Sometimes I write a blog and shelve it for a while because it doesn’t feel “done” yet.  That’s what happened with the previous blog, Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears.  I went ahead and posted it, after letting it sit on the shelf, since it had been a week in between blogs, but the next day, the missing pieces became apparent to me.  I take for granted sometimes that many people, if they read the Bible at all, just read it in the English translation.  It is easy for me, these days, to read Chan’s objections and know that they are not sound, because I can see the holes in them.  But it hasn’t always been that way.  For well over a decade, I did not know how to dispute with someone who taught eternal torment.  Although I was annihilationist in my beliefs, there was still a tiny bit of doubt in my mind, a theological splinter, that eternal torment could be true after all.  It is difficult to defend an annihilationist or a universalist view of scripture when scripture seems to clearly indicate otherwise.

I answered many of Chan’s objections to a universalist interpretation of Philippians 2:9-11 in Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears, but I did not address two very important words, “destruction” and “end”.  Chan writes,

If you were on a deserted island and you uncorked an empty bottle containing Philippians 2:9-11, you would probably be a Universalist [...] But all we need is for the rest of the Philippian letter to float ashore in order to see that Philippians 2:9-11 doesn’t teach universal salvation.  In Philippians 1:28, Paul says that those who oppose the gospel will face “destruction,” while those who embrace it will be saved.  There’s a contrast here between believers and unbelievers; each have very different destinies.  In Philippians 3:19, Paul refers to the enemies of Christ whose “end is destruction,” while followers of Jesus look forward to resurrection and glory (3:20-21).  Once more, there’s a contrast.  A contrast between believers and unbelievers and their individual destinies (note the word end in 3:19), which follow the decisions they make in this life.

Chan is correct in pointing out the contrast between believers and unbelievers, because not everyone believes at the same time.  Notice all of the chronological references in 1 Corinthians 15: 23-26:

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; thenwhen he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will comewhen he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Just because everything mentioned here has not already come to fruition, this does not mean it will never come to pass.  So it is with believers and unbelievers.  Just because there are those who persist in rebellion past their earthly death, so that we do not here and now witness them believing, this does not mean that it never happens.  There is much more to be said about this, but that is another blog for another day.  Let’s now move on to address those two words, “destruction” and “end”.

Naturally, English speaking people who read an English translation of the Bible will imagine certain things as they read the word “destruction”.  Although the Greek word can be translated “destruction”, it can also be translated in other ways.  Even people who believe in eternal torment should immediately know that our English word “destruction” is not an accurate match for the Greek word, apoleia (the noun form of apollumi).  Why?  Because if apollumi = destroy, then this passage plainly teaches annihilation, not eternal torment!  After all, how can a destroyed or annihilated person be aware of anything at all, let alone, be in torment or sense the passage of time?

So, if apoleia does not mean destruction in this passage (as those who believe in eternal torment ought to acknowledge) then what does it mean?  We have to see other places in scripture where the same word is used for conveying something other than destruction in order to find out.  The very same Greek word and its derivatives are also found in the following scriptures:

Mark 14:3-5 And [Jesus], being in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, at his reclining (at meat), there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment, of spikenard, very precious, and having broken the alabaster box, did pour on his head; and there were certain much displeased within themselves, and saying, “For what hath this waste of the ointment been made? for this could have been sold for more than three hundred denaries, and given to the poor;” and they were murmuring at her.

Matthew 10:5-8 These twelve did Jesus send forth, having given command to them, saying, “To the way of the nations go not away, and into a city of the Samaritans go not in, and be going rather unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And, going on, proclaim saying that, the reign of the heavens hath come nigh; infirm ones be healing, lepers be cleansing, dead be raising, demons be casting out — freely ye did receive, freely give.”

Matthew 18:10-12  [Jesus said,] “Beware! — ye may not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their messengers in the heavens do always behold the face of my Father who is in the heavens, for the Son of Man did come to save the lost. What think ye? if a man may have an hundred sheep, and there may go astray one of them, doth he not — having left the ninety-nine, having gone on the mountains – seek that which is gone astray?”

Luke 9:23-25 And [Jesus] said unto all, “If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me; for whoever may will to save his life, shall lose it, and whoever may lose his life for my sake, he shall save it;for what is a man profited, having gained the whole world, and having lost or having forfeited himself?”

Luke 19:10 [...] for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 15:6 [...] Rejoice with me, because I found my sheep – the lost one.

Luke 15 [...] Rejoice with me, for I found the [coin] that I lost.

Luke 15:24 [...] this my son was dead, and did live again, and he was lost, and was found; and they began to be merry.

Clearly, God is able to recover, redeem, and reconcile the destroyed, lost, wasted, perishing, anything or anyone He wants.  It is also noteworthy that Jesus plainly stated His mission in Luke 9:56 “[...] for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save.”  And in Romans 14:15, the word “destroy” is equated with “hurt” – “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.”

About the word “end”, the Greek word is “telos”.  Chan would have us believe that the end here refers to the destiny of the individual, but the root of telos, tello, means “to set out for a definite point or goal”, and that in reference to termination, according to the KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon, is “always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time”.  In fact, it is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 15: 23-26, which I quoted earlier:

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; thenwhen he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will comewhen he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

What happens in this “end”?  The impossibility of hope and commencement of eternal torment in hell?  No, far from it!  What is destroyed in the telos?  People?  No!  What is destroyed is the dominion people wrongfully established for themselves, the authority people have used to oppress and hurt others, and the power by which people have been enabled to ruin not only others, but themselves.  Even death itself is destroyed.  How are these dark concepts destroyed?  They are put under Jesus’ feet, or as Paul says later, they are “swallowed up” in victory.  This is the “end”.

 

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of Scrutiny