are ever found in the Bible. Many people do not seem even to be aware of the fact that the Bible describes a single church—Christ’s church.
Yet anyone who cares to consult the inspired guidebook can see that the church described in the Bible is easily identifiable today. The matter may be easily determined upon the basis of two criteria. First, can one know how to become a Christian? If so, then the church can be identified, i.e., those who have obeyed the one and only Gospel plan of salvation. Second, can one know how to live the Christian life faithfully and obediently before God? If so, one can identify those who continue to constitute the saved body, the church.
In light of these simple truths, no legitimate claim may be made by denominational bodies to consider themselves as churches of Christ. The pluralistic mindset that has permeated our thinking has prodded us to be more accepting of other viewpoints and to “lighten up” in our opposition to false religion. For some years now, we have been goaded and prodded into feeling guilty about claiming certainty about anything, let alone biblical truth. But the truth continues to be that denominations are manmade divisions, unmitigated departures from the faith.
Denominationalism is about the best thing Satan has come up with to subvert the truth of the Bible and to bring otherwise religious people under his influence. The world religions, as well as those who embrace humanistic philosophies like atheism, by definition, have rejected the one true God and have capitulated to Satan. So where do you suppose Satan is going to focus the brunt of his assault upon the Earth? The more he is able to muddy the waters and to obscure the certainty of the truth, the more chance he has of luring people into his clutches.
We are at a moment in history when Satan is making great inroads into the church, and scoring impressive victories against the cause of Christ. As the book of Judges records a cyclical pattern among God’s people of apostasy, punishment, repentance, faithfulness, and then back into apostasy, we are at the point in history where apostasy holds sway. This periodic purging process seems to be an inevitable recurrence. What God would have us to do is to stand confidently and courageously upon His will, unmoved and unintimidated by the overwhelming forces that pressure us to succumb. In this fashion, the justice of God will be made evident at the Judgment and, in the meantime, impetus is given to the redeemed to strengthen themselves in the struggle to stay loyal to the Master. Every possible soul must be “snatched out of the fire” (Jude 23).
While the Lord would have us to demonstrate concern and compassion for the lost denominational world, He also would have us exercise discretion in the extent to which we fellowship and affiliate with such groups. Regardless of the fashionable sentiments prevalent among some in our day, the Bible still delineates God’s disapproval of the righteous associating with error and false religion. When we become proud of our ability to mingle with denominationalism—manifesting acceptance and tolerance of their unbiblical beliefs—we are guilty of the very attitude that Paul condemned in 1 Corinthians 5:2, that Jesus condemned in Revelation 2:15-16, and that John condemned in 2 John 11.
We need to return to the Old Testament, and learn afresh the lessons that Israel failed repeatedly to learn. We need to stand at Elijah’s side and breath deeply his spirit of confrontation as he boldly distinguished between true and false religion (1 Kings 18:17-40). We need to follow Phinehas into the tent and learn to identify with his jealous intolerance of disobedience and defiance to the will of God (Numbers 25:1-15). We need to step across the line to stand at Moses’ side and witness the calm fury with which he sought to expunge sin (Exodus 32:25-28). We need to identify ourselves with the young king Josiah and feel the same sense of horror and tearful concern as we watch him burn, break, desecrate, destroy, cut down, stamp, and slay everything and everyone who represented unauthorized religious practice (2 Kings 22 and 23).
Perhaps once we have honestly filled our minds with these inspired accounts, and allowed these truths to penetrate and permeate our being, we will possess the proper frame of mind to view denominationalism, and all other alternatives to the one church, in the same way that God views them. Maybe then we will perceive counterfeit churches and rival religions with the depth of righteous anger and displeasure that God perceives them. Until then, we will be gripped by an unconcerned, blasé, live-and-let-live mentality that will allow Satan to proceed with his subversion of humanity. If we do not stand up and proclaim the distinctiveness of the one true church of Christ, nobody else will, and we will lose our souls along with them. If Noah had not been comfortable with standing in a minute minority in an effort to stem the tide, the tide would have swept him away in the Flood along with the rest.
Do you love the church for which Jesus shed His blood? Do you? Do you love the body of Christ deeply enough to temper your concern for the lost with a righteous regard for the purity and loyalty of that body? Rather than obscure the reality and identity of the unique church of Christ, we would do well to take note of the clearly defined borders of the kingdom, that we might be able to give our attention to bringing in those on the outside. Fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness is not the answer; teaching and exposing them is (Ephesians 5:11).
If we would truly fathom that the church of Christ is distinctive, exclusive, and unique; if we would truly view fraternization with the denominations as traitorous; if we would love the genuine body of Christ with the same fervency and jealousy with which Jesus loves her; then we would be in a position to proclaim with Paul: “Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Ephesians 3:21).


Hardeman, N.B. and Ben M. Bogard (1938), The Hardeman-Bogard Debate (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).

The Thief on the Cross by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


The Thief on the Cross

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Legion are those who dismiss water baptism as prerequisite to salvation on the grounds that “the thief on the cross was not baptized.” The thought is that since the thief was suspended on the cross when Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), he was being pronounced as saved by Christ without being required to be baptized. As one well-known preacher put it, “There was no water within 10 miles of the cross.” Please give consideration to two important observations.

First, the thief may well have been baptized prior to being placed on the cross. Considerable scriptural evidence points to this conclusion (Matthew 3:5-6; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:21; 7:29-30). If he was, in fact, baptized, he would have been baptized with the baptism administered by John the baptizer. John’s baptism was temporary (i.e., in force only during his personal ministry, terminating at the death of Christ). However, even John’s baptism was “for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4) and, hence, essential for salvation for those to whom it was addressed. John’s baptism, like the one administered by Jesus while He was on Earth (John 3:22,26; 4:1-2), was unique and temporary. It was addressed only to Jews, and only to the Jews who populated the vicinity of Jerusalem and Judea. It was designed to prepare the Jewish people for the arrival of the Messiah. But John’s baptism must not be confused with New Testament baptism that is addressed to everybody, and that did not take effect until after the cross of Christ. If the thief was a Jew, and if he already had submitted to John’s baptism, there would have been no need for him to be re-baptized. He simply would have needed to repent of his post-baptism thievery and acknowledge his sins—which the text plainly indicates that he did.
Second, and most important, the real issue pertains to an extremely crucial feature of Bible interpretation. This hermeneutical feature is so critical that, if a person does not grasp it, his effort to sort out Bible teaching, in order to arrive at correct conclusions, will be inevitably hampered. This principle was spotlighted by Paul when he wrote to Timothy and told him he must “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). In other words, if one simply takes the entire Bible—all 66 books—and treats them as if everything that is said applies directly and equally to everyone, his effort to be in harmony with God’s Word will be hopeless and futile. For example, if a person turned to Genesis 6 and read where God instructed Noah to build a boat, if he did not study enough to determine whether such instruction applied to himself, he would end up building his own boat—the entire time thinking that God wanted him to do so! The Bible is literally filled with commands, instructions, and requirements that were not intended to be duplicated by people living today. Does God forbid you and me from eating a certain fruit (Genesis 2:17; 3:3)? Are we to refrain from boiling a baby goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19)? Does God want you and me to offer our son as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2)? Are we commanded to load up and leave our homeland (Genesis 12:1)? Moving to the New Testament, does God want you to sell everything you have and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21)? Does God expect you to leave everything, quit your job, and devote yourself full time to spiritual pursuits (Matthew 4:20; 19:27; Mark 10:28; Luke 5:28)? Does God intend for you to “desire spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1), i.e., seek to possess miraculous abilities? The point is that the entire Bible applies to the entire human race. However, careful and diligent study is necessary to determine how it applies. We must understand the biblical distinction between the application of the principles of the Bible and the specific details.

Here, then, is the central point as it pertains to the relevance of the thief on the cross: Beginning at Creation, all humans were amenable to the laws of God that were given to them at that time. Bible students typically call this period of time the Patriarchal Dispensation. During this period, which lasted from Creation to roughly the time of the cross, non-Jews were subject to a body of legislation passed down by God through the fathers of family clans (cf. Hebrews 11:1). In approximately 1,500 B.C., God removed the genetic descendants of Abraham from Egyptian bondage, took them out into the Sinai desert, and gave them their own law code (the Law of Moses). Jews were subject to that body of legal information from that time until it, too, was terminated at the cross of Christ. The following passages substantiate these assertions: Matthew 27:51; Romans 2:12-16; Galatians 3:7-29; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 2:11-17. The book of Hebrews addresses this subject extensively. To get to the heart of the matter quickly, read especially Hebrews 9:15-17. When one “correctly handles the Word of truth,” one sees that the Bible teaches that when Christ died on the cross, Mosaic law came to an end, and patriarchal law shortly thereafter. At that point, all humans on the planet became amenable to the law of Christ (cf. Galatians 6:2). The law of Christ consists strictly of information that is intended to be in effect after the death of Christ. It includes some of the things that Jesus and His disciples taught while He was still on Earth. But as regards the specifics of salvation, one must go to Acts 2 and the rest of the New Testament (especially the book of Acts) in order to determine what one must do today to be saved. Beginning in Acts 2, the new covenant of Christ took effect, and every single individual who responded correctly to the preaching of the gospel was baptized in water in order to be forgiven of sin by the blood of Christ. Every detail of an individual’s conversion is not always mentioned, but a perusal of the book of Acts demonstrates decisively that water immersion was a prerequisite to forgiveness, along with faith, repentance, and confession of the deity of Christ (Acts 2:38,41; 8:12,13,16,36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15,33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16).
The thief was not subject to the New Testament command to be baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3-4), just as Moses, Abraham, and David were not amenable to it. They all lived prior to the cross under different law codes. They could not have been baptized into Christ’s death—because He had not yet died! The establishment of the church of Christ and the launching of the Christian religion did not occur until after Christ’s death, on the day of Pentecost in the year A.D. 30 in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2). An honest and accurate appraisal of the biblical data forces us to conclude that the thief on the cross is not an appropriate example of how people are to be saved this side of the cross.

Emerald Isle! by EE Healy


“Watering Down Hell” by Jim R. Everett


“Watering Down Hell”

(An Answer To “Conditional Immortality”)

By Jim R. Everett


  1. Watering Down Hell — Introduction
  2. More Than A Drop Of Water — Luke 16:19-31
  3. “Image Is Everything”
  4. Shortening The “Eternity” Of “Eternal Punishment”
  5. Interpreting The “Fire” Of Gehennah
  6. Isaiah 66:24 — “…Where The Fire Is Not Quenched…”

Watering Down Hell — Introduction

The modern, liberal theologian has joined the cultic religionist in seeking to “water down” hell and make eternal punishment nothing more than a momentary oxidation of the body. He inconsistently affirms the eternal nature of God and the future state of the righteous by denying the everlasting duration of the punishment of the unrighteous. He also perverts the Bible’s teaching about punishment in hell. In fact, when he finishes interpreting Bible contexts, “eternal” does not mean “forever and forever,” “punishment” becomes “non-existence,” and “hell” refers to a geographical location where the unrighteous will momentarily experience some degree of suffering as God kills them, then discards their bodies to be eaten of worms and burned by fire. With more than a mere sprinkle of philosophy, he cools the flames of hell by his rationale.
Accepting annihilation, as opposed to believing in everlasting punishment, is not a result of a more accurate definition of the Greek word “aionios” and the Hebrew word “olam,” because the words do mean “endless duration” in many instances — the integrity of those opposed to “endless duration punishment” requires that they admit that. If not actually stated, the implication is seen in the writings of the opponents of hell that a proper definition of words requires that one deny the reality of eternal punishment in hell. The reasoning is presented as though in exegeting Biblical contexts since words have a particular meaning in one context, then those words must have the same meaning in all contexts. Specifically, as it relates to this study, the conclusion is drawn that since “aionios” and “olam” mean “age lasting” or a “duration of time,” then that is what they must mean in passages addressing the future punishment of man. That is not an accurate analysis. While words will always retain their basic meaning, there are extensions and variations in different contexts. The rejection of an “endless duration” of punishment does not rest on the definition of the words — it rests on human reasoning that sets aside the most basic understanding of passages.
Every bible student recognizes that the words “eternal,” “everlasting” and “forever” are used sometimes to describe what is actually less than “endless duration.” For instance, Jonah said of his stay in the fish’s belly that it was “forever” but we know that it was actually only three days (Jonah 2:6). In this instance the word “forever” is used in the sense of that which seems to be so to the writer — that is a legitimate use of language, because there is a kind of “poetic” latitude involved. Does the fact that both the Hebrew words and the Greek words that are translated “eternal” and “everlasting” are used for time-frame references of shorter duration justify a denial of an eternal hell? The preponderance of Biblical evidence proves that such an interpretation is incorrect.
Neither is a person logically forced to believe that the soul or spirit of man cannot exist separate from Divine presence and sustenance, because he has learned better definitions of the words “spirit,” “soul,” “death” and “destroy.” Contrariwise, I believe that definitions are manipulated to sustain “conditional immortality.” There may have been some factor that caused a person to accept “conditional immortality” but once having accepted it, he is then logically forced to reinterpret many passages.
And, there are some implications necessarily flowing from modern reasoning which, when pursued with consistency, reach far beyond the nature of man and eternal punishment. For instance, Edward Fudge, in being consistent with his belief in “conditional immortality” says, “Every scriptural implication is that if Jesus had not been raised, he — like those fallen asleep in him — would simply have perished (1 Cor. 15:18). Scriptures such as 2 Timothy 1:10Hebrews 2:14Revelation 20:14 affirm that his resurrection reverses every such estimation of affairs, assuring us instead of the death of Death,” (Fudge, p. 145, The Fire That Consumes). If that statement isn’t saying that not only does man cease to exist at death but that when Jesus died, He also ceased to exist, I must confess that I do not understand it.
Furthermore, I believe that if he reasons consistently, he will cease believing in “eternal life” — radical, liberal theologians have already. Existence then becomes “man focused” with both heaven and hell a “now” experience. None of us are immune from the flood of religious materials being published containing modernistic concepts. Like all error, left unattended, it can subtletly erode faith. Without hell there is not much incentive to restrain evil aspirations — without heaven there is not much reason for people trying to live righteously.

More Than A Drop Of Water On Lazarus’ Finger — Luke 16:19-31

This account conveys an existence beyond the grave, during which, time continues on the earth — the well being of the rich man’s brethren on earth was of grave concern to him, lest they should also come to this place — vv. 29-31.
Why do “annihilationists” demote the story of the rich man and Lazarus from inspired truth to folklore or mythology? Obviously, because it says some things they refuse to accept. It says, first of all, that there is existence after death. It not only says there is existence but that there is conscious existence. And then it affirms that there is some degree of suffering on the part of the unrighteous which is ongoing, though this context does not deal with “eternal punishment.” Jesus’ teaching here takes direct issue with the “conditional immortality” view of man.
So-called “scholars” who believe in “conditional immortality” first deal with the passage by referring to it as a “parable.” That is nothing new — The Watchtower has been doing that for many years. The purpose of labeling it in that fashion is to imply that it cannot be a true picture of life after death. However, if we were to grant that it is a parable, the parables Jesus taught were always fact or true to fact, else a parallel could not be drawn — parables parallel truth so that from an established, accepted truth, disciples could learn spiritual truth.
Since calling it a parable is not nearly adequate to destroy its credibility, they intensify their attacks by saying that Jesus borrowed the story from the folk-lore of the Jews. Fudge says, “Morey acknowledges that Jesus borrowed this story from a common rabbinical tale of the time and that it should not be pressed into a literal preview of the world to come” (Afterlife pp. 30f, 84f, as quoted in The Fire That Consumes, p. 126.) Fudge admits that the Jews’ folklore and Jesus statements in Luke 16 are not exactly the same: “There are differences between these stories and Jesus’, of course, and therein lies the Lord’s uniqueness. But the basic plot was well-known folklore,” (p. 127). Fudge refers to Froom who cites a discourse of Josephus concerning Hades which, he says, paints almost precisely the same picture as the account in Luke 16. Then Fudge says, “He (Froom) concludes that Jesus was clearly using a then common tradition of the Jews to press home a moral lesson in a related field.” However, Fudge admits that the account in Josephus is generally admitted by his own scholars to be spurious (p. 127), and, in so doing, annuls his own proof.
When the opponent of hell has finished with this context, the rich man doesn’t need for Lazarus to come and dip his finger in water to cool his tongue, for he has totally extinguished the flame. The rich man just thinks he exists and that he views Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. Furthermore, the rich man really isn’t suffering, for there is no existence after death — you see, he doesn’t understand that his soul has been extinguished along with the body. However, I consider the most serious consequence of their position to be a necessary charge of either dishonesty or ignorance against Jesus Himself. They must accuse Jesus of, either ignorantly or intentionally, using a lie to try and impress a moral truth when they say that He used mere tradition of the Jews drawn from folklore and mythology.
It is not just the Lord’s uniqueness that makes the account in Luke 16 different — it is His understanding as God of what is beyond the grave. It is impossible for me to believe that Jesus used a lie to teach a moral truth — such an affirmation is totally incongruous and illogical. It is not from deeper wells of wisdom that men draw their conclusions denying hell as eternal punishment — it really springs from the waters of modern, materialistic concepts that will douse, not just a fiery hell, but the very flames of inspiration. When one begins to question reliability of certain sections of scripture to establish credibility of his position, he needs to understand that he has forsaken God, the fountain of living waters and hewn out for himself broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13). He dilutes the very truth he uses to sustain his own belief system. One cannot attack the credibility of the scripture on one point and use it as support for his belief system on another.

“Image Is Everything”

Man as a special creation made in God’s image differs significantly from the rest of animal creation — there is more to him than a living, animated body — “IMAGE IS EVERYTHING!”
Are all men infused with an immortal soul? Can God annihilate the spirit (soul) He has given or, once brought into existence, is it indestructible? “Immortality” means “not subject to death.” “Conditional immortality” affirms that the soul can sustain its existence only as it is connected to and cared for by God — left alone it will perish as a coal of fire dies when separated from its source. “Conditional immortality” affirms that only the righteous will be raised to immortality. On the other hand, the unrighteous, perchance they be raised, will be annihilated as their bodies are oxidized in “Gehenna’s” unquenchable fire that will be quenched after it has burned up their bodies and the soul will become nonexistent. “Conditional immortality” necessarily makes “gehenna” a physical fire — a literal place filled with dead bodies being eaten by worms and being oxidized by “unquenchable fire.” Besides other problems, such a physical interpretation presents a conflict between the bodies being consumed in a lake of fire and being eaten by worms.
Proper definitions of the Hebrew words “ruach” and “nephesh,” and the Greek words “psuche,” “zoe” and “pneuma” give us an idea of the flexibility of these words. Consult a lexicon for detailed definitions. Our English words “soul,” “spirit,” “life,” “person,” “being,” “breath,” etc., are translations of the Hebrew and Greek. Now, whether or not “ruach” means “breath” is not the issue, for it does sometimes carry that simple idea. But, it is inaccurate to say that since “ruach” means “breath,” then it must mean that exclusively. In fact, the definition of the Greek word “pneuma” as “air” or “wind,” since it is used in reference to the Holy Spirit, is the basis for some denying that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Godhead. Nor is the issue whether or not “nephesh” and “psuche” can simply mean a person, a living animated being, for the words convey that thought at times. The real issue is whether or not there is an inner man, made in God’s likeness, which exists after the body is dead. The “inner man” is called both “soul” and “spirit,” but to people who want to quibble about meanings of words, Paul used neither “pneuma” nor “psuke” when he referred to the “inner man” that is renewed day by day while the “outer man” was decaying — there is an “inner man” and an “outer man,” (2 Corinthians 4:14-5:4).
There are generally two positions postulated about the “soul” of man: (1) that the soul is just the life that animates the body and when the body dies man ceases to exist; or (2) that the real man is the spirit or the soul which tabernacles, temporarily, in a living animated body and continues to exist, even when separated from the physical part. For years The Watchtower has denied the existence of an “inner man” by a simplified form of argumentation. Their arguments are stripped of the flare of intellectualism, devoid of philosophical reasoning, missing the reciprocal name dropping of respected, fellow scholars so common in current times; but, none the less, presenting man as a soul — not having a soul — which soul simply ceases to exist at death in the same way that animals die. I doubt that any so-called scholar of our times would wish to be identified with Charles Tazz Russell, nor would they accept him as a scholar, but in the later 1800’s and early 1900’s he was making arguments similar to those made by some who have embraced “conditional immortality” in our time.
Man as a special creation differs significantly from animals that have soul (“nephesh” ). “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being,” (Genesis 2:7, NKJV). Genesis 2 describes in detail what Genesis 1 revealed in general terms. But Genesis 1:26-27, contains essential information in relating God’s creation of man in order to give a correct interpretation of Genesis 2:7 — “Let Us make man in Our image, According to Our likeness…So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them,”(NKJV). “Image” and “likeness” make a difference in how we understand who and what we are. “Image” is not said of beasts of the field nor birds of the heaven, though it is said of them that they have “soul”(“nephesh,” “life,” in Genesis 2:19). Simply put, God is spirit (John 4:24); man is created in God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26-27); therefore, the likeness man has with God is spirit. If we accept the spirit nature of God, then we are forced to accept that image in man. In reference to the nature of God, one who believes in conditional immortality will not argue that God is just “breath” or “life,” because if he did, he would reduce God to being just as extinguishable as he conceives of man’s spirit being. What is there about man that differentiates him from animals, if he is just alive as the animals are alive?
Since God imparted “spirit” to man, is He, consequently, powerless to annihilate the spirit? I would hesitate to affirm what God could not do — that is like asking, “Could God not force man to be good?” or “Could God not have forgiven sin in some other way than through the death of Christ?” God must act consistent with His very nature ; hence, I would not answer the question in that form. Rather, since God cannot deny Himself, I would answer that God has conveyed to us what He has done and what He has done is make man in His image and after His likeness. God is both eternal and immortal — man is not eternal, because he had a beginning but his inner part, made in God’s likeness, is necessarily immortal. The issue is whether or not the Bible teaches that the soul part of man survives death. An appropriate question here would be, “Is God powerless to fulfill His threat of an eternal, conscious torment of the unrighteous?”

Two Simple Answers To “Conditional Immortality”

First, in Matthew 10:28, Jesus is giving assurance to His apostles whom He is sending on the “limited commission” — don’t be afraid of what men can do to you. By having a priority in fears, there is an understanding of the greatness of God and His protective ability. Man can kill the body but he cannot kill the soul — thus there is a difference between the outer part, the living animated being, and the inner part of man. Fearing God more than man is based on an understanding of the greater power that God has. But if man can do what God can do by killing the body, why would Jesus say, “But rather fear him...” ? Jesus is saying to His apostles, If you have to die — and later they did — those who kill you cannot touch that which is the “inner being” (soul).
There is significance in the words used by Jesus to describe the differences in the greatness of power: “Kill” (Greek, apokteino) means taking life, murder, put to death (Vine, p. 630). It is taking the life from the body by inflicting sufficient harm on the body so as to render it incapable of existing — man can take life by harming the body sufficiently. But only God can “destroy” the soul — (apollumi) “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being...” (Vine, p. 304). Jesus’ statements surely indicate the immortality of the soul. If man were able to kill the body but not kill the soul, then when the body dies, the soul lives on — otherwise, to kill the body would also be to kill the soul. God is able to destroy the body and soul in hell (gehenna) — remember, it is not said of God that He is able to “kill” the body and soul but rather that He is able to “destroy” both in hell. In the parallel account in Luke 12:4-5, it is stated differently and proponents of “conditional immortality” would have Jesus say that God will “kill” the soul. But, again, look at the contrasts between the power of men and that of God. Men have the power to kill the body but after that, have no power to do anything more — that is, they have no power to affect the soul, as Matthew records Jesus’ statement (10:28). In v. 5, the admonition is to fear the One, which after He hath killed — and the parallel contrast goes back to the power of men to “kill the body” — also has power to cast into hell. “Killing” has reference to the body — not to the “killing the soul.” Instead of trying to make Jesus say that God “kills the soul,” the consistent parallel is the power of God to deal with the soul, which man cannot touch, by inflicting eternal loss of well being. Matthew’s account, “...destroy both body and soul in hell,” is recorded by Luke as “after he has killed (the body) hath power to cast into hell.” It is after the “killing”, that God still has power to do something else. Luke’s account does not say that God “kills the soul,” which is what one embracing “conditional immortality” would like for Him to say.
Then, Jesus answered the materialistic Sadducees conclusively in Matthew 22:23-33. The Sadducees and their belief are identified and they pose their “unanswerable” question for Jesus. The dilemma they posed for Him is found in verses 24-28. Jesus answers in verses 29-33. In His answer He proposes first that in the resurrection — which affirms that there is a resurrection of the dead — men are as angels. The point of comparison is that angels do not marry but that necessarily implies something else about the nature of angels. Are angels created beings or eternal? Are angels immortal? They do exist separate from God (Jude 62 Peter 2:4). From Peter’s second epistle (2:4), evil angels have been cast down to “tartrarosas” and bound in chains — they are existing beings, currently bound and experiencing some form of punishment as they await the coming judgment. Jesus then makes an argument based on God’s statement of “being” — “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Then He states the second part of the argument: “God is not the God of the dead but of the living,” (v. 32). The necessary conclusion from His argument is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are living, though dead physically. “Conditional immortality” contradicts Jesus’ argument.

Shortening The “Eternity” Of “Eternal Punishment”

By what reasoning process do the opponents of “eternal punishment” seek to diminish the time-frame reference so that “eternity” is not a quantitative qualification of endless duration? The observations here are not designed to be exhaustive of all the arguments but, rather, are an examination of the most common ones that are considered to be the most persuasive. The answers in this section are summations and objections to the basic fallacies involved in their arguments.
(1) Some opponents of hell say: “The adjectival use of ‘aionios’ can never mean more than the noun use of ‘aion.’ Therefore, since ‘aion’ means ‘age;’ then ‘aionios’ must mean nothing more than ‘age lasting.’” The fallacy of that statement can be seen by examining contexts containing the words “eternal” and “forever.” It cannot be successfully denied by the opponents of an “eternal hell” that the words “eternal” and “everlasting,” as they apply to God, convey “endless duration” — the evidence is there; they have no choice — Rom 1:259:511:3616:27Eph 3:21 — cf. Heb 13:8. Would they dare affirm that God is just an “age lasting” God? Furthermore, the passages that describe the existence of the righteous in the resurrection use the word “aionios” to describe an eternal time frame reference — Matt 19:2925:46Lk 16:9Rom 2:7Tit 1:1Heb 5:92 Cor 5:1. To believe in both the eternal nature of God and the “endless duration” of the future of the righteous means that one must accept the fact that “aionios” does, indeed, mean more than the noun usage of “aion.” Therefore, “aionios” (endless duration) can also describe the future existence of the wicked. It is not a more accurate definition of the word, “aionios,” that causes one to deny “everlasting punishment.” The argument, as stated in the beginning of this paragraph, is blatantly false.
(2) Others seek to “water down hell” by arguing that the fire of hell is eternal but the resurrected evil are burned up immediately by the fire. That necessarily recognizes the “endless duration” sense of “aionios” as descriptive of the fire. But the most logical question that comes to mind is, “Why have an eternal fire, if it accomplished in an instant the punishment of the wicked in burning up their bodies?” So, a second explanation is offered that is slightly different and is designed to address that problem — “The fire is called eternal, because it has eternal consequences but the fire only lasted as long as it took to consume evil men.” John Stott said, “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable,’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises for ever and ever’ (Rev. 14:11; cf. 19:3).” This little bit of sophistry throws muddy water on hell by its materialism — so now the fire is not eternal but the smoke is eternal evidence of the destruction of the evil — evidence for whom and for what reason? God did it, so He surely knows about it and why He did it. The unrighteous are supposedly eternally gone, so there are no evil people around for whom the smoke will serve as a warning. The righteous are in a totally different existence, where there is no evil so they don’t need to know. Furthermore, Stott’s answer ignores the rest of verse 11 in chapter 4 — “…and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” Also, v. 10, affirms that anyone who worships the beast will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, “and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the lamb.” If the evil souls cease to exist because they are separated from God’s presence, that contradicts what John says here — he says they are tormented in the presence of the Lamb. Their explanation is not only nonsensical, it plainly contradicts what the passage, in its entirety, says.
(3) Notice this subtle play on words — “But Jesus did not say ‘eternal punishing’ — He said, ‘eternal punishment.’ ‘Eternal punishment’ would mean ‘annihilation,’ because its results would be for eternity.” Jesus did not have to employ the participle “punishing” in order to convey a continued, ongoing punishment. For instance, when Cain said to God, “My punishment is greater than I can bear...” (Gen 4:13), he referred to God’s curse placed upon him (vv. 11-12). As long as he lived, the punishment continued. Cain could have said the same thing by using a verbal expression — “My being punished is too great.” The prepositional phrase “...into everlasting punishment” carries the same connotation as “being punished forever,” just as a person might be sent into banishment would mean that he was being banished and would continue being banished for the whole duration of time. It is significant that the quantitative qualification of the punishment Jesus described is “eternal” — it is not just death — the punishment endures eternally.
(4) Jude said, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah…are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” The efforts put forth by those who believe in “conditional immortality” and “annihilation” from Jude 7 argue that Jude used the word “eternal” to qualify punishment by fire for a period of time that was of the few minutes or hours that God rained the fire and brimstone on the cities and they were destroyed. They affirm that since Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the vengeance of “eternal fire” and it was the annihilation of the cities, then the “eternal punishment” of the wicked at the final judgment will also be annihilation. In this way, they say that “eternal fire” is called that because it has “eternal consequences” in “annihilation” rather than an “ongoing punishment.” There appears to me to be, first, a certain anomaly in that position. On the one hand they argue for “the vengeance of eternal fire” being the destruction of the cities that took place in just a few minutes. On the other hand, they affirm that the unrighteous will be raised to suffer “eternal punishment” when their resurrected bodies are forever annihilated. But, if it was “eternal punishment” when fire and brimstone consumed them, then how can it be “eternal punishment” at their resurrection?
Another thing that seems strange to me about that interpretation would be the use of “eternal” as it applies to fire since, according to them, even a temporary fire would accomplish the same thing. And, if these inhabitants were annihilated when the fire and brimstone fell on the cities, that fire could just as appropriately be called “momentary” fire instead of “eternal” fire — they would become just as nonexistent by a “momentary” fire as they would by an “eternal” fire — the consequences are the same.
In the context and in a comparison of a similar account by Peter (2 Pet 2:6-9), I do not believe the “eternal fire” describes the physical fire and brimstone that fell upon the cities. The fire and brimstone that destroyed the cities of the plains is not called “eternal fire” — the sulfurous rain from heaven destroyed the cities and left them as a sign of the eternal doom. Jude’s illustration serves as a type that includes the righteous vengeance of God in “everlasting punishment.” The word “example” (Greek “deigma” — specimen, pattern) lends credence to that idea. The verb form “deigmatizo” is found in Matt 1:19Heb 6:6, and Col 2:15. The intensified “hupodeigma” is found in 2 Pet 2:6. In the immediate context, v. 6 certainly reaches beyond our physical world in anticipation of eternal, existence consequences. “Undergoing the vengeance of eternal fire”goes beyond what happened on the day that God rained fire and brimstone on the cities of the plains - their eternal doom was sealed on the very day of their destruction. Of those inhabitants, Jude could appropriately use the destructive fire as an example of their eternal expectations.
In Peter’s similar account of God’s righteous judgments on the ungodly (2 Pet 2:6-9), he draws this conclusion: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished,” (v. 9). Literally, the text reads, “...but to keep unjust men being punished for a day of judgment” — “BEING PUNISHED” — the very participial form that the annihilationist says cannot be true. For however long, from whatever time frame Peter wrote, these unrighteous are “being punished” in some form. “Being punished” cannot convey annihilation or a state of “non-existence.”
And to the “conditional immortalitist” we would say that the disobedient angels who are shut up, the unfaithful Israelites, the worldly of Noah’s day and the homosexuals of Sodom and Gomorrah continue their existence. Though they are separated from a relationship with God they are “kept” by Him. Or being facetious, we might ask, “Perhaps, after thousands of years, they are at this very moment cooling into nothingness as a coal that is separated from the fire of its life?” Pray tell us, “How long does it take for the soul created in God’s likeness, when separated from God’s presence, to fade into non-existence?”
(5) Also, an argument is made based on the fact that chaff, tares and branches are to be “burned up,” (Matt 13:3040Jno 15:6). This, they say, cannot refer to eternal, conscious punishment, because “burned up”means “annihilated.” Their conclusion is that we must interpret “eternal punishment” by “eternal fire” as meaning “consumed” and “annihilated.” But words must be used consistent within the figure of which they are a part. “Burned up” is consistent with the tares, chaff or branches. Jesus could not consistently have said that the tares or chaff would be punished with “everlasting punishment.” That would not fit the figures. Whenever a figure is employed in scripture, there must be consistency within the figure. Then when the figure is understood, straightforward conclusions can be drawn and lessons applied from the figures. Their reasoning is fallacious in that it makes the figures of speech employed by Jesus serve as the greater force in interpreting the duration of punishment rather than the straight forward explanation given or the applications drawn from the figures.
(6) Another procedure of diminishing the time frame reference of “eternal duration punishment” is to affirm that “eternal punishment” is said to be a time when souls are “destroyed.” Jesus said that God has power to destroy the soul (Matt 10:28). And, if man’s soul is destroyed, eternal punishment would be the burning up of the bodies of the unrighteous after their resurrection. But the Greek word “apollumi” does not mean annihilation — it is never so translated and does not convey that thought. Note Vine, pp. 304-306; Thayer, pp. 64-65. Compare 2 Thess 1:9 — “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” Its meaning is “loss of well being,” not loss of being.

REASONING IN ANTITHETICAL FORM — In an antithesis one can conceive of the lucidness of a truth on one side by coming to a knowledge of the force of the other side. (note Dungan, pp. 346-348). For instance, in Matthew 25:46, the phrases “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” are used as opposites with both “life” and “punishment” quantitatively qualified by “eternal.” Therefore, if one can conceive of the duration described by “eternal life” as promised by God as endless, then he is forced to accept that the threatened “eternal punishment” has the same duration, since the word “eternal” gives quantitative qualification to both. Since the word “aionios” is used in the N.T. to designate the duration of eternal happiness, and also to describe the continuance of the future misery of the wicked, by which rule of interpreting language can we possibly avoid the conclusion that the words have the same sense in both instances? I would say, that if the scriptures do not affirm the endless duration of the punishment of the wicked, neither do they affirm the endless duration of the happiness of the righteous nor the endless duration of the nature of God! And that is the reason that I said that if those believing in “conditional immortality” reason consistently, they will eventually deny the endless duration of heaven and the “Eternal God,” Himself.

Interpreting The “Fire” Of Gehennah

Literal, spiritual, physical, figurative, real or metaphorical — these words are tossed around at times without precise concepts and, in the minds of their users, are arrayed as absolute opposites where one’s opponent is supposed to be forced to choose one or the other. When the opponents of “eternal punishment” talk about hell’s fire, they do so either to diminish the pain quotient or limit the duration. They are materialistic in viewing man as a living, animated being without an immortal soul. They try to interpret consistently their concept of the mortal soul of man and the eternal fire that consumes by saying that the unrighteous that are raised are oxidized in a short time in the physical fires of “Gehenna.” They say it is called “eternal fire” only because it has eternal consequences in the total annihilation of the evil. They even ridicule those who believe in eternal punishment by attributing to them a concept about physical maggots and a physical fire burning forever where bodies are neither consumed by the worms nor burned up. And, while they charge those who believe in eternal punishment with grave inconsistencies, they subtly hide their own — how can there be physical maggots in lake of fire that is consuming bodies? So, how shall we understand the language used by Jesus and His apostles when they speak of “eternal punishment,” the “fire of Gehenna,” “where the worm dieth not,” “outer darkness,” “everlasting destruction,” etc.?
First, the words “literal” and “physical” do not always apply to the same thing nor do they mean the same. For instance, I believe that God is literally God and is existent but I do not believe that He is physical — contrary to Joseph Smith’s claim that he saw God who was flesh and bones. I believe that there are literal angels but I do not believe they are physical, though they, perhaps, in times past took physical forms in appearing to man. I believe that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob literally exist, though they are dead physically (Mt 22:23-33); therefore, I believe that the inner man survives death and literally exists, while the outer man, the physical part of him, decays in the grave (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-5:4). I believe that one day there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous (Jno 5:28-29) but I believe it will be a resurrection of changed, spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:35-57). Therefore, to affirm that hell and its fire is reality is not to affirm nor believe that it is a physical place.
Second, figurative language does not diminish reality. The engaging of figurative language enhances and adds color to concepts — it gives communication a greater dimension. Furthermore, the only way that God can communicate existence beyond the physical world is to communicate in language common to and originating with man’s physical existence. Hence, He speaks of heaven as being made of pure gold to describe its beauty and splendor (Rev 21:18). He employs “anthropomorphism” when speaking of how He acts in a physical world but only the foolish affirm that God has a physical finger, back, hand, hair, etc. Therefore, to affirm that hell is literal and punishment is excruciatingly painful is not to affirm that it is a physical place. Neither, does saying that it is a place mean that there is a geographical, physical location somewhere down below. By comparison, remember that the rich man conveyed his concern to Abraham lest his brothers on earth also come to this “place” of torment, though this does not describe his final state (Lk 16:27-28).
The picture Jesus painted by graphic, descriptive language was, “…where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched…” (Mk 9:43-48); “…outer darkness…” (Mt 25:30); “…weeping and gnashing of teeth…” (Mt 25:30); “…eternal fire…” (Mt 25:41); “…eternal punishment…” (Mt 25:46); “…God who can destroy both body and soul in hell,” (Mt 10:28); and John’s statement “…the second death…lake of fire…” (Rev 20:415). Physically, fire and outer darkness cannot exist at the same time; however, in using descriptive language, scripture employs words to convey to us the greatest degree of the most excruciating pain, the greatest depths of despair and an understanding of what is utterly loathsome. I use the word “descriptive” in trying to avoid the preconceived concepts associated with “figurative” and “metaphorical,” because people frequently conclude that if something is described by figurative language, then it cannot be real. I believe that Jesus chose descriptive words to paint a picture of the continued existence of punishment for the unrighteous. The language is not designed to say that there is a physical fire consuming dead carcasses or that there are physical maggots feasting on dead bodies. In references to “Gehenna,” Jesus drew from the geographical location in the valley of Hinnon and their acquaintance with all they knew it to be. As applied to the final destiny of the wicked, the descriptive language of punishment conveys to our minds the most horrible kind of experience with which we have any acquaintance. It is the means by which we can identify the terrible, eternal consequences of facing a just God who must vindicate His very nature.

Isaiah 66:24 — “…Where The Fire Is Not Quenched…”

Jesus so plainly affirms the resurrection of both the righteous and the evil that even the annihilationist cannot deny it, (Jn 5:28-29). But, having rejected the continued existence of the evil after the resurrection, they are forced to invent interpretations that try to reconcile the totality of revealed, inspired information and, in so doing, present some nonsensical explanations. For instance, the annhilationist views the resurrection of the evil as a time when God is going to kill them again and this time they will be killed forever — the spirit totally annihilated; totally nonexistent for eternity. God kills them as He casts their bodies into the valley of Hinnon where the maggots will eat them and fire will burn until the bodies have been consumed - “no pain, just shame,” they say.
Though annihilationalists are forced to accept the plain truth that the unrighteous will be raised, they have a problem explaining why God is going to raise them and of what consequence it is for them to be raised, only to be annihilated again. So, in view of their belief system, their first dilemma is explaining why the evil will be raised. If, when man is killed, his soul ceases to exist, he has been annihilated. So why raise him to annihilate him again? Their second dilemma is trying to give an interpretation that explains away the ability of man to do what God can do — man can kill the body; God destroys both in hell (Mt 10:28). But, if when man kills the body, the soul part of man is extinguished, that is, he is annihilated and ceases to exist, then man can do what God does and that makes their interpretations contradict what Jesus plainly said in Matthew 10:28.
To avoid the impact of Jesus’ teaching about hell and eternal punishment in the picturesque language, “where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched,” (Mk 9:44-46), opponents of eternal punishment try to explain away Jesus’ use of Isaiah’s description of the judgment (Isa 66:22-24).
Edward Fudge, a conditional immortalitist, said, “In chapter 66 Isaiah anticipates the same scene on a massive scale at the end of time. In this prophetic picture, as in the historical event of Isaiah’s day, the righteous view ‘the dead bodies’ of the wicked. They see corpses, not living people. They view destruction, not conscious misery. Discarded corpses are fit only for worms (maggots) and fire — both insatiable agents of disintegration and decomposition.”
“To the Hebrew mind, both worms and fire signify disgrace and shame (Jer 25:33Amos 2:1). Worms and fire also indicate complete destruction, for the maggot in this picture does not die but continues to feed so long as there is anything to eat. The fire, which is not ‘quenched’ or extinguished, burns until nothing is left of what is burning. According to God’s prophet Isaiah, this is a ‘loathsome’ scene, which evokes disgust rather than pity (Is 66:24; see the same word in Dan 12:2). This scene portrays shame and not pain. This passage of Scripture says nothing about conscious suffering and certainly nothing about suffering forever.”(Fudge, Two views of Hell, pp. 32-33).
I must confess that my first reaction to reading Fudge’s interpretation was, “So what — what difference does it make?” And, I don’t mean that in reference to what God reveals through Isaiah but to what Fudge’s conclusions are. So what if the dead bodies are physically burned up and eaten by worms? What difference does that make to the spirits of those bodies which, according to Fudge, suffered for a moment while God killed the body and extinguished the soul into total annihilation? They were just as totally nonexistent, obliterated, gone forever, the moment the physical body could no longer sustain life. What happens to their bodies cannot matter when there is no consciousness. They certainly are not ashamed. Are the righteous who look on their bodies ashamed? Fudge’s explanation presents a vacillating manipulation of Jesus’ use of the text as he makes part of it figurative and then demands that the worms and fire be physical and literal so as to diminish the duration of eternal punishment. His conclusions make the final scene totally inconsequential to the condemned evil.
In reference to the context of Isaiah 66:22-24, Fudge had previously said, “This symbolic picture of the future…” Then when it comes to his interpretation of v. 24, he makes it both literal and physical, not symbolic. On the one hand, he symbolically interprets the statement “…and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me…” as “Then the righteous and their descendants will endure forever, and ‘all mankind’ will worship God,” (p. 32) — no actual, seventh-day, Sabbath keeping as he views it. Then, he makes the bodies, maggots and fire literal and physical. When Fudge finishes his interpretation of Isaiah 66:22-24, the worm that cannot die, dies; the fire that is not extinguished is extinguished.
The annihilationist is not justified in inserting concepts into the picture Isaiah gives us of the final judgment that contradict the message. Fudge inserts “until the corpses are gone” to qualify how long his physical maggots live and the physical fire burns and, in so doing, takes issue with the very time frame reference as Jesus used the terms to describe “eternal” punishment. According to Fudge’s position, it certainly does not matter to the evil how long it takes for their dead bodies to be consumed, for they are long gone, obliterated and non-existent with no awareness of pain or shame. Nor would it matter to them how loathsome their bodies are to the righteous.
Fudge also said, “It is inexcusable to interpret language from this text, whether quoted directly or indirectly from the mouth of Jesus (Mk 9:48), to give a meaning diametrically the opposite of Isaiah’s clear picture. Yet that is exactly what traditionalist interpreters have done without exception, down to the present day,” (Ibid.). One could just as appropriately say that Joel 2:28-30, says nothing about Holy Spirit baptism and it is inexcusable to interpret the language of the text so as to apply it to Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 2:16-21). Or, since Psalms 2:9, says nothing about the resurrection, Paul’s use of it as applying to Jesus’ resurrection is an inexcusable error (Acts 13:34). But Fudge is really reversing the process of interpreting prophetic language. Proper interpretation of prophetic language should arise from the inspired application of the prophecy and not the reverse.
Similarly, when Jesus used the terminology of Isaiah 66:22-24, He certainly would understand the intent and meaning of the language since he was the one who spoke through Isaiah. Then, when he became flesh his application of that prophetic language in Mark 9:42-47, makes Isaiah 66:22-24 clear, because it comes from his understanding of an eternal hell and its eternal punishment. Who is Fudge to forbid Jesus using prophetic language exactly as the apostles did?
So, how is this context to be understood? Obviously, it involves figurative language. But figurative language must have its background in that which is real. To paint a picture of the final judgment and the condition of both the righteous and the unrighteous, Isaiah draws from what Israel would understand in their physical history — events, for instance, like Isaiah 37:36. The conveying of eternal existence can be described only in terms with which physical man, in his own experience, can identify. Hence, we are limited in our comprehension of things that are beyond our existence and experiences. The warnings about hell are designed to say that it is so terrible that man should do whatever it takes to avoid it.
Fear can be an appropriate motivation to turn men from their sins, when they are truly aware that they will stand accountable before a just God who, necessarily, will reap vengeance upon evil men (Heb 10:28-29). But annihilation is not punishment — it is merely nonexistence. When men “water down” hell by their philosophical theories they annihilate a God-given restraint of evil. And, in so doing, they also create an unbalanced perspective about God. In magnifying the love of God, they diminish his justness — God is not only love, but, in his justness, is also a God who must punish evil.
It matters not how strenuously one may argue to try to shorten eternal punishment or how vigorously he may seek to diminish the pain quotient, hell still is hell. If the “conditional immortalitist” is correct, then the unrighteous will suffer for only a moment and then be eternally snuffed out of existence — that will be a great comfort to them. However, if what I have affirmed is correct, then the annihilationist view is one of the greatest deceptions ever fostered on man and those who embrace it will find out too late. The final, eternal punishment of the unrighteous that reject hell is just as inevitable as the ant’s that climbed upon the railroad track to challenge the existence of a locomotive. Denying the evidence will not change the facts. — Jim R. Everett
 Jim R. Everett