Maxey - Thrasher Debate

Eternal Destiny of the Wicked
Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction
(An In-Depth Biblical Discussion)

Monday, February 4, 2002

Al Maxey's Response
To Thomas' Second Post

OPENING REMARKS

There was much in Thomas' second post with which I agree, and I find myself appreciating more and more the good spirit of this man in the way he approaches a most difficult topic. I would like to especially concur with the following statement: "Just because a person may make a weak or faulty argument, or misunderstand the teaching of a particular passage of scripture, does not mean that his position is necessarily wrong." I couldn't agree more.

Although I have spent many years studying the companion topics of "the nature of man" and "the eternal destiny of the wicked," and have come to some strong convictions about what I believe to be God's revealed Truth pertaining to these matters, nevertheless I will be the first to admit that I do not have all the answers, and, frankly, a couple of passages still puzzle me somewhat and seem, at least on the surface, to challenge my conclusions. However, my training teaches me not to throw out a large body of evidence simply because one or two things continue to puzzle me. I am convinced the greater body of evidence points to an ultimate Truth, even though I have yet to fully reconcile to my own satisfaction a few troubling passages which seem, at first glance, inconsistent with that Truth.

As Thomas correctly observes, failure to fully perceive the teaching of a particular passage here or there does not in itself proclaim one's overall position to be false. It simply declares the reality that we are all finite creatures seeking to comprehend the Infinite . And that is a challenge to even the best minds among us. Thus, in the course of this debate I will not hesitate, on occasion, to acknowledge I lack complete understanding with regard to some passage. That does not sway me in the least, however, from the conviction that my position on this matter is the correct one. Instead, it just challenges me to further study and reflection for the purpose of greater clarification of my convictions and a better understanding of difficult passages.

ULTIMATE DESTINY OF THE WICKED

Thomas asked, "Al, please tell us exactly what 'the ultimate destiny of the unredeemed' is! Clarifying this now will help to focus upon the issue." I believe I answered this near the end of my previous post when I wrote: " it will consist of the wicked being raised, condemned in judgment, and cast into the lake of fire. There they will suffer a horrible process of dying which will result in a death from which there will never be any subsequent resurrection to life. It is the 'second death,' and it is final. For as long as the redeemed will be alive with the Lord, the wicked will be dead apart from Him. The two destinies of mankind are LIFE and DEATH, not LIFE (in bliss) and LIFE (in misery)."

In our subsequent exchange with one another we will discuss the above further, but that conveys my belief "in a nutshell." The ultimate destiny of the unredeemed is DEATH. Perhaps Paul stated it best in Romans 6:23 -- "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." I believe the aged apostle John suggests the same reality: "And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:11-12). God gave His Son that those who believe might have LIFE the alternative, for those who do not embrace the Son in obedient faith, is to PERISH (John 3:16). This sentence will be carried out in the lake of fire, "which is the second death" (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8). I believe commitment to the lake of fire is a DEATH sentence, not a LIFE sentence! It is a loss of life, not a life of loss!

MY "CONVERSION" EXPERIENCE

Thomas wrote: "He (Al) proceeds to describe his 'conversion' to the position he now holds after reading The Fire That Consumes by Edward Fudge. I would observe that although a person can be 'converted' to truth, he can also be 'converted' to error. Tragically, many Christians (and even some gospel preachers) have left the faith."

I agree, Thomas. I think we would both agree, as well, that many who believe they are IN "the faith," have yet to find and embrace it! Some are not even looking, being fully convinced of the infallibility of their insights. There is no more distressing declaration than, "I already know what I believe; I have no need to study this further!" This statement was made to me by an aged member of the congregation where I preached when I began a study of this very topic in a Wednesday evening class. To her credit she DID participate in this study, and at the end of the series of lessons she altered her perspective pertaining to the nature of man and the eternal destiny of the unredeemed.

Reading The Fire That Consumes was merely the FIRST step on a long, difficult journey, Thomas. It was not the conversion experience itself. That book merely served to present the problem and issue a challenge. My "conversion" came as I examined God's Word from cover to cover, verse by verse, in my quest for understanding of God's Truth on this topic. It was a frightening journey in many ways, especially as I began to detect the destination. I realized that my insights, if I dared to share them with my brethren, would likely cause me to be criticized and characterized as one who had "left the faith" to embrace "error" and "denominational deception." But, the quest for Truth is not for the faint of heart or those with thin skin.

Thomas wrote: "The fact that Al changed from 'the same position currently held by Thomas' to 'basically' the position held by Edward Fudge proves nothing about what the truth is on this topic!" You are absolutely correct in that statement, and I don't believe I have anywhere suggested otherwise. Although Edward and I agree on many points, that is totally irrelevant. All that ultimately matters is if my position agrees with the WORD. I believe it does. I am little concerned with the degree of agreement it may or may not have with the teachings of MEN. If it can be demonstrated to be OF GOD, then that is sufficient.

Near the end of his post, Thomas wrote: "However, 'more and more disciples' are also 'beginning to seriously challenge' other God-given 'traditions.'" He then listed four such areas of challenge: The necessity of water baptism, the role of women in the assembly, the cessation of spiritual gifts, and a cappella singing in worship. I'm not exactly sure what any of these has to do with our current discussion, but I agree with Thomas that there are many areas of doctrine and practice which are being challenged and reexamined in light of God's Word. If in fact "our position" on each of these constitute God's TRUTH, then they have nothing to fear from intense examination. If, however, they prove to be more Tradition than Truth, then it seems to me it behooves us to determine that fact. After all, who among us really wants to be guilty of teaching as biblical doctrine the precepts of mere fallible men? (Matthew 15:9). Jesus makes it clear that elevating traditions beyond their proper place can result in the invalidation of God's Word (Matthew 15:6) and the transgression of His commandments (Matthew 15:3). The end result is that we worship Him "in vain" (Matthew 15:9). In light of this I would think it a positive development that "more and more disciples" are "beginning to seriously challenge" our every teaching and practice "to see if these things be so!" We dare not do so!!!

Thomas, I believe every doctrine and practice in the church should be held up to the light of the Word and carefully scrutinized. It is not a sin to "challenge" our beliefs and practices; indeed, it is more likely to be sinful NOT TO!! Yes, Thomas, "some will depart from the faith" (1 Timothy 4:1). Others, however, will never truly KNOW what constitutes the faith because they never bothered to seek it, or to challenge what they presumed to be "the faith." They sought out the distinction of being called "Teacher," even though "they do not understand what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (1 Timothy 1:7). I pray you and I will fall under neither condemnation, Thomas!

APPROACH TO PREACHING

Thomas wrote: "I have no reason to deny Al's account of his early preaching. However, my approach to preaching was (and still is) radically different. I did not 'proclaim' things I had 'blindly accepted.' Rather, I preached what I had studied in the Scriptures. My procedure in preparing lessons was (and still is) to 'search the Scriptures' to find out what is so."

For what it is worth, Thomas, that is also MY methodology, and has been for many, many years. But, I will honestly admit that it was not so during my early years (about the first two years of preaching). After graduate school, I was a young man who thought he had "arrived," and who "knew it all." I had been given a body of doctrine by my forefathers in my religious heritage (churches of Christ) and a couple of degrees by my university .... What more did I need? After two years of preaching, I realized preaching was not for me. I stopped for four years and became the Executive Director of a state-funded facility that provided care & counseling for abused children and their families. During that time I came face to face with reality, and my place "in the eternal scheme of things!" Once God enlightened me to what proclaiming the Truth was really all about, I left there and moved my family to Germany to preach overseas. I have been preaching ever since .... And my approach to preaching became what you profess to have seen from the beginning.

Yes, brother Thomas, you and I are in full agreement with regard to preaching, and how best to approach this awesome responsibility. I think Clark Pinnock, in his work Prospects for Systematic Theology, has stated the case well: "We cannot rest content with mere reiteration of earlier insights. A theology which seeks only to restate the system of some honored theological forerunner is less than fully biblical." J. I. Packer, in Fundamentalism and The Word of God, wrote: "We must never become enslaved to human tradition, and assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice, and in so doing excuse ourselves from the duty of testing and reforming them by Scripture." Here is Charles Hodge's conclusion on this subject: "If we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, all we have to do is to ascertain what it teaches on this subject, and humbly submit." To this I would say, "Amen!"

ETERNAL -- QUALITATIVE & QUANTITATIVE

Thomas has requested that I elaborate on my comment with regard to the dual meaning and application of the word we translate "eternal" in the biblical text. I will be happy to do so. I hope the following information will prove helpful in our future discussion with one another.

Some have suggested that the word "eternal" in many of our translations of the Bible always and only signifies "forever." This, however, is simply not the case, as a study of the original words in the text will quickly demonstrate. The root word for the adjective "aionios" is "aion" (from which we transliterate "eon"). The actual meaning of the term in Greek is "age" or "era." It appears 105 times in the NT writings. W.E. Vine states: "The force attaching to the word is NOT so much that of the ACTUAL LENGTH of a period, but that of a period marked by spiritual or moral characteristics" (An Expository Dictionary of NT Words).

Although the word DOES denote the concept of "forever" in some passages, it just as often does NOT. The word is actually used two separate ways in Scripture: Qualitatively and Quantitatively. One must examine the context, as well as that which these words describe, to determine which meaning applies, or if both meanings are applicable. There is a tendency on the part of some interpreters to view "aion" and "aionios" as describing "time without end," however these words may also describe the quality of something, with no reference to time whatsoever!

These words may additionally refer to time .... BUT, time of a limited duration! There are at least 70 occurrences in the Bible where these words qualify "objects of a temporary and limited nature ... signifying only an indeterminate duration of which the maximum is fixed by the intrinsic nature of the persons or things themselves" (Emmanuel Petavel).

Notice just a few "eternal" things which are NOT "forever:"

  1. The sprinkling of blood on the doorpost --- "You shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children FOREVER" (Ex. 12:24).

  2. Aaron and his sons "shall have the priesthood by a PERPETUAL statute" (Ex. 29:9) .... "their anointing shall qualify them for a PERPETUAL priesthood throughout their generations" (Ex. 40:15).

  3. Caleb's inheritance --- "Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance to you and to your children FOREVER" (Joshua 14:9).

  4. Solomon's Temple --- "I have surely built Thee a lofty house, a place for Thy dwelling FOREVER" (1 Kings 8:13).

  5. A "FOREVER" slave --- "You shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant FOREVER. And you shall do likewise to your maidservant" (Deut. 15:17). --- "Forever" here is obviously LIMITED to the length of the slave's life. If he only lives four more years, then "forever" is four years in duration. This verse in no way implies that the person in question will be one's slave throughout endless ages.

  6. To Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, it was said: "The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave to you and to your descendants FOREVER" (2 Kings 5:27).

These are just a few of the many examples, but they demonstrate the truth that these words do not always refer to "time without end," but may actually mean "time of a LIMITED duration." An excellent NT example, by the way, would be the fig tree of Matthew 21:19 & Mark 11:14.

One should also not overlook the fact that the Bible (especially the NT writings) uses "aion" and "aionios" in a QUALITATIVE sense (about half the time, actually). It speaks of this "present age" and the "age to come." It refers to QUALITIES of both ages or eras or realms, and not to the concept of time at all. "The word speaks of BEING, of which time is not a measure" (B.F. Westcott). The present age may be spoken of as "temporal," for example .... however, the age to come may be characterized as "eternal." This is not a matter of TIME, as the age to come is outside of time. Rather it speaks of the nature of that realm.

Joseph A. Baird observes: "'Eternal fire,' for example, does not necessarily mean a fire that burns endlessly (quantitative meaning), but may also mean a fire 'peculiar to the realm and the nature of God' (qualitative meaning)." With regard to this punishment of eternal fire (Jude 7), Alan Richardson writes, "The real point is the CHARACTER of the punishment. It is that of the order of the Age to Come as contrasted with any earthly penalties" (An Introduction to the Theology of the NT).

In the same way, when the NT speaks of "eternal life," the adjective "aionios" refers to "the QUALITY more than to the length of life" (Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology). This certainly does NOT detract from the endlessness of this life, however, for Scripture clearly declares this life will not be terminated --- "We shall ALWAYS ("pantote") be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17).

This view of the Greek adjective is clearly "shown to be a legitimate interpretation, and cannot (so far as the texts containing the word 'eternal' are concerned) be called a forcing of Scripture to suit a theory" (Guillebaud, The Righteous Judge).

In the course of this discussion we will examine such words as "destruction," "punishment," "fire," "life," and "damnation," just to mention a few. They are at times qualified by the term "eternal." The context will determine which of the meanings and applications of "eternal" best fits a particular passage (or if they both may fit). These we will examine in more depth as we get into a study of the nature of that punishment in the lake of fire.

THOMAS' FIVE POINTS

I think Thomas has summed up well the particulars wherein we differ with regard to his five points pertaining to the eternal destiny of the wicked. As he correctly points out, there are several areas where we will need to deal more extensively with what the Bible actually teaches. Thomas enumerates them as follows:

  1. "Al's comments clearly indicate the need for future discussion about 'Hades.'"

  2. "Al disagrees with the idea of 'souls placed back in bodies.' Therefore, we will need to consider the nature of the resurrection."

  3. "Al points out that we 'have vastly different perspectives of what constitutes this "punishment" upon the wicked.' Since Al 'basically' agrees with Ed Fudge, I conclude that he does have a 'different perspective' that we will need to explore as the discussion progresses."

I look forward to discussing each of these more fully with my brother in Christ.

CONCLUSION

Thomas wrote: "At this early state of the process we appear to have mutually agreed upon the ground to be covered." I believe we have as well. The pathway to discovery is laid out before us. It is now time to begin the journey.

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