In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, chapter four, he writes:
…Paul never wrote about the details of hell. However, there is one passage where he comes pretty close – a passage blistering with passion and urgency about Christ’s second coming and the wrath that follows:
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal desctruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess. 1:6-9)
I understand why Chan believes the way he does, given the English butchering of the Greek. I used to read the Bible and take everything at face value, too, putting my full trust in the ability of modern translators to communicate the meaning in the Greek. Not any more. Not after finding case after case of biased and sometimes downright misleading English renderings of Greek words. I looked up some of the key words in this verse that demonstrate a meaning in the Greek that doesn’t show up in the English translation:
- “with” Strongs 1722 en (a preposition) – properly, in (inside, within); (figuratively) “in the realm (sphere) of,” as in the condition (state) in which something operates from the inside (within); specifically used of that with which a person is surrounded, equipped, furnished, assisted, or acts, also with an adverbial force: as ἐν δυνάμει, powerfully, with power
- “revelation” Strongs 602 apokálypsis – properly, uncovering (unveiling). See 601 (apokalyptō). 602 /apokálypsis (“revelation, unveiling”) is principally used of the revelation of Jesus Christ (theWord), especially a particular (spiritual) manifestation of Christ (His will) previously unknown to the extent (because “veiled, covered”).
- “fire” Strongs 4442 pýr – fire. In Scripture, fire is often used figuratively – like with the “fire of God” which transforms all it touches into light and likeness with itself
- “inflicting” Strongs 1325 the act or effect of him who gives, in such a sense that what he is said διδόναι he is conceived of as effecting, or as becoming its author.
- “vengeance” Strongs 1557 ekdíkēsis (derived from 1537 /ek, “out from and to” and 1349 /díkē, “justice, judge”) – properly, judgment which fully executes the core-values of the particular judge, i.e. extending from the inner-person of the judge to its out-come.
- “know” Strongs 1492 /eídō (“seeing that becomes knowing”) then is a gateway to grasp spiritual truth (reality) from a physical plane. 1492 (eídō) then is physical seeing (sight) which should be the constant bridge to mental and spiritual seeing (comprehension).
- “punishment” is here translated as if it were part of the verb clause, but the word is actually a noun, Strongs 1349 díkē – properly, right, especially a judicial verdict which declares someone approved or disapproved; a judgment (just finding) that regards someone as “guilty” or “innocent.” (there is no English word in this translation to represent the verb in the Greek, which is attached to the noun “punishment”) Strongs 5099 tínō (a primitive root, NAS dictionary) – to be punished, having to pay the penal fine attached to the crime (used only in 2 Thes 1:9). In the papyri tinō also means “pay the penalty”, like “paying the fitting penalty”
- “destruction” Strongs 3639 ólethros (from ollymi/”destroy”) – properly, ruination with its full, destructive results (LS). 3639 /ólethros (“ruination”) however does not imply “extinction” (annihilation). Rather it emphasizes the consequent loss that goes with the complete “undoing.”
- “everlasting” Strongs Cognate: 166 aiṓnios (an adjective, derived from 165 /aiṓn (“an age, having a particular character and quality”) – properly, “age-like” (“like-an-age”), i.e. an “age-characteristic” (the quality describing a particular age) 166 (aiṓnios) does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age (165 /aiṓn) it relates to.
- “from” Strongs 575, this particular usage is translated elsewhere as “by” and it is defined as “of persons from whose will, power, authority, command, favor, order, influence, direction, anything is to be sought”
Put it all together and you have Paul inviting those who have been afflicted to find relief in (en 1722) the previously unknown spiritual unveiling of the will of Christ, in a powerful fire from Heaven. The Author of a judgment of core values extends out from Himself to those who don’t have a “seeing that becomes knowing” and this judgment is like paying a fitting penalty, in an age of loss and undoing, by the presence of the Lord and by the glory of His power.
This doesn’t sound pleasant, but it also has a very redemptive undertone.
There are several things to note in this passage. First, the wrath of Jesus here is retributive and not corrective. In other words, the wrath isn’t intended to correct the behavior of those opposing Christ to make them fit for salvation. Rather, the wrath is an act of – dare I say – vengeance. In fact, this is the exact word that Paul uses.
Chan refers to the Greek word, “ekdíkēsis” (1557). This same word is used in 1 Peter 2:14 in the context of abiding by government laws and regulations: “Be subject, then, …to governors, as to those sent through [God], for punishment, indeed, of evil-doers, and a praise of those doing good.” I know that there are some corrupt governments in this world that are, indeed, “inflicting vengeance,” but I don’t think this is what Peter had in mind when he wrote this. Not everyone who broke the law in Rome was crucified by leaders who were out to inflict vengeance. Government punishment was often corrective in nature, ranging from small fines to heavy prison sentences. I don’t see any reason to be convinced by Chan’s assumptions that the usage of the word(s) díkē/tínō (1349/5099) is only for retributive purposes and cannot be used for corrective purposes.
Chan’s second point demands an explanation as well. He writes:
Second, in light of this last phrase (“inflict vengeance on those who do not know God” and don’t “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”), Paul doesn’t have a select group of people in view. Those who don’t know God or obey the gospel include everyone not following Jesus. No matter how innocent some people may seem, Paul says that if they don’t know God or obey the gospel, they will face God’s vengeful wrath when Jesus returns.
I disagree with Chan’s view that Paul does not have a select group of people in view. Paul mentions in his writings a group of antagonistic Jews who were basically out to ruin him every chance they had. You can read about it here and elsewhere in the New Testament. In fact, Paul gets pretty specific in the very text Chan quotes: “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…” The “you” in that sentence is referring to a specific people-group, that is, the believers in Thessalonica who assembled to read his second letter. This specific people-group was troubled by another specific people-group, that is, the unbelieving Jews. If the Jewish revolt against Roman rule (Jerusalem, 70 AD) had succeeded, these unbelieving Jews would then be in a position of government-backed authority over the Thessalonian believers.
Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that Paul’s encouragement for the believers in Thessalonica wasn’t really meant for the believers in Thessalonica, it was meant for people living 2000+ years in the future. No matter which view one takes, Chan’s take on Paul’s words are not accurate. The select group of people are characterized in this way: They don’t know God and don’t obey the gospel, or so the English translation says. This particular form of the Greek word “eidosin” translated “know” only occurs once in the entire New Testament. It is coupled with “obey”: hypakoúō (Strongs 5219 from 5259 /hypó, “under” and 191 /akoúō, “hear”– to obey what is heard; hypakoúō is acting under the authority of the one speaking, i.e. really listening; hypakoúō suggests attentively listening, i.e. fully compliant, responsive). Chan writes that those who don’t know God or obey the gospel = everyone not following Jesus. But in the Greek this group of people is defined as NOT having a “seeing that becomes knowing”, who do not travel along that gateway to grasp spiritual truth (reality) from a physical plane. Although they have a physical seeing (sight) which should be the constant bridge to mental and spiritual seeing (comprehension), the physical seeing produces no spiritual results. That is why they don’t really attentively listen and become responsive or compliant to what they hear. It follows that since Jesus is the Savior of the world who seeks and saves that which is being LOST/DESTROYED/PERISHING, that this judgment must have corrective purpose. Jesus, the Author of a judgment of core values that extends out from Himself to those who don’t have a “seeing that becomes knowing”, is, in an age of loss and undoing by the presence of the Lord and by the glory of His power, finding a way to make Himself known.
I believe that this unveiling of Christ began with the physical/seeing part in destruction of Jerusalem. And just as Paul indicated, this was not a seeing that became a knowing. Barnabus, after the fact, wrote:
Moreover I will tell you likewise concerning the temple, how these wretched men being led astray set their hope on the building, and not on their God that made them… because they went to war it was pulled down by their enemies… it was revealed how the city and the temple and the people of Israel should be betrayed. For the scripture saith; and it shall be in the last days, that the Lord shall deliver up the sheep of the pasture and the fold and the tower thereof to destruction. And it so happened as the Lord had spoken.
This unveiling of Christ will persist, and it will become more and more obvious that Jesus, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! …When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!”
That this ends well is not just wishful thinking. Even Jesus Christ had this in mind when He said:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!”
There is much more to be said about this, but for now, I hope that the readers of Erasing Hell will “test everything” and “hold on to what is good.” Testing everything isn’t just casually reading someone’s commentary, saying, “Sure, that makes sense,” and going on about your business. It is wrestling with every possibility.
I’ll conclude this blog with yet another gem segregated by Chan from the main reading in the notes section of chapter four. Chan writes:
In this passage, Paul uses the phrase everlasting destruction. Does this mean Paul affirms that unbelievers will live forever in never-ending torment? Or does he mean that unbelievers will be annihilated when Christ comes back? This verse is not crystal clear, and anyone who thinks it is needs a good dose of interpretative humility. On the one hand, the word destruction seems to speak of annihilation. But Paul says it’s “everlasting,” so some have said that Paul is thinking of never-ending punishment in hell. However, as we have seen, the word everlasting (aionios) doesn’t always mean “never-ending.” Even if it does mean never-ending here, it would seem to make better sense that the “never ending-ness” speaks of the results or effects of the destruction rather than its ongoing act. In other words, I don’t think Paul is referring to the never-ending process of God “destroying but not completely destroying” the wicked in hell here. At least Paul’s words here don’t clearly convey this notion.
That Chan doesn’t include this idea in the chapter is suspect, to say the least. But I hope that readers pay attention to the fact that Chan excludes this important information under the heading HELL, IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, PETER, AND JUDE. This is very misleading. If Chan thinks that Paul probably isn’t referring to the destruction of the wicked in hell, then why on earth would he use what Paul wrote to support the idea that Paul is writing about hell? Does this make any sense to you? I hope not.
Next blog in this series: How Chan Nearly Erased Hell