Sunday, August 2, 2020

A statement from David Bentley Hart

NOTE: David Bentley Hart and I have had some very heated exchanges over the years, but I have always found him to be at bottom a decent fellow.  That remains true.  During our recent dispute over his book on universalism, the one thing I took great exception to was the accusation of dishonesty on my part, and I let David know this privately.  He sent me the following statement to post here, for which I thank him.  I would also like to reaffirm my longstanding admiration for much of his work, such as his books Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God.

Dear Ed,

Having prayed about this matter, I find I want to apologize.  I hereby fully repent of and retract any imputation to you of willful dishonesty in regard to your original review of my book, as well as in regard to all subsequent exchanges and arguments on the matter.  I admit, I concluded with a certainty that was uncharitable—and so unwarrantable—that you had only pretended to read my book; and, even if your accounts of its arguments seem wildly wrong to me, I should not have let myself assume I knew the cause of the failure of communication, or let my assumption color my view of your subsequent writings on the issue as well.  It may simply be the case that you and I are fated never to understand one another and never to agree on much at all, due to differences in our intellectual idioms, presuppositions, and commitments so basic that they cannot be overcome.  So I am sorry.  Mea maxima culpa.

My one (friendly) rebuke then is this: If you want to argue from scripture and the fathers, you should not rely on snippets of quotations rendered into standard English translations; you should consult the scholarship and the original texts in their own languages.  You should also make sure that you are firmly aware of what universalist scholars have claimed with regard to scriptural and patristic evidences before you set out to refute positions that you assume they have taken.  The issues are nowhere near as simple as they may seem.

That’s it.  I’ll continue to recommend your Philosophy of Mind and Five Arguments books to those who can profit from them.  Otherwise, I wish we could simply sign a non-aggression treaty and move on.  Oil and water need not mix to be at peace with one another.  Sometimes they can even flow into the same channels without disturbance and arrive at the same place.


  1. A sincere apology and constructive criticism in one letter.

    Where is the "like" button when you need one?

    (How long will the truce last?)

    1. How long has they ever lasted? I know this isn't the first one, or so I recall, from some time ago -- I only intermittently check in, unfortunately.

    2. To answer Raghn Crow's and my own questions, I queried the timeline of debates between Drs. Feser and Hart on this blog. It appears that intellectual boxing games started back in 2013, and recurred every two to three years since then, while they both remained highly productive. (A reminder for us to get back to work)

      2013: Debate on Natural Law Theory

      2014: Hart published Experience of God

      2015: Debate on Animal Soul

      2016: Feser reviewed Hart's Experience of God

      Jan 2017: Debate on Eternal Punishment

      May 2017: Feser published By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed

      Aug 2017: Feser Published Five Proofs of the Existence of God

      Dec 2017: Debate on Capital Punishment

      2018: Hart reviewed Feser's Five Proofs

      Sep 2019: Hart published That All Shall be Saved

      2020: Debate on Universal Salvation

  2. I am so grateful for that comment by DBH and heartily second Nemo's "like." As a biblical scholar primarily, though one who has studied philosophy more than most, I know that exegesis of many scriptures is something of weighing evidence. Many words and phrases have significant semantic ranges and one has to evaluate what the most likely options are in a particular context. One also has to change one's mind when new evidence comes to light--archaeological evidence really does change our understanding of many scriptures. Epistemological humility is a virtue and I have had to change my mind about many things that I was too certain of in the past.

    1. Liked :)

      (especially the readiness to change one’s mind when good evidence/reason calls for it)

      johannes hui

    2. Query, and this applies to Universalism as well as Capital Punishment, and so on:

      Isn't it the reality that our Scripture exegesis is not based on "archaeological evidence"? In fact, it cannot be because isn't Christianity a revealed religion, one that has a Church set up by the Founder, an institution the task of its leaders being to govern, to "bind and lose", etc., with a head, a living magisterium that is responsible for calling the shots? "On this Rock I will build my Church", and all that?

      So should the Church have always taught X, the presumption is that teaching has been under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and should "the most recent" research turn up a possible new interpretation that calls X into question, we still can't change X w/o in effect saying the Holy Ghost is not doing His job? And isn't that true even for Protestants who have a long-standing take on X?

      I seem to remember the whole "priest facing the people" shtick was based on some of "the latest research" of that time, and since then, new evidence since then indicates that research was wrong or misguided.

      And on a practicable level, we can't always be chasing "the latest research". We wouldn't know where we were, and what would, or would not, be changed at a moment's notice.

    3. "Guarantees that currently-popular doctrine is always right" is perhaps not a good description of the Holy Spirit's job.

      I'm being a little flippant, but when a growing number of folks discover that the dominance of the "endless hell for many/most of the unsaved" view was not achieved until the 5th and 6th centuries, and begin to scrutinize it anew, in favor of the "correctional hell for many/most of the unsaved" view a great many Christians (Augustine reports) held back in the day, perhaps that is precisely the Holy Spirit doing his job. It's only been, what, a day and a half? We know other promises stretch the expected timetables.

    4. "
      I'm being a little flippant, but when a growing number of folks discover that the dominance of the "endless hell for many/most of the unsaved" view was not achieved until the 5th and 6th centuries, and begin to scrutinize it anew, in favor of the "correctional hell for many/most of the unsaved" view a great many Christians (Augustine reports) held back in the day, perhaps that is precisely the Holy Spirit doing his job"

      Feser responds to this claim a few posts back. Worth a read. None of the fathers held this view until Origen, and even then it was speculative.

      This would also have meant that the Church was wrong for three-quarters of her earthly existence.

  3. I'm glad to read that. I'm a big fan of you both (and as a quasi-universalist I feel like I'm in both camps at the same time and simultaneously despised by supporters of both views).

    Smart people with good taste have books by both of you in their bookshelves, so it's important not to let the disputes get out of control (though I'll admit, the polemics can be very entertaining at times)

    1. Similar to u, I (tentatively) belong to neither the camp of everlasting misery nor universal bliss and hence I empathize with your situation. (though unlike you I tilt towards the annihilation camp - only the good fish are selected out from the net while the rest would eventually or ultimate become nothing when divine sustenance for the rest of the fish ceases - no obligation for God to sustain anyone, be it puppies, angels, or humans, in existence anyway and hence it is not absurd/unreasonable for God to cease the observation of any existent)

      johannes hui

    2. typo: ...not absurd/unreasonable for God to cease the conservation/preservation of any existent.

  4. Setting aside the impact on the universalism debate, Hart's advice to read Scripture and the Fathers in their original languages is always worthwhile.

    1. As someone who has taught Biblical Hebrew for several years, I agree that learning the original languages is of huge value. I would also say, though, that somebody who is careful and knows how to use the best lexicons and grammars etc can do very well. And I can tell you that good biblical scholars not trained in philosophy often write terrible biblical theologies because they make one logical fallacy after another.

    2. I am thinking primarily of some OT theologies that I have read.

    3. One example would be that because a particular term does not occur in the Hebrew Bible (like omnipotence), we should not use that term in an OT Theology. If I made the parallel argument that because the term "noun" does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, so we should not use that term in a grammar of the Hebrew Bible, everyone would see how ridiculous that is. But numerous scholars have fallen for the equivalent in theology.

  5. If David is reading this I'd love for him to recommend universalist readings that commentate on the NT.

    1. @Callum,

      Take a look at Kronen and Reitan's "God's Final Victory"

  6. I admire and am grateful for Ed Feser and David Bentley Hart. The Doors of the Sea was, for me, a very meaningful book.

  7. Even SoCal is more stable than your relationship.

  8. I think DBH, for all his "crazy academic" tendencies, is a generally good man who does generally good work.

    I wonder if there are any notable quasi-universalists. That to me seems a much more defensible position.

    1. The Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is a kind of "quasi-universalist" – he says we should hope and pray that hell turns out to be empty, but we can't know in this life whether it will be. Robert Barron (auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles) is a notable contemporary advocate of roughly von Balthasar's position.

      von Balthasar's position is often called "hopeful universalism", although Barron rejects the idea that it is a species of "universalism". (He wants to reserve that term for those who consider it certain that all are saved, like DBH.)

      von Balthasar's viewpoint is arguably a minority among Catholics. But Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope St John Paul II have all spoken approvingly of von Balthasar (being well-aware of this element of his theology). That doesn't mean they necessarily agree with it, but it does suggest that all three considered it to be within the bounds of acceptable Catholic thought.

      Other figures who espoused similar viewpoints to those of von Balthasar include Karl Rahner, St Edith Stein, and the Eastern Orthodox theologian and Bishop, Kallistos Ware.

    2. Anonymous,

      Yeah. I can think of pope Benedict XVI and Saint Edith Stein as quasi-universalists.

      To be clear:
      Hopeful universalism: Hell is always a possibility, but we may hope that, perhaps plausibly, all will be saved. That everyone will end up being saved. Someone can be more or less sure about this hope.

      Quasi-universalism: Hell is always a possibility, but at least the vast majority of people will be saved, even if some very few people do end up in hell.

      A quasi-universalist can also be a hopeful universalist.

      Pope Benedict XVI appears to have endorsed quasi-universalism in his encyclical Spe Salvi, in which he suggests that the vast majority of people plausibly maintain a pure inchoate love of God and truth even if buried under lots and lots of sin and compromises with evil; that most people will end up going through purgatory, while it is only a minority that goes to hell (people who have completely closed themselves off to all good and truth) or straight to heaven (very pure, saintly people).

      Saint Edith Stein initially endorsed a confident hopeful universalism:

      "Grace can come to man without him seeking it. The question is whether it can complete its work without his cooperation. Its seems this must be answered in the negative…it can find no abode if it is not freely taken…
      And we know that many men occupy themselves with salvation in this life, but don’t accept grace…
      But we still do not know whether the decisive hour might not come for all these somewhere in the next world, and faith can tell us that this is the case…
      All merciful love can thus descend to everyone - we believe that it does so. And now, can we assume that there are souls that remain perpetually closed to such love? As a possibility in principle, this cannot be rejected. In reality, it becomes infinitely improbable …Grace can steal its way into souls and spread itself more and more…
      Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom but it can be “outwitted”…The descent of grace to the human soul is a free act of divine love…And there are no limits to how far it may extend…
      The faith in the unboundedness of divine love and grace justifies a hope for the universality of redemption, although, through the possibility of resistance to grace that remains open “in principle”, the possibility of eternal damnation also exists."

      Later on, however, she backtracked - she wrote the following in her diary:

      "The possibility of some final loss appears more real and pressing than one which would seem infinitely improbable.”

      Which leads me to think that she became a quasi-universalist who still maintained a form of hopeful universalism (but less confident than before).

    3. "I wonder if there are any notable quasi-universalists."

      It is well known that pope Francis has spoken in universalist tones. What I think is less well know is that the previous pope had done so too, albeit before becoming pope:

      "And here we can point once again to Buddhism, with its idea of the Budhisattva, who refuses to enter Nirvana so long as one human being remains in hell. By such waiting, he empties hell, accepting the salvation which is due only when hell has become uninhabited. Behind this impressive notion of Asian religiosity, the Christian sees the true Bodhisattva, Christ, in whom Asia's dream became true. The dream is fulfilled in the God who descended from heaven into hell, because a heaven above an earth which is hell would be no heaven at all." (Ratzinger 1988).

  9. Of course he'd put that last bit about oil and water getting to the same place, he's a universalist after all.

  10. Ed, would you still have written a constrained review of Hart's book given hindsight?

    In the last post, Ed was arguing that a basic, overall reading of both scripture and tradition cannot be squared with universalism. Now, Hart is suggesting these English translations Ed used are failing to convey the basic meaning of the original texts from their own language. This is troubling news for ordinary idiots such as myself. Are the translations really that different to the originals such that their meanings are completely different on such a basic level? What exactly is wrong with the translations? Will we ever be able to explain the original text in English if the re-translations over hundreds of years fail to sufficiently convey the basic meaning?

    1. There are very complicated issues with translations. For instance, many universalists argue (plausibly, in my view - Hart draws this out in his NT translation) that the word "aionios" which is often translated as "Eternal" doesn't actually mean that. It in fact means something closet to "in an age", or "lasting for an age" (which might be taken to mean eternal, but need not); some universalists argue that many passages which speak of "eternal punishment", for instance, are actually talking about punishment "in the Age" as an eschatological notion.

      It certainly *is* a complicated matter. The fact that so many Greek fathers were universalists, and could read the New Testament and not see anything clearly contradicting their view (even supporting it) is enough reason to be skeptical of the idea that Scripture is clear on the matter. It is not "clear", otherwise we wouldn't have had Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St Isaac, St Maximus Confessor, and so on and so forth.

      I think Hart's remark is important. The matter is not so simple, even if one is still convinced that (overall) the case against universalism from the fathers and Scripture is better than the case in favor of it.

    2. To add to what Atno said:

      Just as “eternal redemption” (eg Hebrews 9.11-12) does not mean that after the future resurrection redemption would be repeated everlastingly, “eternal punishment/damnation” may also not mean that the punishment/damnation would be repeated everlastingly. Such phases could mean the finality of the status: “eternal redemption” being the finality of the status of the redeemed after a certain point, while “eternal punishment/damnation” being the finality of the status of the condemned after a certain point.

      johannes hui

    3. sorry: I meant “phrases” when I typed phases, though the latter may work in another sense here :D

    4. Kiel: I think you can generally trust English translations, and I think good reasoning would only require you to forego using English translations of texts if you are given *specific reasons* based on the original language documents to question each of the translations.

      I think the burden of proof is on them to show the standard English translations are wrong in a particular instance. And to dismiss all of a person's argument because it's based on perfectly reasonable translations is absurd.

      For what it's worth, in my experience, the claim that the original Greek text will show something radically different from what people always understood is usually way overblown. Of course, I'm not saying it never can make a difference. But generally, a good, scholarly translation will convey the meaning just fine, and without specific arguments to the contrary you are on safe ground relying on them.

      P.S. A small irony: It used to be a critique of the Catholic Church that it made the Scriptures inaccessible to laypeople. Now Catholics are unsophisticated because they rely on translations accessible to laypeople!

    5. Is "eternal" a good translation of "aionios"? Well, it is true that "aionios" is ambiguous, and it literally refers to a (lengthy) period of time that may or may not be infinite. I think translations which retain the unclarity or ambiguity of the original are preferable to those who try to resolve it. Hence I insist that "age", "age-during", etc., are the best translations. A person can reject universalism yet accept that translation, since "age-during" can be infinite whenever one is dealing with an infinite age.

      The other problem is the English word "eternal" is ambiguous. It can mean an infinite duration of time – everlastingness or sempiternity – or it can mean eternity proper – existence outside of time altogether, timelessness, atemporality. Many Christians seem to use "eternity" to mean the former when speaking of heaven and hell, and the later when speaking of God. I think due to this reason the word "eternal" is best avoided. If one means aan infinite period of time, say "everlasting" or "sempiternal". If one means existence outside of time altogether, "atemporal" is a good choice. So this is another reason why I think we shouldn't use "eternal" to translate "aionios", for ideally one shouldn't use the word "eternal" at all.

      Do non-universalists insist that heaven and hell involve infinite quantities of time? Is it possible that time might eventually end, and that the saved and the damned might exist in their final state atemporally?

    6. Kiel,
      Remember, Christianity is a revealed religion, and we’re supposed to believe God is doing the revealing and the leading, directing and overseeing. Thus, Holy Writ is guarded divinely against the kind of misinterpretation on the scale Universalists would need it to be in order to make their arguments.

      It is fascinating that the only time Our Lord ever wrote anything, He wrote it on the ground. (St. John, chapter 8, the scene is the woman caught in the act of adultery.) There’s also 2 Thess 2:15 about holding to what was taught, whether by writing or word of mouth. 1 Cor 11:12 echoes this. In the Ascension of Jesus (Act 1:6-11), He doesn’t say to hold firm what He wrote them, or anything like that, but rather: “...But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

      The Church has the power, not the words in a book. Finally, in 1 Time 3:15, St. Paul says plainly that the Church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of the Truth (i.e., not something written per se).

      Since the coming of Protestantism and its focus on Sola Scriptura, which has left us with divided witness and 20,000+ Protestant denominations, it is easy to forget the Church wrote the New Testament (the various authors of the NT being leading Church figures: Matthew and John, Mark, Peter’s secretary and “interpreter” for a time, St. Paul, and so on. They weren’t just guys who hung out with Jesus now and again (as some Protestants, like Baptists, think). They were organized into an institution that had authority to bind and lose. (St. John 20:21-23) The religion isn’t founded on the NT books, but rather on Christ, Who rules through the living magisterium (both of today and through its witness accumulated over the millennia). Also, the Holy Ghost is supposed to be leading the Church over the centuries, protecting it from major error.
      So, while the Scriptures are important and necessary element of Sacred Tradition, they are not the “pillar and foundation” of the Truth on their own, but as part of the whole Church reality. N.B. The “New Testament” isn’t the 27 books of the Christian Bible, but the Most Holy Eucharist, the New Covenant (St. Luke 22:20). The 27 books are called “New Testament” because they tell the story of how this new and eternal Covenant came to be.

    7. Simon Kissane wrote,

      "Do non-universalists insist that heaven and hell involve infinite quantities of time?"

      No. To give an example, Dante's Divine Comedy is a gorgeous depiction of the final atemporal state of the blessed and the damned.

      The debate doesn't hinge on the meanings of specific words, but on the differences in our epistemological, moral and philosophical presuppositions. As Hart pointed out in his letter, the differences are so basic that there seems to be hardly any common ground between the two sides - imagine trying to build a bridge across the Grand Canyon.

      However, this should not prevent Christians from "making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace", with charity and humility.

    8. BDAG [Bauer, Denker, Arndt and Gingrich], usually regarded as the best lexicon for NT Greek and Apostolic Fathers [Liddell Scott Jones is the best for Classical Greek as a whole], lists Matthew 25:46 among the usage "pertaining to a period of unending duration, without end" so it is simply not the case that good scholarship of these "eternal punishment" phrases excludes the traditional understanding of them.

    9. @Kiel Gillard,

      I'd like to add that the way to read scripture is not passage by passage, analysing each sentence, worrying about interpretation, translation, etc. Scripture is as a door for meeting Christ. Don't read the words of the text but the spirit infused in them.

  11. Kiel,

    It goes even beyond what DBH is saying.

    You may want to reflect on that even if we read the original Greek, Jesus and his followers did not speak in Greek but in Aramaic.

    There are substantial difference between Aramaic and Greek idioms and concepts, etc.

    In English, if someone says he kicked the bucket, it means he dies, but if someone translates it into a semitic language like Aramaic, the meaning would not be transferred. Same with Greek, another European and non-semitic language.

    You may want to check out The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz.

    Of course, this is if one operates on the assumption that Aramaic teachings or Aramaic oral narrations were transferred to Greek without the Roman and Greek religious and cultural and political aspects distorting the message. That is a whole other field of inquiry.

    I have not read the book by Neil Douglas-Klotz and thus I am not advocating for all that he says in it but I assume it is thought provoking for it is the consensus that Jesus and his disciples did not speak Greek, certainly not the sophisticated Greek seen in the Gospels which only someone who is well educated in Greek and situated in the elite of the Roman world would speak.

    Here is a brief talk the Neil Douglas-Klotz gives

    1. I'm afraid Douglas-Klotz doesn't do justice to Jesus's second temple context--as if his sayings in the NT could only possibly be understood through the lens of Middle Eastern mysticism. The fact of the matter is, virtually no reputable scholar would locate the historical Jesus outwith mainstream second temple Judaism, so it's hard to take Douglas-Klotz's claims seriously.

    2. Wow! Douglas-Klotz committed so many fallacies in the first three minutes that I stopped listening. This is precisely the sort of stuff mentioned in James Barr's Semantics of Biblical Language which pointed out the fallacies that the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament contained. [I had the privilege of taking a semester's course with James Barr. Semantics of Biblical Language is hard reading, so I would recommend the beginner start with D. A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies which is indebted to Barr.]

    3. Jesus spoke Aramaic AND Greek. If you were going to sell products in the Decapolis, you needed to know Greek. Moreover, there are dialogues in the New Testament that depend on word plays in the Greek language and don't work in Aramaic.

    4. "Jesus spoke Aramaic AND Greek."

      Would like to read more about this idea. How would you be certain of this?

    5. The whole dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3 involves a word play on the Greek word enothen (either meaning "from above" or "again.") There is no play in Aramaic. The Greek of Matthew, Mark, 1 John, Revelation and other books is not very good Greek. Greek was the lingua franca of the day. It is highly likely that the conversation between Jesus and Pilate was in Greek rather than Latin (sorry, Mel Gibson).

  12. Regarding above post, I am not implying anything about universalism...just the issue that languages have their own world-view at times and the connotations of one word in a language in not necessarily the same, especially in a different language family.

  13. Happy to see this. And hey, if debates on salvation don’t get you a little riled up, you really have no business being a Christian. I would rather see a little over-the-top polemics than indifference.

    1. @Scott,

      Are you talking to me?

      Salvation is of course the most important issue. I am not indifferent to it in the least.

      I am not a Christian in the usual mainstream sense.

      Kiel has some very important questions dealing with translations. There are some deeper very relevant issues that people don't reflect on and hence I felt obliged to share.

    2. No I was speaking of the back and forth between DBH and Dr. Feser. A little bit of boxing is not always the worst thing.

    3. Oh, sorry for the confusion.

      This post helps bring a sense of peace despite the clear difference of views.

      And yes, it makes perfect sense to be riled up on this issue.

  14. @Scott,

    I am a Muslim but not necessarily in all the ways perceived as such.

    And as a Muslim, I have to be a follower of Jesus Christ with Christ meaning Annointed (Hebrew--Mashiach or Msheekha in Aramaic, the language of Jesus).

    1. Well feel free to ask to join the Thomism discussion group on Facebook. There is a little bit of cross-over from Muslim philosophers since Aquinas drew on them quite a bit.

      The conversations are very cordial. Of course, be prepared to be challenged a little bit, because Christ is not only the Anointed one, but He is also God Incarnate. 馃槈

    2. I had no idea you were a Muslim of any kind, grateful to God. Will have to read your comments more carefully! Glad you are commenting here.

  15. If only the entire conversation was through private email. Would’ve saved a lot of trouble and heat haha

  16. Very happy to see this, as both Feser and Hart have been instrumental to my faith, and there is so much to learn from both of them about classical theism. I tend towards a hopeful universalism, and think that both Feser and Hart make good points--there is a strong philosophical case that God will, in fact, save all, but there is also a strong theological tradition that holds the opposite. I hope, like Balthasar, that all shall be saved, but I do not hold that with certainty.

    At the end of the day, both DBH and Feser are really brilliant scholars. Here are two of my favorite DBH videos: the first where he defends the classical model of God, and the second where he just rips on Dawkins.

  17. The reality is that Feser's reading of the Bible and other ancient texts is laughably simplistic.

    1. I'm assuming you're able to support your claim with some evidence. Could you give an example of how a more sophisticated reading would render a different conclusion from Feser's? And why the former is more worthy of acceptance?

    2. Yeah, all of those biblical passages and statements from the Fathers have been horribly misunderstood, and indeed horribly mistranslated, for two millennia. All the exegetes and translators who put all that together -- just a big bunch of dummies. Fortunately, modern scholars have finally rolled along kindly to clear it all up for us. Too bad Providence couldn't have gotten them to us sooner!

    3. Alexander VI
      That is just not so. What Ed said about the OT texts making a contrast between the fate of the righteous and the fate of the wicked that does not fit well with universalism is accurate. Could some of Ed's points have been made stronger by employing biblical scholarship? Certainly. The material in Isaiah 40-66 fits a 6th century Babylonian context than it does the 8th century Isaiah (Abraham Ibn Ezra said something along these lines in the 1100s, observing that Isaiah was never mentioned in that entire block) and the Isaian Apocalypse, Isaiah 24-27, comes from the same milieu and is a clear example of early apocalyptic. Revelation 21-22, full blown apocalyptic, is picking up material from Isaiah 24-27 and from Isaiah 65-66. The new heavens and the new earth in Isaiah 66:22 are picked up in Rev 21:1, then Rev 21:3-4 the end of death is picked up from the Feast of Tabernacles passage in Isaiah 25:6-8, and the exclusion passages in Revelation 21:27 and 22:15 pick up from the last verse in Isaiah (66:24) which is one of the OT passages that are problematic for annihilationists and universalists. So recent scholarship on early apocalypticism would strengthen Ed's point, but his basic point stands.

    4. Dr. Feser,
      [sarc]Yeah, all of those biblical passages and statements from the Fathers have been horribly misunderstood[/sarc]

      Indeed, the Jesus hell of eternal damnation in unrelenting and inescapable eternal torture in a lake of burning sulfur is clearly supported by scripture.

      So too are the traits of god such as his omniscience, omnipotence, free will, his creation of all that exists other than himself, and his infinitely loving nature.

      Dr. Hart correctly points out that the Jesus hell of your cited texts is incoherent in that case of the attribute set ascribed to god in other scriptures.

      The conclusion is obvious, scripture is intrinsically incoherent.

      Dr. Feser is correct in the meanings of the scripture he cites.
      Dr. Hart is correct is the meanings of the scripture he cites.
      Those meanings are mutually exclusive such that a whole that asserts those contradictory scriptures simultaneously must be incoherent.

      It is simply impossible, logically, to reconcile a god of the Jesus hell with a god that is omnipotent, omniscient, acts upon free will, and is also omnibenevolent.

      Dr. Hart is absolutely correct in calling Dr. Feser's position incoherent upon the qualities ascribed to god as omnipotent, omniscient, acts upon free will, and is also omnibenevolent.

      Dr. Feser is absolutely correct in characterizing denial of the plain meanings of his cited texts as "Orwellian".

      The conclusion is obvious, scripture is intrinsically incoherent, rendering such scripturally based arguments intrinsically logically worthless.

    5. An omnipotent God with urgent truths to communicate would not generate incoherent and unclear scriptures, which would then be 'interpreted' and argued about ad nauseum by 'learned' theologens, but would be the very model of consistancy, coherence and clarity.

      Or so it would seem to me.

    6. Feser writes: "Too bad Providence couldn't have gotten them to us sooner"

      Who knows how special providence works. Perhaps it does not work systemically, perhaps it does not care specifically about how this or that church defines dogma. Or even about this or that ecumenical council. When I read the gospels I find it evident that Christ cared about the way we live not about our belief systems. His message, almost exclusively, was about how we should live: to love God and neighbour, to have faith and become like He is.

      Theology is marvellous of course, the greatest and most useful kind of knowledge one can have, and has an important place in Christianity. But how is one to get that knowledge? I am reminded of "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." I am not saying that’s the only way, but it is probably the most efficacious.

  18. Suppose that I accept Hart's position. Biblical translations are so terrible that universalism appears definitively refuted, when it is clearly taught. The Fathers, similarly so. This is all made clear by experts with PhDs in classical languages and the Christian Scriptures.
    Moreover, I cannot trust the teachings of bishops and Councils against universalism, because they have taught falsely. Etc. etc. etc.
    If this is true of universalism, namely that one must be an expert in patristics, classical languages and biblical exegesis to know it is true, what are Christian rubes to do? If Hart is right about something as fundamental as universalism and I accept this, why would I be anything but skeptical about any other purported doctrines of the Faith, such as the Trinity, the hypostatic union, or even moral doctrines?
    What is the Faith to a rube who is too incompetent to be able to read ancient Greek and know even content of the Faith to which he ought to submit?

    1. There is a parallel here with the issue of capital punishment. Both the topic of hell and the topic of capital punishment are very important in themselves, but even more important is the issue of the violence one must do to the sources of revelation in order to defend extreme revisionist positions on those topics. You have to cast such doubt on our knowledge of what the sources say that it threatens to take the whole of doctrine down. There's a monomania among the innovators on these topics that prevents them from seeing, or maybe even just caring about, this larger problem.

      You see this among certain otherwise orthodox Catholics (e.g. NNLT types) where capital punishment is concerned. They've just absolutely got it on the brain that they've got to find a way to condemn capital punishment as intrinsically evil. They're not happy with saying that it's prudentially bad. They're absolutely obsessed with going the whole hog, hell or high water. So they come up with ever more ridiculously convoluted ways of trying to get around what scripture, the popes, etc. have said on the topic. They don't look at traditional teaching on this topic as something they need to learn from, but rather just a letter-of-the-law they need to stay within while finding legalistic ways of getting around implications they don't like for whatever reason (because it doesn't sit well with what Grisez thinks, or is embarrassing when you're trying to appeal to the touchy-feely spirit of the age, or whatever).

      Then they're shocked and outraged when theological progressives use similar sophistry to weaken traditional teaching on divorce, sexual morality, etc. They refuse to see that they have themselves contributed to softening Catholic minds up for this kind of crap.

      Outright universalism doesn't have quite the same following in Catholic circles, but the next worst thing -- Balthasar's "dare we hope" folderol -- does, and it corrupts the mind in a similar way. The intellectual and moral energy is obsessively spent on finding lawyerly ways around the clear implications of scripture and tradition. Orthodoxy becomes nothing more than a letter of the law you have to pay lip service to, while finding ways around the spirit. People no longer promote and proclaim it, but merely avoid contradicting it outright and delude themselves into thinking they've thereby done their duty. And then they're surprised and disheartened when James Martin or whoever uses the same tactic (play up ideas and language that seems to support what modern people want to believe, and play down, explain away, or ignore everything else) to try to finesse other teachings.

      It's pathetic. They think they are cleverly avoiding dissent from the tradition, when in fact they are unwittingly greasing the skids for it.

    2. I see a strong parallel to the development of usury. Calvin takes the Scriptures and Fathers to undermine the doctrine, even against the other Protestant leaders.
      Catholic thinkers develop lines of argument that not only leaves usury as a mere doctrinal ornament, but also supplies arguments that help grease skids against other moral doctrines. Doctrinal silence or putative approval only further reinforces the errors.
      These are well-tested and ostensibly successful strategies.

    3. Dr. Feser,
      “You have to cast such doubt on our knowledge of what the sources say that it threatens to take the whole of doctrine down.”
      Indeed, the process of attempting to reconcile a god that is omniscient, omnipotent, creator of all but himself, acts with his own free will, omnibenevolent, and a real hell of eternal inescapable torture in a lake of burning sulfur, the whole of doctrine is taken down.

      Doctrine uses scripture to assert all of those traits to god, yet those traits are mutually exclusive, thus incoherent, bringing the whole of doctrine down.

      “The intellectual and moral energy is obsessively spent on finding lawyerly ways around the clear implications of scripture and tradition.”
      Such gymnastics are necessary if the whole of doctrine is to be reconciled, but even with the most energetic interpretations the whole of doctrine logically must be brought down.

      “It's pathetic.”
      Indeed. All attempts to reconcile that which is intrinsically incoherent, the whole of Christian doctrine, invariably lead to pathetic displays of illogic.

    4. Is the argument about universalism rooted in or a facet of the more general set of theological differences between Greeks and Latins (or Orthodox and Orthodox rite Catholics and Latin Catholics)? It looks like it could be the case, if it is it will be hard to import the idea directly into Latin theology without filling in a lot of the Greek background. There is a good book by Fr. John Meyendorff called 'Byzantine Theology', I remember reading that and thinking there were loads of points about differing interpretations of nature, grace, man etc. to think about.

    5. Ed wrote: "They think they are cleverly avoiding dissent from the tradition, when in fact they are unwittingly greasing the skids for it."

      Yup, that's important. This reminds me of Andrew Sullivan's article (from Ed's link round-up) on the ideological roots of 'wokeness.' Good article, but Sullivan seems oblivious to the fact that political liberalism unwittingly greases the skids for 'wokeness.' If you try to ground ethics politically rather than metaphysically (as in Rawlsian 'reflective equilibrium'), it should be no surprise if the whole thing devolves into an intrinsically unstable, never-ending ("time is greater than space"? -- uh-huh), free-for-all power struggle based on ever-evolving group identities. Trying to ground (or undermine) revealed religion based on the "reflective equilibrium" of the latest scholarship seems about on the same track. And come to think of it, Hart's unhinged vituperations directed at Ed have had a 'woke' flavour to them.

  19. My heart says Hart, my head says Ed. Sorry to lower the tone. Couldn't resist it.

    1. If I were Fr. Z, I'd give you the gold star for the day!

    2. Hart might take exception to the implication that he's headless, even though Feser doesn't seem to mind being "Hartless".

    3. @PhilR One needs all one's heart, and all one's life, and all one's mind.

  20. Interesting that 2000 years into the religion Christians still can’t agree on the most important issue of all, soteriology.

    God was clearer about ancient sexual practices then he was about what (if anything!) one must do to be saved.

    1. Yes, you would have thought that the omnipotent creator of the universe, who desires that all be saved, would be very clear about critical theological issues in his book, and not leave it to humans ( even supposedly very erudite and learned ones ) to squabble over them for millenia. The first meeting of the risen Jesus and his disciples would have been a great time for all to be clearly revealed, made sense of and explicated, but not a jot has been recorded for posterity.

      There are rather obvious conclusions to be drawn from this......

    2. Unknown writes: "the omnipotent creator of the universe, who desires that all be saved [would have done this and that]"

      If universal salvation was all the omnipotent creator desires then he would save all instantly, with a snap of his fingers as it were. It should be obvious that what also matters to God is the way of their salvation. And that way is not easy. The very presence of God is not as unmistakingly evident as that of the physical world around us.

      To criticise theism you must first understand it, and to understand theism you must first think like a theist does: See the world from the point of view of one who thinks that all is made by a being of infinite power and goodness.

    3. The way of salvation ( assuming the correctness of your belief system ) is spectacularly easy for some, and impossible ( or almost so ) for others. For example, someone born into and conditioned by a deeply catholic medieval European society would unthinkingly assimilate the whole shebam, and so be saved, while the same 'soul' incarnated into modern England is likely to find the whole think frankly ludicrous, while if born into an Islaamic one they would find much of your world view blasphemous. Your God clearly does not rate fairness very highly, and isn't at all concerned with making salvation necessarily virtuous, as many are effectively born to it. Your omnipotent God , who supposedly desires that all be saved, might be expected to come up with a more efficient and just method of maximising success than the one he allegedly settled upon.

      Incidentally, I am impressed with the various philosophical arguments that point to a necessary ground of being, which has some properties that we associate with mind, so I do not think it fair to call me an atheist. But it never seems to occur to you folk that the Christian religeon - indeed all religeons - may be purely human creations, and that the philosophy might still be pointong to something real but independent of them.

    4. Are you serious?

    5. "For example, someone born into and conditioned by a deeply catholic medieval European society would unthinkingly assimilate the whole shebam, and so be saved"

      Sorry but I think you are completely - utterly - lost. Please read the gospels and see for yourself how Christ describes the path to salvation. You'll realise it has nothing to do with what you appear to believe.

      In short, salvation comes from loving God with all one's heart and soul and mind, and from loving each other as Christ has loved us - that is, being willing to put one's life down for them, and, it goes without saying, sharing all one’s material goods with them. This is never "spectacularly easy".

      On the other hand some people do have it easier than others, and this fact grounds a version from the problem from evil theodicy must answer.

    6. Well , that is your understanding of the requirements for salvation, but it is an extremely exacting one, and not exactly the version proffered by the majority of practicing ( and well informed ) Christians that I know. In fact, the catholic ones appear to hold that belief in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, coupled with sincere periodic repentance for sin through confession, will deliver the goods, and that for catholics this will be so even if the confession and repentance is motivated not by love of God but by a terror of hell.

      You should not see your position as being the one automatically held by Christians and self evidently correct - it is not. In fact, if Prof Feser opened a thread discussing the requirements for salvation, it would generate just as much controversy and rancour as discussion of any other theological issue, with protagonists for each view advancing philosophical arguments and offering/interpreting proof texts. Once again, are you not puzzled by omnipotent God's apparant inability or unwillingness to render his rulings on such critical issues absolutely crystal clear, for example in a post resurrection speech by the risen Christ to his disciples?

    7. I rather think Dianelos and Unknown deserve each other. They are almost like mirror images of each other, and both images of a mere mask of understanding. It's actually kind of funny.


    8. Unknown writes: “coupled with sincere periodic repentance for sin through confession”

      “Sincere periodic repentance” is a contradiction in terms. Unless one believes that “repentance” means “feeling truly sorry for the sins one has committed”. Here even the dictionary helps, for the original Greek word “matanoia” means change of mind. Repentance meas an evolution of one’s being towards God’s perfection, it is to outgrow one’s sinfulness, it is to transform one’s soul into the likeness of Christ – and thus one’s life into the likeness of Christ’s life.

      Now probably many Catholics believe salvation is as you describe it. But what they believe is entirely irrelevant because, obviously, it’s not that by believing in an easy path to heaven the path to heaven becomes easy :-)

      Look, factually speaking our great Christian churches are complex organisations that offer a service, including aid for people to make it to heaven and avoid hell. And since what Christ in the gospels plainly and clearly asks is too exacting as you put it, they were pressured to offer easier ways. They do so sometimes clutching at scriptural straws, for example the CC used the bit about Christ giving Peter the power to bind and unbind in heaven and on earth to argue that by apostolic succession from the pope downwards every priest has that power – while adding that forgiving sins is of course exclusively Christ’s power and that the priest is only representing Him. It’s a joke really. My own EOC is not really any better than the CC in this regard. The Protestant church went even further with some strands arguing that salvation is a free gift and that everybody who believes that Christ is one’s personal saviour is thereby saved. Many Protestants believe this, and indeed how much easier can it get?

      “You should not see your position as being the one automatically held by Christians and self evidently correct - it is not.”

      Truth is not a matter of majority vote. I don’t ask you to believe me rather in the majority of Christians, but to believe your own eyes when you read the gospels which every Christian agrees are authoritative. And there is another more fundamental epistemic means to reach the truth about God. You see God has made us in his image and thus endowed with a innate sense of the divine – or of perfection as it were. So consider the questions we are discussing with your own sense of the divine, and (I trust) you’ll see the truth about the path to salvation. And you’ll notice that it is exactly as the plain reading of Christ’s teaching in the gospels has it.

  21. My comment disappeared into the Internet vacuum. The top scholarly lexicon of the entire Greek New Testament, BDAG, lists the kolasin aionion (eternal punishment) in Matthew 25:46 with the usage of aionios (the lemma or dictionary form of aionion) as "pertaining to a period of unending duration, without end" so it is a mistake to state that Ed's citation of this and other scriptures ignores the clear meaning of "aionios."

    1. Gee, I wonder if David might be aware of what some Greek lexicons say? I wonder if his book might address this question? I wonder if people should read the book under discussion before deciding they know the answers.

    2. I was not critiquing Hart and I am sorry if I gave that impression. Some people on earlier blog posts at this site however discuss aionios as if it could not have the meaning "eternal."

    3. M. Robbins,
      Notice that I did not claim that BDAG settled the matter. I made a much less reaching claim, namely that Ed's citation of these as evidence should be dismissed because he used a translation. I point out that the translation used is not out of line with respected scholarly sources.

    4. That should have read "not be dismissed"

    5. My apologies.

    6. I just wonder if the lexicons were written back in the third or fourth century, before Latin translators like Augustine, who did not know Greek and hated the language, made a hash out of it. You know, it is possible to be taught something wrongly that has been taught wrongly for centuries and has gotten the imprimatur of infallibility because of antiquity.

    7. IrishEddieOHara,
      The major lexicons used today are written in the last 150 years or so, but they make use of a wealth of information. For the Hebrew Scriptures, Lexicons not only use information from the medieval manuscripts, they use (where appropriate) Dead Sea Scrolls (since the 1950s), the Septuagint, other early Greek translations from Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, the Vetus Latina, the Syriac Peshitta, Josephus, Jerome's Vulgate, the Aramaic Targums. I have done some Text Critical work and we had to do this.
      It is similar in the New Testament, where Aremenian, Sahidic, Bohairic, Armenian and other things are important. Lexicons of the Greek New Testament consider classical Greek usage, Septuagint, other koine texts; they look at synonyms and antonyms from parallel passages etc. This work involves weighing evidence and is largely empirical in nature.

    8. @Tim Finlay

      Does BDGA claim that "aionios" never refers to to a limited time period? I am sure it doesn't. So whatever it claims about "aionios kolasis" is can only be an interpretation. And I wonder how that interpretation can rest on lexicographic and not theological grounds.

    9. Dianelos,
      I thought my posts as a whole made clear that most words, including aionios, have semantic ranges. They have different usages and Bible commentators, lexicographers etc. weigh evidence in evaluating what usage a word has in a particular passage. Of course this involves interpretation but that does not mean it is largely subjective. One does not say, I want it to mean "such and such." One offers arguments, examines how that paragraph was translated into Coptic, Armenian, Syriac etc., what LXX passages it was drawing from if any, how it is cited by the Church Fathers etc.
      So if by "only be an interpretation" you mean that it is without scholarly basis, you are wrong.

    10. Tim Finlay writes: “Bible commentators, lexicographers etc. weigh evidence in evaluating what usage a word has in a particular passage. Of course this involves interpretation but that does not mean it is largely subjective.”

      Well, what you describe is interpretation, and is to some degree subjective. Which means that even if one believes that scripture is inerrant in some sense, one can never be certain about the interpretation given by commentators and lexicographers. Commentators and lexicographers may certainly be wrong.

      Incidentally DBH in his “That All Shall be Saved” does *not* argue from scripture. He only points out that scripture can and is sometimes misinterpreted. In particular those people who believe that scripture clearly teaches infernalism, have been deceived. If scripture clearly taught infernalism then no interpretation would be required. And one can easily think of the wording the evangelist or apostle could have used to clearly teach infernalism, but as a matter of plain fact that’s not how they wrote.

      “So if by ‘only be an interpretation’ you mean that it is without scholarly basis, you are wrong.”

      No, that’s not what I mean. Of course scholars have studied scripture trying to interpret it in the manner most leading to truth. Even though sometimes people have let their prior beliefs very strongly influence the interpretation they’d arrive at. So for example John 5:39 has been grossly mistranslated in the KJV, and the same mistake has survived in several modern translations too.

  22. The Testament of Reuben 5:6 refers to kolasin tou aionos (a genitive of the noun aion from which the adjective aionios is derived) also listed by BDAG as the same usage of "unending duration." In the introduction to Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, of which the Testament of Reuben is a part, H. C. Kee dates to the Maccabaean period. This is in broad agreement with what Ed had to say regarding the intertestamental literature also, and with which DBH apparently also agreed. There was very considerable variety within the Judaism of the inter-testamental period, by the way, but that is another story.

  23. But I was so looking forward to the next round. The smell of blood. The grunts and groans. The cracking of bones...

    Oh well. I guess I’ll just go look at some boxing matches on youtube.

    1. Bilbo sure has changed a lot since he went on an adventure...

  24. I dunno. I think Matthew 25: 31-46 is pretty clear.

    1. It's not. The issue is how "aionios" should be understood.

      First, the ancient lexicographers did not see it as unqualified "everlasting"; Olympiodorus of Alexandria wrote that it applied to the souls being temporarily corrected in Tartarus, for example.

      Second, the "parallelism" argument made by Augustine, Justinian, etc. was always a subtle non sequitur that begged the question. Google "stanrock gift game" for an exercise that exposes the error.

      The only three Biblical pillars supporting "endless hell for many/most of the unsaved" are [1] a misunderstanding of Jesus's reference to Isaiah's flaming, worm-ridden corpses, [2] a conflation of Luke 16's Hades/Sheol with Gehenna-hell (they're separate, per Revelation 20), a mistake Augustine made, and [3] aionios and the memetic dominance of its misreading for 15 centuries or so (about a day and a half for God).

    2. Thanks a lot for helping people here understand why exactly the notion of an *eternal* hell is not clear at all in the NT, Mr Patton.
      Very instructive indeed.

    3. Stan Patton,
      I looked up the stanrock gift game website and the whole presentation was puerile. Round 6 of the game assumes that all examples of the same word have the same sense, and he then commits the root fallacy that "every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components. In this view, meaning is determined by etymology; that is, by the root or roots of a word" (D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies). So every example of aionios and olam must for this person mean "pertaining to ages" with overtones of gravity and domain. His entire argument depends on his undefended assumption, "WE KNOW olam (and aion/aionios/aionion) does not EVER mean 'everlasting,' just as 'great' never means 'perfect.'" No, we don't know that. Words have a variety of usages. Just look at English dictionaries to see this basic fact.
      If stanrock gift game is

    4. Stan Patton,
      That website also seems to think that aionion is a Greek lemma (along with aion and aionios which are Greek lemmas) and I am unable to find such a lemma in any Greek lexicon: BDAG, Liddell Scott Jones's Classical Greek Lexicon, Erik Eynikel et al's Septuagint Lexicon, Muraoka's recent Lexicon on the Septuagint (which is superb).
      I bet that if Hart looked at that website, he would cringe also. You don't want to have your positions supported by junk like that.

    5. Tim, I appreciate your constructive feedback.

      I did not assume all examples of the same word have the same sense, but rather that the word's range of meaning must be able to "handle" everywhere it's used, and this is what the Gift Game tries to make us "feel." To clarify, "Does not EVER mean" was a shorthand way of saying, "is not automatically limited in range of meaning to."

      But this was needlessly provocative and unclear. I've modified the post to reflect this and if you notice any other issues with the material I will edit them as well. I would always rather be corrected. I've also made clear that "age-pertaining" is a proposal for capturing that range of meaning without begging questions (instead of simply asserting it).

      (I bundle "aionion" with "aionios" because of the intended audience; really no other reason than that, and I'm not suggesting they are syntactically interchangeable.)

    6. Thank you, Stan, for your gracious reply to my comments which were far too harsh. I agree with you that olam and aionios are not limited to the meaning "eternal."

  25. I found Hart's statement beautiful and powerful. Humility is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

    I was thinking that many people are under the impression that the way to teach theological truth is by argumentation. But Christ *is* the truth, so the best way to teach the truth is by becoming Christ-like.

  26. This was surprising, but very good to see. I have so much respect for both Feser and Hart, and they have so much in common given that both are excellent defenders of classical theism, that it is sad to see that they don’t get along.

    Regarding universalism: somewhere in TASBS Hart discusses about a man that has been in hell for millons of years. He may think that soon this is over, I have done my time. But if hell is eternal, it’s not over soon, but has only just begun. The torment has always only just begun, since it is eternal. And this -the eternal existence of suffering, torment, evil and sin - is the world that Love and Goodness Itself has decided to create absolutely freely ex nihilo. I just can’t believe that. I respect Ed on his views here, I just can’t agree with him on this one. Also on Scripture and the fathers, I recommend Ilaria Ramelli’s Larger Hope; the picture there is very different from what Ed is arguing.

    1. Tuukka wrote,

      -the [ eternal ] existence of suffering, torment, evil and sin - is the world that Love and Goodness Itself has decided to create absolutely freely ex nihilo. I just can’t believe that. (brackets added)

      This argument for universalism again boils down to the Argument from Evil. IF Love and Goodness is incompatible with the existence of suffering and evil, then even a millisecond of suffering is unacceptable, let alone millions of years of suffering.

      Conversely, if people can live with suffering for millions of years, why not another million, and another, ad infinitum? Or, as they say in sports, one day at a time.

      I don't understand why people would embrace this lukewarm version of universalism. Never mind the logic. What's the attraction?

    2. The whole point of universalism is that whatever the reason is for permitting evil, suffering, and sin in this life, is that it will come to an end eventually. If eternal hell is true, it will reign forever. Big difference. And this is why, as Marilyn Adams has argued, universalism is actually needed to solve the problem of evil. (See meditation 1 in Hart’s book btw.)

    3. it will come to an end eventually.

      Why did evil even exist to begin with, if evil is incompatible with Goodness?

      No, universalism doesn't solve the problem of evil, it merely attempts to sweep it under the rug of "eternity".

    4. Scenario 1:

      God -> creation -> evil -> some evils cease to exist, others will exist forever

      Scenario 2:

      God -> creation -> evil -> evil will cease to exist once and for all.

      I prefer 2.

      As for ”Why did evil even exist to begin with, if evil is incompatible with Goodness?”: The universalist and the infernalist have similar answers here, evil is privation, God allows it for this life because of XYZ.. But the crucial thing is, will it last forever, will the Kingdom of Goodness and Love include sin and torment in the souls of the wicked forever and ever.

      If you don’t see the point, well we just have to disagree.

    5. Tukka,

      Thank you for explaining your personal preference. I'll explain my point of view, and leave it at that:

      God -> Creation -> Free choice of Will -> Good and Evil --> Justice --> New Creation.

      In the scenario you prefer, evil still exists, so the real issue of the debate has nothing to do with whether the existence of evil is incompatible with Goodness.

      I appreciate and sympathize with your desire that evil should end. But, our personal preference does not necessarily accord with God's wisdom and perfect will. We should be careful not to make our subjective idea of "Good" into an idol, and insist that everything else must serve that, instead of the Love and Goodness revealed to us in the Scripture and through faithful witnesses throughout history.

    6. Perhaps an eternalist / B-theory of time can make Nemo's point clearer. Hypothesize that "time" is really an extended dimensionality in which all "times" are (in some way we cannot imagine but really so anyway) all presently "available" to an eternal being like God, so that time doesn't "pass away" but we merely pass along from one moment to the next THROUGH the temporal environment. Then EVERY EVIL ACT EVER DONE continues to "be" in its formal reality, in its own temporal moment of time, which does not pass away. It doesn't "pass away", it is captured in amber for all eternity as the existing moment in which sin X occurs. God's will isn't achieved by writing such sins out of being. Rather, God's will is achieved by writing painting a larger picture, in which such sins, though themselves remain evil, are "captured" by God's justice in retribution, and by a still larger picture in which mercy and justice together present something tremendously beautiful.

      Now, I am not a simplistic B-theorist, but I used that picture to show a point: any and every argument that can possibly be used to insist that "God, being infinitely good, could not allow an ongoing, persisting evil to co-exist through an infinite future if He could prevent it" can be used just as well to argue that "God, being infinitely good, cannot allow an evil act to occur at one moment in time if He could prevent it." The B-theory makes those two arguments THE SAME ARGUMENT, that's what shows their likeness. Since, manifestly, God HAS allowed evil acts to occur, which He could have prevented, something is wrong with the argument that His omnibenevolence precludes that.

  27. When I mix yellow paint and blue paint I get GIFTBOX paint. He managed to reach the GIFTBOX in two shots. GIFTBOX issues are very important to me in a political candidate. The correct GIFTBOX is green but it has a different sense in those sentences. assumes that aion always has the same sense.

  28. Stan Patton,
    I apologize for my tone. I have only just realized that you are behind I would have written in a different manner otherwise.

  29. I come from a background that committed the root fallacy I mentioned above. Along with my denomination, I believed that "apostle" had the NT meaning "one sent forth" because of its etymology (the very example used by D. A. Carson in discussing the root fallacy). We are all prone to commit Word-Study fallacies, but we can learn about them and strive to avoid them. In addition to James Barr's two works, Semantics of Biblical Language and Comparative Philology of the Old Testament, and D. A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies, I recommend Moises Silva's very readable book, Biblical Words and Their Meaning. Moises Silva is the editor of the most recent New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis set. I do not own that set and would be interested in what it has to say on aion and aionios. The materials I do have, by Hermann Sasse and others, indicate that the Hebrew word olam was used on occasion with the sense of "eternal" from the writings of Isaiah 24-27, 40-66 onwards. Isaiah 24-27 contains features of apocalyptic such as "world judgment and the end of the nations of the earth; YHWH's establishment of world rule at Zion; the use of mythological motifs such as YHWH's defeat of Leviathan or the conquest of death; the reactions of the moon and the sun to YHWH's rule; the eschatological banquet of the nations on Mt. Zion" from Marvin Sweeney's FOTL commentary on Isaiah 1-39, page 313. Many scholars claim that while olam in early Biblical literature referred to long duration rather than eternity, that changed after early apocalyptic ideas came in the 6th century B.C. So the notion that the Hebrew word olam can never mean "eternal" is dubious at best. As for the Greek word, aionios, it could have the sense of "eternal" from at least Plato's time. This does not mean that it must have the sense "eternal" in any particular passage; that still must be argued for. But we can rule out this notion of it never having the sense of "eternal."


  30. What if we have a book that presents “an extensive analysis” and “a systematic investigation of the uses of ai么nios and a褩dios in all of Greek literature—classical, Biblical, and Patristic”?

    The following book attempted such a task. The above quoted text is taken from the preface of this book:

    Ramelli, Ilaria, and David Konstan. Terms for Eternity: Ai么nios and A茂dios in Classical and Christian Texts. Gorgias Press, 2007.

    johannes y k hui

    1. A fuller quote from the same preface:

      “Since, for the Patristic philosophers, the Bible is the essential basis for all arguments, it is indispensable to examine how Scripture, and especially the New Testament, MAY SUPPORT the theory of apocatastasis and universal salvation OR AGAIN CONTRADICT IT [emphasis mine]. Now, the only Biblical passages that seem to contradict this theory are those which mention an “eternal punishment,” “eternal fire,” and “eternal death.” Ramelli noted that in these passages the adjective usually translated as “eternal” is invariably ai么nios, a term that may sometimes mean eternal but also bears many other meanings, whereas to indicate eternal life Scripture also employs a茂dios, which always means “eternal” in the strict sense. She also noticed, while studying those Fathers who supported the doctrine of apocatastasis, for example Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus, Evagrius, and many others, that this terminological distinction seemed to be consistently preserved: a褩dios refers exclusively to future life and bliss, never to future punishment, fire, and the like. Thus, whereas life and bliss are described as properly eternal, death and punishment are ai么nia, that is, pertaining to the next aion, but not necessarily strictly eternal. If this is so, it is clearly crucial to the question of the non-eternity of hell and universal salvation. An extensive analysis was required, accordingly, in order to determine the precise meanings of these terms. Ramelli then invited David Konstan to join her in a systematic investigation of the uses of ai么nios and a褩dios in all of Greek literature—classical, Biblical, and Patristic—and together they completed this study, which was exciting in itself and will, they hope, contribute both to the study of apocatastasis and to a better understanding of the conception of time and eternity in ancient Greek philosophy and literature, in the Bible, and in Early Christianity.”


    2. Shhhh!
      Don't tell anybody here there's *actually* room for doubt when it comes to the notion of eternal punishment!
      Popes are infallible, remember?
      That's not what they want to hear!

    3. Reasonable,
      It is simply not true that the only passages that contradict the theory of universal salvation are those which mention an eternal punishment, eternal fire, or eternal death. All of the passages that the annihilationists cite in favor of their position also contradict it. And the passages that Ed cited in a previous blog that are neutral with respect to what the precise final fate of the wicked is but which clearly indicate that it is different from the fate of the righteous contradict the doctrine of universal salvation.

    4. Reasonable,
      I have not read the book by Ilaria and Konstan but from the paragraph you selected, it does not seem as if they emphatically disagree with BDAG, Louw-Nida, and other lexicons in seeing the usage of aionios in Matthew 25:46 as being eternal in both occurences [Louw-Nida number 67.96 in both occurences]. From that paragraph you cite, what they argue is that the supporters of universal salvation would use aidios in the first occurrence and aionios in the second occurence. But the structure of the verse would strongly suggest that aionios has the same sense in both occurences. So supporters of universal salvation need to give an exegetical argument of why that isn't so. What is the exegetical argument?

    5. Hi Tim—Again, Hart provides such an exegetical argument, in That All Shall Be Saved & in the notes to his NT. You might take a look at his books if you're interested.

    6. I think I should have said aionios in the first occurence and aidios in the second occurence.
      Sorry about that.

    7. MR
      I am interested in it but it is harder to get access to library sources than normal. Could you give me a summary of the argument?

    8. One of the claims being made by (some of) the universal salvation advocates on this blog is that Ed's understanding of interpreting the Greek lemma aionios in Matt 25:46 as having the same sense in both occurrences goes against modern exegesis. This is not so. The Word Biblical Commentary (Donald Hagner), the International Critical Commentary (W. D. Davies and Dale Allison), the New International Greek Commentary, the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leon Morris) and the New American Commentary (Craig Blomberg) all seem more in line with Ed Feser's understanding of the verse than with David Bentley Hart's. And all of those scholars have expertise in Greek. This does not prove that Hart is wrong [these other commentaries could all be wrong], but it does mean that Ed's understanding cannot be dismissed as not having scholarly backing.

    9. Reasonable, where does the book by Ramelli and Konstan say that aidios occurs in Scripture. I cannot find any reference. It is in Josephus, the Syballine Oracles, and numerous classical works, but I cannot find it in scripture.


    10. Hi Tim,

      Sorry for the late response.

      I sense that you may be assuming I am an universalist trying to defend universalism here. If so, such an assumption is mistaken.

      My position is tentatively a nuanced-annihilation: annihilation for the many (within the category of this “many”, it is separated into two groups such that it is immediate annihilation for some and annihilation only after some period of punishment for others), redemption for the relatively few, and possibly for the very wicked ones such as the devil and his special agents there is an “aeon of aeons” type of torment (“everlasting torment” if u like).

      Given my position, I agree with you that it is “not true that the only passages that contradict the theory of universal salvation are those which mention an eternal punishment, eternal fire, or eternal death. All of the passages that the annihilationists cite in favor of their position also contradict it.” However...

      However, we should try to apply charitable interpretation to the book’s authors. For example, perhaps “only” was used by them because they were having in mind only an universal salvation vis-a-vis everlasting torment without including annihilationism. If that is the case, and in addition if they found those types of passages are the strongest ones that support everlasting torment while other passages are relatively much weaker, then it may be understandable why they would say the key to the debate between these two camps is a debate on duration in those passages that were commonly seen to give us data about duration.

      I mentioned that book because it attempted to present to readers how the two words were used in all Ancient Greek literature from pre-Plato to the Jewish Greek Bible to the church fathers. Hence the book seems to be a very good single-point resource for those people interested in how these two words were used IN ALL ANCIENT GREEK LITERATURE and from there those people can work out the relevant implications, regardless whether they are from the eternal-torment camp, universal salvation camp, the annihilationist camp or the agnostic camp.

      johannes y k hui

    11. Hi Tim,

      You asked where is a茂dios (which unambiguously means eternity when compared to the ambiguous ai么nios) to be found in scripture.

      I quote the following in reply to your question (on where a茂dios is found in scripture). These quotes are taken not from that book, but from a talk given jointly by Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan (who both later on authored that book) in Edinburgh at the international conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, in 2006. [ie around seven years or so before the book was published; a revised version appeared subsequently in the journal, Nova Tellus 24 (2006) 21-39]:

      “In Wisdom [ie the book Wisdom of Solomon], which is saturated with the Greek philosophical lexicon, Wisdom is defined as "a reflection of the eternal [aidion] light" that is God.”

      “In 4Mac, an impious tyrant is threatened with "fire ai么nion" for the entire age or world to come (eis holon ton ai么na). But here we find the expression bios a茂dios or "eternal life" as well, in reference to the afterlife of the martyrs; this blessed state, moreover, is opposed to the lasting destruction of their persecutor in the world to come. This contrast between the parallel but antithetical expressions olethros ai么nios and bios a茂dios is notable. Both adjectives refer to the afterlife, that is, a future ai么n, but whereas retribution is described with the more general and polysemous term ai么nios, to life in the beyond is applied the more technical term a茂dios, denoting a strictly endless condition.”

      “We turn now to the two uses of the more strictly philosophical term a茂dios in the New Testament. The first (Rm 1:20) refers unproblematically to the power and divinity of God. In the second occurrence, however (Jud 6), a茂dios is employed of eternal punishment -- not that of human beings, however, but of evil angels, who are imprisoned in darkness "with eternal chains" (desmois a茂diois). But there is a qualification: "until the judgment of the great day." The angels, then, will remain chained up until Judgment Day; we are not informed of what will become of them afterwards. Why a茂dios of the chains, instead of ai么nios, used in the next verse of the fire of which the punishments of the Sodomites is an example? Perhaps because they continue from the moment of the angels' incarceration, at the beginning of the world, until the judgment that signals the entry into the new ai么n: thus, the term indicates the uninterrupted continuity throughout all time in this world -- this could not apply to human beings, who do not live through the entire duration of the present universe; to them applies rather the sequence of ai么nes or generations.”

      johannes y k hui

    12. Sorry I remembered the book’s publication year wrongly as 2013 and hence I said the talk was given around seven years before the book. The book was in fact published in 2007. That means the talk was given base on the research they have already done for the book.

      johannes y k hui


    13. Hi Tim,

      I would like to address the parallelism in Matt 25.46 as a NEW THREAD (so u need to scroll all the way down to the latest new comment-thread below. I cannot finish typing it now so I would finish it and post it another day.

      Even though I think universalism is more likely than not to be wrong, I would like to try to steelman (opposite of strawman) universalism’s treatment of this verse to show why this verse fails to do the job that you think it does (perhaps not for the same reason what some sympathisers of universalism have put up in various recent series of blog posts - though I probably have missed out some of those comments).

      johannes y k hui

    14. Reasonable,
      Thank you for your lengthy and substantial replies to my posts. I have had other things to do recently and have only just seen them.
      I don't know how I missed Romans 1:20 and Jude 6. Thanks for these references.
      You and I may be the only ones here that are not universalists or infernalists. I grew up in a denomination with an understanding of annihilation in which all the damned humans perished instantly in the second death, but that Satan and fallen angels (i.e. non-humans) did suffer eternally. Later, I wrestled to square that with statements that some humans will suffer more than others, and that instant annihilation was not proportional to the crimes of incredibly wicked humans. I do not have a completely settled position on the topic, but seek to make sense of all the scriptures that seem to fit annihilation and others that seem to fit infernalism for at least some people.
      Thank you for your substantial comments that have furthered the exegetical discussion.

  31. Thanks for your efforts here, Tim. This is a rhetorical trick that is constantly played by those who want to reject the traditional understanding of some scriptural passage on this or that subject (hell, capital punishment, sexual morality, whatever). They routinely go from:

    1. There are modern exegetes who challenge the traditional reading.


    2. Therefore, if you still endorse the traditional reading, you are ill-informed, unscholarly, etc.

    When you point out the fallaciousness of this inference (since when did any exegete become infallible?), they will claim that most modern scholars would reject the traditional reading so that the conclusion is at least highly likely. When you point to lots of modern scholars who in fact still defend the traditional reading, they will insist that serious or real scholars would not.

    In short, they start with a non sequitur, back it up with an appeal to authority, and top it off with a No True Scotsman Fallacy.

    1. The only point I might quibble with about your analysis is the "appeal to authority" part. If it were the case [as it is NOT here] that all the lexicons, scholarly articles on the philology etc., pointed against a reading would that not be a legitimate appeal to authority rather than a fallacy?

    2. Appeal to authority is, of course, not always a fallacy. However:

      1. As Aquinas noted, even when not fallacious it's still the weakest of all arguments when the authority in question is merely a human one. (And no, I'm not appealing to Aquinas's authority to justify that claim! I'm just giving him credit for having pointed it out.) What matters at the end of the day is the cogency of the arguments the authorities give, not the fact that they happen to take a certain view.

      2. When you have lots of relevant authorities speaking unanimously on some topic, that does naturally lend probability to their position. But we don't have unanimity in the case at hand. Hence the people I'm criticizing tend to appeal to the numbers of authorities on their side, or to who is a "serious" authority. And the problem here is that the first move degenerates into a fallacious appeal to majority, whereas the second falls into a No True Scotsman fallacy.

      Someone might retort: "But Ed, weren't you piling up authorities in your previous post, by citing all those scriptural passages and statements from the Fathers?" Indeed I was. But the situation is different in that case, because these are not (at least from the Catholic POV) merely human authorities. In particular, scripture is divinely inspired and (from the Catholic POV) that a teaching has a consensus or even just a majority of the Fathers on its side gives it more theological weight than a majority of human authorities usually would, given divine preservation of the Church from error. The idea is that for all or even the vast bulk of the Fathers to be wrong about some point of faith or morals would be incompatible with the indefectibility of the Church. (That's why the Church holds that Catholics are not permitted to interpret scripture in a way that would conflict with the consensus of the Fathers.)

    3. Indeed, an appeal to current scholarship on some subjects is a terrible way to support an idea. For example: an appeal to some "gay studies" version of current scholarship would just about smash any support for a theory of sexual morality. The typical output by "experts" in the field of "bioethics" is trash or worse. And, much more to the point, modern "New Testament Studies" has so much junk and nonsense in it that at this point, an assertion that "most modern NT practitioners say X" would just about doom X as far as getting me to take it seriously.

      So, as a counter-assertion claiming "most modern" scholars, I would insist that including "modern" is per se an improper argument tactic, for two reasons: first, if we are going to ask not "how good is the argument" but "who supports the thesis", then ancient scholars CAN'T count less than modern ones. And secondly, if the ancient scholars are Fathers of the Church, their view count a lot MORE than any modern scholars' views, because the field of theology - because it rests on authority in a way that other fields do not, and one of the essential elements of the location of that authority is reflected in the expressed understanding of the Fathers. After the Bible and the dogmatic doctrines of the Councils and popes, the teachings of the Fathers are more authoritative than any other source.

    4. Finally, I should add that an appeal to authority is, of course, fallacious when there is reason to doubt the authority's objectivity. And of course, exegetes sometimes have theological axes to grind just as much as the next guy. So, the mere fact that a biblical scholar interprets a certain passage a certain way is, of course, not only not a sure piece of evidence that that is the correct reading, but we have at least some reason to be skeptical of his reading IF we already know that he is strongly inclined already for independent reasons to WANT that reading to be correct.

    5. Ed,
      First, a chuckle. If I remember correctly, Aquinas tongue in cheek said that the appeal to authority is the weakest of arguments, according to Boethius. Second, in response to Tony, I never stipulated that authorities must be modern. A witness should not be rejected because it is ancient or because it is modern. In SOME areas, recent scholarship has access to resources (Ugaritic, Akkadian, Nag Hammadi Texts etc.) that were not available to earlier ages. There is a vast wealth of texts that inform us about the cultural background of the Ancient Near East in which the Hebrew Bible was set; and significant archaeological finds relevant to the events discussed in the Bible. In other cases, as C.S. Lewis points out, scholars may be prejudiced by the ideas of their own age and not see straight. He advocated that one read more ancient books because they typically contain different mistakes from the age in which one is living and I agree with that. There are circles in Protestantism and Catholicism which reject or dismiss biblical scholarship wholesale, without examining the arguments, and I think that that is a mistake. There are many good recent commentaries on individual books.

    6. Dr. Feser,
      "Appeal to authority is, of course, not always a fallacy."
      Appeal to authority is always a fallacy in the context of a deductive logical argument wherein the conclusion is asserted to be logically valid.

      You are conflating the fallacy of appeal to authority with merely citing authorities in the formation of personal opinions.

      "appeal to authority is, of course, fallacious when there is reason to doubt the authority's objectivity."
      No more so than if there is no known reason to doubt the authority's objectivity.

      Citing authorities you think are generally objective is reasonable when forming a personal opinion, but appeal to the authority of even the most apparently objective authority remains a logical fallacy.

      "As Aquinas noted, even when not fallacious it's still the weakest of all arguments when the authority in question is merely a human one."
      Aquinas go so very much of the basics wrong I am not surprised he got this wrong too.

      All authorities are human. There is no such thing as a non-human authority. All assertions of a non-human authority are merely a human asserting revelation from a non-human source, making that assertion merely a human assertion, not a non-human assertion at all.

    7. In formal logic, appeal to authority is always fallacious, as is appeal to popularity, appeal to authorities popularly respected, appeal to popularity among authorities, appeal to popularity among authorities popularly respected, and so on. You can get around this by "dividing out" these appeals in cases where both sides agree to those appeals (e.g., "We both take for granted that whatever Jim says is true").

      However, we CAN appeal to these things as heuristics (hence Ed's use of "weight").

      Verily, "If I saw it happen, it happened," is a fallacious appeal to eyesight (it does not follow in formal logic), but we trust our eyesight, and it seems to have earned our trust over time. And then there's a network of trust between people, full of hills and valleys, that has me trust my wife's eyesight as well as my own (perhaps better...), my friend's reported eyesight slightly less, a stranger's reported eyesight much less, an enemy's reported eyesight not at all, etc.

      Of course, this can undergo an endless sequence of functional modifications (just as one can nest functions as much as they please), as numerous strangers reporting the same sight are more trustworthy than one, and yet that same group is more trustworthy if they were apart during the reported event than if they were all together. And, as was mentioned, if there is a *reason* to think that there's some upstream corruption or bias affecting how one interprets what they see, their rating gets a downgrade (e.g., a crowd of pagans inculcated from toddlerhood to believe in the volcano goddess, who all confidently reported vividly seeing her in the eruption... or did they?).

      In the early Church, the nature of hell, and how many of the unsaved would be finally doomed after physical death, was apparently a controversy. A "friendly" one, says Augustine in City of God -- and in Enchiridion, soon after admitting that a "great many" Christians saw hell as primarily purgatorial, he conceded that the "not-so-very-bad" folks might be able to escape hell via the prayers and alms of the living. I suspect the most modern voices can do is remind us of this, and help explain why this was a dispute, when for the last fifteen centuries nearly all of us have been inculcated into the inarguability of the claim that many or most of the unsaved shall suffer God's wrath forever, and many of us have confidently reported vividly seeing Scripture explain how this could be just... or did we?

    8. Stan,
      You are correct in saying that appeal to authority is a fallacy in formal logic. But the context here is informal arguments where the weighing of evidence as to what certain words meant in certain contexts is part of the dispute. That context is one where an appeal to authority can be reasonable. We had to read a grammar on Septuagintal Greek when I was in my Ph.D. program (I had only done New Testament Greek prior to that), I occasionally attend sessions on Septuagint lexicography at the SBL meetings, I own and use the Gottingen Septuagint, I own and have read much of Wever's five volumes discussing his translation choices for the Pentateuch in the Gottingen Septuagint, but that hardly makes me an expert on the subject. One of my doctoral advisors, Kristen de Troyer, is an expert. Still less am I an expert on classical Greek. However, if one consults several highly regarded lexicons, and they converge on their understanding of a word, that is an appeal to authority that has some weight even though it is far from dispositive. And the beauty of having done enough work and knowing how to use the tools is that you don't have to completely rely on experts. I know how to go about finding all the relevant texts, consulting articles and monographs, and making my own evaluations of them.

    9. Stan Patton,

      You wrote, "A "friendly" one, says Augustine in City of God -- and in Enchiridion, soon after admitting that a "great many" Christians saw hell as primarily purgatorial, he conceded that the "not-so-very-bad" folks might be able to escape hell via the prayers and alms of the living."

      Could you provide the reference for this?

    10. Tim, you wrote, "You are correct in saying that appeal to authority is a fallacy in formal logic. But the context here is informal arguments where the weighing of evidence as to what certain words meant in certain contexts is part of the dispute. That context is one where an appeal to authority can be reasonable."

      Yes. That is why I wrote that these are always fallacies in formal logic (that context, in other words), but that "we can appeal to these things as heuristics (hence Ed's use of 'weight')." So that is exactly what I am saying.

      The next part was riffing on how complicated heuristics can become (using our trust in eyesight) ending with a reference to the upstream confounders that may take a hammer to heuristics we normally trust -- or like a chisel at just the right point to make the structure crumble. These "upstream confounders" include not just inculcation -- "priming" to see certain things -- but also character flaws or ulterior motives that threaten the fidelity of data-to-interpretation. Ed wrote, for example, "We have at least some reason to be skeptical of his reading IF we already know that he is strongly inclined already for independent reasons to WANT that reading to be correct."

      The last paragraph was about Ed's frustration with those who claim modern scholarship is widely against the traditional reading, when in fact there is modern scholarship in support as well. I don't think there *is* an unambiguous reading, hence, "I suspect the most modern voices can do is remind us of [the old 'frendly controversy'] and help explain why this was a dispute."

    11. Nemo,

      Enchiridion has two different chapter numberings that I'm aware of -- the one I use has St. Augustine's thoughts on escape from condemnation in chs. 110-111. The conditions he gives for someone to escape their condemnation are (1) prior baptism, (2) offerings of the living, (3) not super bad, (4) this must be done before the Final Judgment (creating an interesting distinction between the unsaved dead and finally unsaved dead).

      "When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not-very-bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable. After the resurrection, however, when the final, universal judgment has been completed, there shall be two kingdoms, each with its own distinct boundaries, the one Christ's, the other the devil's; the one consisting of the good, the other of the bad... the former shall live truly and happily in eternal life, the latter shall drag a miserable existence in eternal death without the power of dying; for the life and the death shall both be without end."

      Continuing in ch. 112:

      "It is in vain, then, that some -- indeed very many -- make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; not that they directly oppose themselves to Holy Scripture, but, at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, and give a milder turn to statements which they think are rather designed to terrify than to be received as literally true… There is no reason why they should therefore suppose that there will be an end to the punishment of those of whom it is said, 'These shall go away into everlasting punishment'; for this shall end in the same manner and at the same time as the happiness of those of whom it is said, 'but the righteous unto life eternal.'"

      (The last line is the parallelism fallacy I mentioned elsewhere in this maze of threads, and which is repeated by numerous brilliant men. We'd prefer to trust brilliant men, heuristically-speaking, so we want to know why they have trouble detecting this error -- we want to find our "upstream confounder." The most likely explanation I've found is that little non sequiturs are tough for even brilliant men to catch unless they've been gruelingly trained to see them, akin to learning an instrument. Additionally, when left uncaught, more syllogistic wishes come true, and enthusiasm carries the day. In philosophy, errors do not crash the system; instead, they alchemize.)

      St. Augustine calls the issue of hell's duration a friendly controversy in City of God, Bk. 21, Ch. 17. We owe St. Augustine a great deal for being our best "statistician" on the popularity and amiability of the debate, and for giving us a little taxonomy of the purgatorialists: (1) Those who believed *some number* of the finally unsaved would be procured eventually, (2) those who believed *all* of the finally unsaved would be procured eventually, and (3) those like "Origen... even more indulgent" in thinking this would include the devil. He applauded the church for condemning view 3, and then contrasted it as "very different" from views 1 & 2, which Augustine saw as mistakes from bleeding-hearts. His argument was then that the 3 followed from 1 & 2, building a reductio ad absurdum. (But it's just another a non sequitur.)

    12. Stan Patton,

      In the two passages you quoted from Enchiridion, Augustine speaks of the "baptized dead", and makes a distinction between their punishment before and after the Final Judgment. If I'm not mistaken, the Hell we're debating here is the latter, and it is clear even from these passages that Augustine believes nobody escapes Hell.

      It's also not clear to me why you say his arguments regarding the duration of Hell are non sequiturs.

    13. St. Augustine, and other Latins like St. Jerome, conflated the concepts of Hades/Sheol and Gehenna-hell, for example using Sheol's chasm as evidence for hell being interminable. In the above, St. Augustine says that the baptized dead who were bad guys have one shot to escape -- offerings of the living prior to the Final Judgment, after which their fates would be fixed. It is after that point that St. Augustine believes hell is inescapable, and why he engages in his friendly quibble with the purgatorialists.

      -= First non sequitur =-

      "If the unrighteous go to aionoin punishment and the righteous go into aionion life, and the life is everlasting, then the punishment is also everlasting," is a non sequitur. We expose this by imagining that "aionion" is intended as, say, "loud"; clearly the following is a non sequitur: "If the unrighteous go to loud punishment and the righteous go into loud life, and the life is everlasting, then the punishment is also everlasting." The duration of the punishment turns exclusively on the intended definition of aionios. The parallelism is used to (unwittingly) "Trojan Horse" the writer's preferred definition of that term and makes it hard to notice see the non sequitur.

      St. Basil, for example:

      "After all, if at some future point there will be an end of everlasting punishment, then surely everlasting life, too, will have an end. But if, in the case of life, we do not allow this to be thought, what sort of reason could there be for gratuitously assigning an end to the everlasting punishment? For the attribute of 'everlasting' (aionios) is applied equally in the case of each. For 'these will go,' he says, 'into everlasting punishment, and the righteous, into everlasting life.'"

      -= Second non sequitur =-

      "If the punishment is limited for most or all unsaved people, then it must be limited for the devil," is a non sequitur. I hope it's clear to you that it's a non sequitur using "most." But even with "all," it's only lack of imagination that forces a similar fate between the devil and human beings. To expose the non sequitur we just use our imaginations. For example, the devil's identity may be 100% enmeshed in the evil he does, such that the refinery produces only ever-burning dross, with nothing of value to procure. I'm just speculating -- not even that, just offering a possibility-as-far-as-we-know -- but that's all that's needed to break a syllogism.

    14. Stan Patton,

      First, regarding "parallelism" in Matt 25:46

      As I understand it, Augustine's argument is this:
      1. The same word that appears in the same context usually has the same meaning, especially if the context is a parallel sentence structure.
      2. In the sentence, "And these will go away into [word_in_question] punishment, but the righteous into [word_in_question] life", the [word_in_question] appears twice in the same context, and in a parallel sentence structure.
      3. Therefore, the two occurrences of [word_in_question] in that sentence have the same meaning.

      Second, regarding the salvation of the devil

      In City of God 21.17, Augustine is responding to those who believe the salvation of all men on the ground of mercy, but not the fallen angels, using the following reductio ad absurdum:
      1. If Mercy for a created being requires salvation of said being.
      2. The devil is a created being.
      3. Then Mercy requires the salvation of the devil.

      One can "speculate" about why the devil cannot be saved, but it is irrelevant to the argument from mercy/love, not to mention that the same type of speculation can be made about the damned.

    15. -= First =-

      Yes, they have the same meaning. But they do not necessarily have the meaning they were assumed to have by the reader. The parallelism obscures this. The "loud" example exposes this.

      Another good example is Habakkuk 3:6, where the 'olam' hills, which are made to bow low, are used in parallel to God's 'olam' ways. Imagine somebody arguing that because God's ways are everlasting, therefore those hills shall also be everlasting!

      -= Second =-

      It is wholly relevant. If it is better and more merciful that X be redeemed, but "redeeming X" is not logically coherent (e.g., there's something about X intrinsically incompatible with the concept of redemption), then it does not follow that X shall be redeemed. And the purgatorialists who thought an exceptional few of the unsaved would be finally doomed are, needless to say, as unfettered by this reductio ad absurdum as anyone with the view that most of the unsaved would be finally doomed.

    16. Stan Patton,

      First, regarding "parallelism"

      Sure, universalists can argue that everlasting life is not meant by Matthew 25:46. However, many people (even those who object to the doctrine of eternal punishment) would agree that it is. The "parallelism" argument addresses the latter group: if (they believe) the reward is everlasting life, then the punishment is also everlasting. There is no question-begging or non sequitur, but a simple logical point.

      As for those who don't take Matthew 25:46 to mean "everlasting life", the question becomes how they can tell when the word really means "everlasting" and when it doesn't, assuming that they believe the NT preaches everlasting life.

      Second, regarding the damned

      By speaking of something "intrinsically incompatible with the concept of redemption", you've made an argument for eternal punishment, viz. it is compatible with mercy, whereas, according to typical universalist views (as presented in the combox here), they are incompatible.

    17. Nemo,

      You wrote, "However, many people (even those who object to the doctrine of eternal punishment) would agree that it is."

      They agree that this verse is referencing the life that is everlasting, but not that the phrase "zoen aionion" literally means "everlasting life." Otherwise those same folks would agree that the phrase "kolasin aionion" would literally mean "everlasting punishment." The dispute was about aionion/aionios, and those making the argument from parallelism were trying to say that the punishment must inherit, through that parallelism, the same infinitude (or, by reductio ad absurdum, that the life would inherit the same finitude from the punishment).

      You wrote, "As for those who don't take Matthew 25:46 to mean 'everlasting life', the question becomes how they can tell when the word really means 'everlasting' and when it doesn't, assuming that they believe the NT preaches everlasting life."

      This is not a difficult question because of things like aphtharsia, athanasia, "they can no longer die," and the return of the Tree of Life in Revelation 22. Nothing much changes once one recognizes or comes to admit that aionion is ambiguous here, which is to say, it doesn't mean everlasting in all contexts, and thus may not be intended to promote endless duration of both components of Matthew 25:46.

      The issue must be set aside unless lexicographical consensus is reached (which may be impossible due to the adaptable nature of the word), otherwise the question is begged.

      The argument from parallelism tries to circumvent this stalemate, but does so only through non sequitur.

      You wrote, "By speaking of something 'intrinsically incompatible with the concept of redemption,' you've made an argument for eternal punishment, viz. it is compatible with mercy, whereas, according to typical universalist views (as presented in the combox here), they are incompatible."

      I have INDEED made an argument that allows for the possibility of the final doom of some humans, and of the devil, even with a broadly purgatorial understanding of the nature of hell, and a broad reconciliation of many or most of the unsaved.

      This is the "steelman" position. It is not idiosyncratic. It's the one held by St. Clement of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Nyssa (even though they are thought of as Patristic Universalists -- when we are careful, we call them near-universalists). And it's the position held by the large majority of those of us in UR communities (the only other large group is the exhausting "no punishment whatsoever" crew, against whom we are sworn to do battle; the "Satan, too!" people among us purgatorialists are few and far between these days).

      St. Augustine's argument doesn't work against the steelman. He should have known that, since he understood that some (perhaps most?) purgatorialists allowed for human exceptions. That understanding should have provoked contemplation, and realization, of how purgatorialists can use the very arguments Augustine himself employs to demarcate the coherence-boundaries of God's abundant love and mercy.

      I'll put it another way. Say the vast majority of the unsaved, on Augustine's "good-bad-awful" scale, are just "bad." They have a bunch of sin on their record, they never got forgiveness, they never received a credit of righteousness -- but they weren't the worst. There's *something* there worth holding onto. The refinery doesn't leave only dross behind, for them; there's something of interest to salvage.

      Let's take the prior paragraph for granted, for the sake of argument. It is from here that we invoke the premise of God's abundant love and mercy, and follow it to its logical end. When we do so, it is not a slippery slope into salvation for Satan. Augustine overplayed is hand and should have known better.

    18. Stan,

      My question is quite simple and none of what you wrote above addressed it. Let me rephrase: If you argue that "aionion" in Matt 25:46 doesn't mean "everlasting", then you need to provide some rules of interpretation that 1) is accepted by both sides and 2) explains why "aionion" can be rendered as "everlasting" in other contexts, but not here. In other words, demonstrate that you're not resorting to special pleading.

      As far as I can tell, "near-universalism" is of a completely different nature than the version of universalism espoused by Hart in his book. I'm inclined to agree with Dr. Feser that the latter is heresy, and, the saying goes, ideas have consequences.

    19. Nemo,

      You wrote, "Let me rephrase: If you argue that "aionion" in Matt 25:46 doesn't mean "everlasting"..."

      No, I did not do that. I said, "The issue must be set aside unless lexicographical consensus is reached (which may be impossible due to the adaptable nature of the word), otherwise the question is begged."

      This is different than positively arguing that it doesn't mean everlasting.

      Harriet may argue that aionion in Matthew 25:46 means "everlasting."

      Bruce may argue that aionion in Matthew 25:46 does not mean "everlasting."

      I, by contrast, am asserting that we don't know whether Harriet or Bruce is right, because aionion has a broader range of meaning, and kolasin aionoin's parallelism with zoen aionion's parallelism does not add information (it is an ancient non sequitur, a sneaky question-begging, to say that it does).

      You wrote, "As far as I can tell, 'near-universalism' is of a completely different nature than the version of universalism espoused by Hart in his book."

      I didn't come here to parrot Hart's views. I came here to agree with Ed that modern voices go too far if they say the traditional reading is certainly mistaken, and they are more helpful when they present the issue fairly, and that is by reminding us of the legitimate exegetical enigma we're all stuck with -- an old enigma, which fueled the friendly controversy between Christians in St. Augustine's day.

      I came also to point out two errors we find in Augustine, which are that parallelism does not add information (but he and others mistakenly thought it did), and that Augustine's appeals to coherence-limits of mercy can apply also to the purgatorialists who drew those boundaries at the worst of humanity, or at the borders between the human and the demonic. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

    20. Stan,

      Just because the word has a broad range of meanings, doesn't mean we can't determine its meaning in a particular context based on reasonable rules of interpretation, one of which I mentioned above (here). The Augustinian interpretation ("parallelism") is a reasonable one, at the very least. If there are other reasonable alternatives, I'd be more than happy to discuss the pros and cons of each. Otherwise, as they say in politics, you can't beat something with nothing.

      I would also be happy to discuss further Augustine's criteria of coherence vs the purgatorialists. But, apparently we disagree one what constitutes a logical error, so I suspect further discussion on this subject will probably be unproductive.

    21. Nemo,
      "I'm inclined to agree with Dr. Feser that the latter is heresy,"
      Indeed, in order to express coherent positions one must commit heresy.

      Dr. Feser has merely proof texted the bible.

      Anybody can "prove" nearly any theological assertion by citing this or that bible passage. There are so many different books in the bible, written over many centuries, written by different authors, that one can find biblical passages to support almost any and every theological assertion.

      That is all Dr. Feser did, comb through the bible looking for passages that support his position, ignore passages that contradict his position, and post the passages he likes.

      That is proof texting.

      Dr. Feser completely fails to address the core point made by Dr. Hart, that the assertion of an eternal hell of torture and damnation is incoherent, that is to say, it is logically contradictory, on the further assertions of Jesus.

      And yes, to point out the incoherent positions of the church may well be heretical, but committing that heresy is necessary to taking a coherent position on the subject of hell.

    22. Nemo,

      The link you provided was given the following response by me:

      "Yes, they have the same meaning. But they do not necessarily have the meaning they were assumed to have by the reader. The parallelism obscures this. The 'loud' example exposes this."

      In a weird way, you're kind of proving my point. The non sequitur is hard to see.

      TRUE: This verse has parallelism.
      TRUE: Aionion is used for both kolasin and zoen.
      TRUE: Given the parallelism, aionion must refer to a property shared among both kolasin and zoen.
      TRUE: The zoen aionion is *at least* a condition of favor, kinship, and especially knowledge of God (in Jesus Christ) that entails eschatological rewards.
      TRUE: All people in the set "those who receive zoen aionion" shall also live everlastingly.

      FALSE: "Aionion" must, in Matthew 25:46, per the above, mean "everlasting."

      Let me know if you're not seeing why the final statement does not follow from the premises, or if I'm missing a crucial premise that should be included (which would make the final statement follow).

    23. Stan,

      That is not Augustine's argument. I've tried to explain what I think his arguments are, and to whom he is addressing them. I don't know if I can make my point any clearer.

      In order to prove an argument is a non sequitur, you need to first present the argument in a form that its proponents can recognize and accept. Otherwise, you are committing the straw man fallacy.

    24. Timeline:

      [1] You explained Augustine's argument (let's tag this point as [Parallelism Argument]):

      "As I understand it, Augustine's argument is this:
      1. The same word that appears in the same context usually has the same meaning, especially if the context is a parallel sentence structure.
      2. In the sentence, "And these will go away into [word_in_question] punishment, but the righteous into [word_in_question] life", the [word_in_question] appears twice in the same context, and in a parallel sentence structure.
      3. Therefore, the two occurrences of [word_in_question] in that sentence have the same meaning."

      [2] I responded:

      "Yes, they have the same meaning. But they do not necessarily have the 'loud' example exposes this. Another good example is Habakkuk 3:6, where the 'olam' hills, which are made to bow low, are used in parallel to God's 'olam' ways. Imagine somebody arguing that because God's ways are everlasting, therefore those hills shall also be everlasting!"

      [3] You responded:

      "The 'parallelism' argument addresses the latter group: if (they believe) the reward is everlasting life, then the punishment is also everlasting."

      [4] Unfortunately, that's a non sequitur, as I explained -- the "zoen aionion" IS everlasting, but "aionion" does not necessarily MEAN everlasting, breaking Augustine's argument. So I responded: "They agree that this verse is referencing the life that is everlasting, but not that the phrase 'zoen aionion' literally means 'everlasting life.' Otherwise those same folks would agree that the phrase 'kolasin aionion' would literally mean 'everlasting punishment.' The dispute was about aionion/aionios, and those making the argument from parallelism were trying to say that the punishment must inherit, through that parallelism, the same infinitude (or, by reductio ad absurdum, that the life would inherit the same finitude from the punishment)."

      [5] You then misunderstood me, thinking I was positively arguing that "aionion" does NOT mean "everlasting" here. Driven by this misunderstanding, you wrote: "If you argue that 'aionion' in Matt 25:46 doesn't mean 'everlasting', then you need to provide some rules of interpretation that 1) is accepted by both sides and 2) explains why 'aionion' can be rendered as 'everlasting' in other contexts, but not here. In other words, demonstrate that you're not resorting to special pleading."

      [6] I corrected this misunderstanding with my following post, using "Harriet & Bruce" to explain the position I am affirming.

      [7] Your reply did not directly address this, instead linking back to [Parallelism Argument], and expressing your satisfaction with it, and frustration that I have not yet accepted it ("I don't know if I can make my point any clearer"). (The way you could make it clearer is by telling me the crucial premise that should be included in the list I provided, as I asked you to do.)

      Notice that #7 "links back" to #1, creating a loop. You might follow this loop until you figure out where the hang-up might be. I will say again, "In a weird way, you're kind of proving my point. The non sequitur is hard to see."

    25. Stan,

      Augustine's argument, as I understand it, is not that the two occurrences of "aionion" in Matt 25:46 "necessarily mean" everlasting, but that if one of them does, then so does the other.

    26. Nemo,

      Almost. That claim everyone agrees is true, and offers no compelling force against the purgatorialists, who agree that aionoin means the same thing in both halves, but deny that aionion means everlasting there.

      Rather, Augustine and others who used this argument (St. Jerome, St. Emperor Justinian, etc.) DID think it offered compelling force against the purgatorialists.

      Let's hear from Augustine:

      "There is *no reason* [emphasis mine] why they should therefore suppose that there will be an end to the punishment of those of whom it is said, 'These shall go away into [aionion] punishment' [BECAUSE] it shall end in the same manner and at the same time as the happiness of those of whom it is said, 'but the righteous unto life [aionion].'"

      See? This is more than merely "if one is aionion, the other is aionion." This is *also* begging the question of what aionion ought to mean, *such that* it would *follow* that the punishment's *duration* is tied to the life's -- leaving the purgatorialist with "no reason" to even "suppose" the contrary. See the problem?

    27. Stan,

      The phrase "zoen aionion" appears in the NT many times, including Matt 25:46. Augustine's argument doesn't address people who deny "aionion" in that phrase means "everlasting". He has different arguments for those people. Instead, he is addressing those who accept "aionion" in the phrase means "everlasting". The argument is simple: Because of parallelism, the two occurrences of "aionion" in Matt 25:46 mean the same thing. If one means "everlasting", so does the other. The "compelling force" of the argument is the parallelism, which you say "everyone agrees is true". It is not meant to address all opposing views.

    28. Nemo,

      The purgatorialists did not agree that "aionion" in this passage meant everlasting. The Greek-speakers understood, and explicitly tell us (Hesychius, Bishop Theodoret, Olympiodorus), that the word adapted itself to intended context and had a broad range of meaning.

      I think you are doing some apologism for St. Augustine. He insisted there was "no reason" to suppose the finitude of kolasin. Now it's possible, as a Latin-speaker who struggled with Greek, that he was literally unaware of the lexicographical issue. This is just a different way of begging the question: if this is an argument that compels the purgatorialist, the question of "aionion" in Matthew 25:46 must be taken for granted as meaning "everlasting," whether it's a naive purgatorialist or a naive Augustine doing so.

      Again, I am not arguing that it does not mean "everlasting" in Matthew 25:46. I am arguing that it is impossible to tell and must be set aside. St. Augustine should have done this, but perhaps did not know any better because of his difficulties with Greek. Hence his confidence, and doubling down, on the argument from parallelism.

      I'm not even sure what to call it at that point. Some variant of weakman fallacy. Regardless, we can both agree that Augustine was dead wrong when he said that the parallelism left "no reason to suppose" the finitude of kolasin. And the reason is that "aionion" may not mean everlasting in this verse, whether Augustine knew that "may not" or not.

    29. Stan, Nemo,
      I know how you folks can settle this once and for all.

      Consult the most direct, literal, raw translation yet written. When the author used bad Greek, the translator wrote bad English to match as exactly as possible the true meaning of the original Greek.

      I am referring, of course, to The New Testament: A Translation. At the link you will find a nice description of the translation process used, as well as a handy link to purchase the book.

    30. Stan,

      You wrote, "we can both agree that Augustine was dead wrong when he said that the parallelism left "no reason to suppose" the finitude of kolasin."

      No, I don't and can't agree. Again, please try to represent other's arguments correctly. I'll explain my point one more time and leave it at that, as this discussion is not going anywhere.

      People believe the punishment of the wicked is not eternal for different reasons. Augustine addressed them separately in City of God, with different arguments as appropriate. In Book 21.17, he addresses two groups of people (among others): one is represented by Origen, who allegedly believed "aionion" in Matt 25:46 meant "age" and speculated there were many ages after that; the other group accepts "aionion" means "everlasting" in "zoen aionion" (everlasting life), but rejects the idea of everlasting punishment. The parallelism argument is meant for the second group, which I suspect is far more numerous than the first, especially among Augustine's audience. Hence the emphasis.

    31. Nemo,

      As far as I can tell you are imagining this group (purgatorialists who thought aionion strictly meant everlasting) to give Augustine an out. We have no primary evidence of such a group.

  32. All Protestant figures were modern exegetes at some point. Nothing new under the sun, eh?

  33. Ed,
    Even good biblical exegetes, who avoid most of the word-study fallacies that theologians and preachers tend to make, seem prone to make numerous logical fallacies such as non sequitur when they start writing biblical theologies.

    You have read Hart's book. What exegetical argument did he give for seeing two senses of aionios in Matthew 25:46, a verse structured according to antithetical parallelism? MR, above, tells me that Hart gave one but he won't tell me what it is.

    1. Hi Tim,

      At p. 93 of the book, he says that though that verse “offers what seems the strongest evidence” for eternal punishment, he will explain later why, nevertheless, “the wording leaves room for considerable doubt regarding its true significance.” Then at pp. 116-17 he suggests that kolasis, translated “punishment” in Matthew 25:46, “most properly refers to remedial chastisement” that is “corrective rather than retributive” so that the passage is arguably about purgatorial punishment.

      At p. 123 he repeats the standard claim that though aionios can mean “eternal,” it need not, and says that it usually has a “much vaguer connotation.” He says that according to Basil the Great, the majority of Eastern Christians took Matthew 25:46 referred to only a “temporary probation of the soul.”

      That’s pretty much it.

    2. I should add that in the pages preceding the p. 123 remark (at pp. 120-122) he has a general discussion of uses of aion and aionian in different ancient sources. But what he says about how to interpret it in Matthew 25:46 is pretty much limited to what I noted above.

    3. Also, Tim, I'd like to point out that Hart has somewhat lengthy commentaries on the aionios issue (as well as other matters) in his New Testament translation.

  34. Thanks, Ed. Nobody is disputing that words like aion can and do have different senses. The issue is whether the word aionion has two different senses in the two occurrences in Matthew 25:46. I am now looking into how Matthew 25:46 was cited by the Church Fathers, and into the usage of aidios. Aidios was used as early as Hesiod and, in Jewish circles, by the Syballine oracles and Josephus. [I have pretty strong search engines in my Logos Bible Software.] So if Jesus [or Matthew] wanted to make the distinction between eternal bliss and age-lasting punishment that universal salvation advocates push, the vocabulary was available to him but he chose not to.

    1. I don't know what Hart thinks, but one commenter in a previous thread suggested this reply: The universalist need not assume that aionios has different senses in its two occurrences in Matthew 25:46. That would only be necessary if the point of saying that reward or punishment was aionios was to specify the duration of the reward or punishment; but it might be translated "of that Age" (as I believe Hart's translation has it) without this being meant to imply anything about finite or infinite duration. The goal would be to defuse the non-universalist readings of the passage, not to turn the passage itself into an argument for universalism. It is just an "infernalist presumption," so the reading goes, that the passage needs to be saying anything about duration at all.

      I am quite not quite sure what reward or punishment "of that Age" is, but that is the form of reply.

    2. Greg,
      Thanks for bringing this up; it is helpful to see what arguments are being made.
      The problem with that is that it is not just an infernalist presumption. Annihilationists also take it to be durational; they just interpret annihilation as eternal punishment. The whole feel of large parts of the Old Testament (wisdom literature, prophecy, theological evaluation in Kings and Chronicles) presupposes that the ultimate fate of the righteous and at least the reprobate wicked are different.

    3. I agree with you as regards the correct translation, but the fact that annihilationists also regard aionios to be durational in that verse doesn't itself disprove the universalist reply to the parallelism argument I was mentioning.

      I meant to acknowledge the existence of annihilationist readings by my reference to "non-universalist readings," but I suppose I then went on to be misleading by referring to an infernalist presumption. I put that in quotes because I vaguely remembered such a thing being mentioned by the commenter I was paraphrasing.

    4. I concede you the point, Greg. However, I would argue from other scriptures that "eternal" is the meaning when discussing the fate of the blessed. [A passage in which aionios does not mean eternal would be Romans 16:25]. But 2 Cor 5:1 "We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" or "you will reap eternal life from the Spirit" (Galatians 6:8), "this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17) and many others indicate that the blessed will participate in some fashion in the eternal life of God. To argue that aionios means "of the age" regardless of context because of its derivation from aion is to commit the root fallacy.

    5. I can't speak to the Old Testament evidence with any authority. The reason I would translate aionios as 'eternal' in Matthew 25 is just that, even were the word omitted, the whole parable would leads me to suppose that the judgment in question is a final judgment. So I see the translation of an aionios as a bit of a red herring. Whatever a reward or punishment "of that Age" is supposed to be, I think you could grant that and the passage is still unamenable to a universalist reading. I'm almost curious enough to buy Hart's book and translation but I fear it would be a waste of money.

  35. One correction to an earlier comment I made regarding the Hebrew word 'olam. Two articles by Ernst Jenni in Zeistschrift fur die altestamentliche Wissenschaft indicate that the disjunction between the usage of 'olam in the period of Isaiah 40-66 and earlier writings may not have been as stark as Hasse had maintained; but the general conceptual points I made were valid and 'olam seems to mean eternal more frequently in later texts. This trend continues with the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls (Jenni does not deal with that material very much in a later TLOT article); and the sectarian documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls do use the word in that sense.

  36. Regarding kolasis, BDAG does seem to recognize a sense that might be remedial chastisement but classifies Matthew 25:46 in the sense of "transcendent retribution" along with several biblical and non-biblical references. Liddell Scott Jones may indicate that the word's original sense was in checking the growth of almond-trees which fits "remedial correction" but it classifies Matthew 25:46 and other passages as having the sense "divine retribution." A word's original sense is not always the one it has in a particular passage. It is used in 1 Clement 11:1 to refer to the clearly retributive punishment upon Sodom. It is also the word referred to in this passage from the Martyrdom of Polycarp: "Thou threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched; for thou art ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal [aionios] punishment [kolasis], which is reserved for the ungodly. Remedial chastisement is not reserved for the ungodly but is something that Christians must endure patiently. So Martyrdom of Polycarp likely uses it in the sense of divine retribution and contrasts it with temporal fire. I have not studied the passage in depth and I could be wrong.

  37. I have been prevented from commenting several times now, both in this thread and the previous one. I enter the comment, click publish, and the comment disappears. Have I been banned for the sin of disagreement? I'm typing this to see if it is perhaps only the "reply" function that isn't working for me.

    1. Hm! At any rate, I tried to reply to Ed's response to Tim: I mentioned not only TASBS but Hart's translation of the NT, in whose postscript he discusses both the particular verse and the words in general.

    2. M. Robbins,

      FYI, the combox here only shows the first 200 comments. To see your most recent comments, scroll down to the bottom, and click "Load more".

    3. M. Robbins,
      I have had posts not load on several occasions for whatever reason, so don't worry about it too much.
      I would appreciate it if you could summarize DBH's main point(s) on this verse. I accept that aionios can have different usages (even more so 'olam); so you don't need to demonstrate that.

    4. Have I been banned for the sin of disagreement?

      Of course not. I have no idea why sometimes people's comments (not just yours) don't appear. I don't see anything in the spam folder. Usually I find that it's a matter of people overlooking the factor Nemo takes note of above, or some such. But sometimes Blogger is just glitchy.

    5. Dr Feser, have you considered migrating to a different platform, like Wordpress? Unfortunately, I'm afraid Google no longer cares about Blogger and is unlikely to fix its endless amount of bugs. It wouldn't surprise me if they decided to discontinue the service.

      On a related note, do you have a backup of all the data? Because this blog of yours is pure gold and it'd be an absolute tragedy if it were lost.

      P.S.: Thank you for all your work. I owe my Catholic faith to it.

    6. I have had a half-dozen comments in the last two weeks not show up. Blogger is glitchier than usual, I guess.

    7. Tim Finlay and Tony,

      While we're on the subject of blogging platform, may I suggest that you each start a blog of your own? It seems to me you both have something valuable to contribute, Tim in the area of Biblical languages, and Tony Catholic teaching. I've learned from your comments for the short time I've been here. If you organize your thoughts and insights into blogposts, readers might be able to engage with them more fully, verify your sources for themselves, and, you can avoid the trouble of having to repeat yourselves, or retype long comments that are lost.

      Just a suggestion.

    8. Thank you, Nemo; I have enjoyed your comments also. At the moment, most of my time is spent doing tedious grunt work on my forthcoming book on the genres and formulae of the Hebrew Bible, which will probably be about 1,000 pages and contain several thousand bibliographic references. I have been in prophetic genres recently, so a typical genre of prophetic speech might be "prophecy of punishment against Edom" and every example is analyzed in terms of the formulae and subunits contained (and of course there are glossary entries for all the various subunits and formulae).
      I turned in the sections on genres of prophetic speech (188 pages) and genres of prophetic narrative (60 pages) a few days ago, and am taking a mental break before finishing the chapter on legal genres.

    9. Tim Finlay,

      It's a pity that your book is not intended for lay readers. The current debate highlights the need to make the fruits of scholarship widely accessible to lay readers, so that they can discern whether claims made by Hart are worthy of acceptance.

    10. While I don't think Google will shut down Blogger (though I could be wrong; after all, they have shut down several popular products of theirs on short notice), I share the concern regarding the backup of this blog's posts.

      Someone at Google's offices could very well wake up one day and decide this blog's content qualifies as hate speech. Stuff like that has been happening at an increasing rate for the past few years all over the Internet, and it will only keep getting worse. Big Tech is surely not to be trusted on this.

    11. Nemo, I have been an author at a group moderated Christian blog:, which is a site that Dr. Feser used to blog at some time ago. I may branch out on my own at some point, but for the last year more of my effort has been on longer tracts than can fit into a blog: one is about 100 pages or so, another maybe 45. I am not sure where they will end up, if anywhere.

  38. Actually, Nemo, I hope that both scholars and pastors/preachers will use the book. The glossary entries do not have footnotes, and the mini-bibliographies at the end of most entries larger than subunit can simply be ignored. The value for a pastor is the linking together of passages (and phrase level formulae) that have generic similarities. And because my philosophical understanding of speeches and writings is one of Aristotelian realism, I analyze them as artifacts with extrinsic teleology rather than substances with intrinsic teleology. This means that individual passages can exemplify more than one genre. What I am largely doing is synthesizing the scholarship on biblical genres and making it accessible for the lay pastor who does not mind taking the time to read glossary entries, an inherently boring genre. The mini-bibliographies are for those scholars who want to delve deeper into a particular genre. Most of the work is on the biblical exempla; discussion is given of parallel literature in the Ancient Near East in many entries (but I am sure that I have omitted a lot of parallels that I should have included). For legal genres, I discuss which tractate of the Mishnah discusses those categories of laws but I also use the Thomistic categories of eternal law, divine law, natural law and human law.

    1. Tim Finlay,

      I'm not a OT scholar nor a paster, but your subject interests me. Why not use a blogging platform to broadcast your book and related topics to a wider audience? If a 1,000-page book is divided into manageable portions in the form of essays and blogposts, it can reach and benefit many people, who might otherwise find it intimidating. Once their interest is piqued, they will want to delve deeper and read your books and more.

      Personally I wish more Biblical scholars would be willing to engage general readers through blogs and other public forums, like what Dr. Feser and some scholars have already been doing successfully.

  39. Will Hart's apology last shorter or longer than a Mark Shea apology?

    1. Hart only apologized for insisting that Feser did not read his book, that's all.

      Dr. Feser still holds an incoherent position, that an all loving god created a hell of his own free will when he could have created otherwise, and damns most to eternal torture in the Jesus hell when he could do otherwise.

      That is a self contradictory, and thus, incoherent position, as Dr. Hart has clearly stated, and continues to state.

      Dr. Feser can proof text as many bible passages as he wishes, but the fundamental logical incoherence of his position remains nevertheless.

  40. "Dr Feser, have you considered migrating to a different platform, like WordPress..."

    Seconded. For the reasons you cited, and also when you switch the trolls still butthurt from losing an argument in 2008 tend not to follow. I've seen that in action.

  41. Hart does seem to be correct about the antiquity of the tradition in the Church Fathers contrasting the duration of the reward of the blessed to the punishment of the damned.
    As far as I can tell looking at English translations of the Church Fathers [I don’t have access to the Greek and Latin originals in this COVID crisis] a distinction between the term used to modify punishment and the term used to modify life is made as early as Hippolytus considerably less than two centuries after Matthew’s Gospel was written and probably less than two centuries after Jesus spoke it.
    We see the same distinction in Cyprian, again less than two centuries after Matthew was written.


  42. Hi Tim,

    I have replied your question to me, on where A茂dios is used in Christian scripture, under my comment-thread on the book Terms for Eternity: Ai么nios and A茂dios in Classical and Christian Texts. Gorgias Press, 2007.

    johannes y k hui

  43. Thanks, reasonable.
    I posted a reply there.
    I don't know how I missed those references. They are there in BDAG and in Thayer. In Josephus's War of the Jews Book 6 line 434, the term refers to the "perpetual imprisonment" of John, so aidios does not always seem to mean eternal.

  44. Hart writes: "I admit, I concluded with a certainty that was uncharitable—and so unwarrantable—that you had only pretended to read my book."

    Does he mean "I concluded (moreover, publicly accused) with a certainty that was unwarrantable, and so uncharitable (more specifically, calumnious)"? And really, he had to pray to figure this out? I wonder how that went, in reality, the process of coming to this new conclusion, supposedly on the basis of praying, as opposed to just thinking, seeing, understanding...

    1. David,
      "And really, he had to pray to figure this out?"
      Understandably, that is what Christians do to figure out conflicting observations. I suppose it is a form or meditation and reflective reasoning.

      After all, it is plainly obvious that the position against universalism is logically incoherent, as Dr. Hart showed at length. So, to have somebody claim both that he read his book and still claims that to oppose universalism is somehow coherent naturally calls into question whether the person actually read the book, the alternative being that the individual simply lacks a degree of critical thinking skills on certain subjects.

      Dr. Feser seems to be an individual quite capable of critical thinking, so Dr. Hart quite reasonably concluded, therefore, that Dr. Feser had not actually read the book.

      "supposedly on the basis of praying, as opposed to just thinking, seeing, understanding"
      Uhm, how does one pray without thinking, seeing, and understanding?

    2. The point is that Hart starts with his (ill) will (he realized he was "uncharitable") then concludes to his (lack of) warrant. So it was only because of his ill-will that he was unwarranted in his bombastic accusation that Feser was lying. So Hart seems to assume that will precedes and determines warrant/understanding. So maybe (part of) his problem is that he's a voluntarist?

  45. Sincere public apology - that's really rare.

  46. It’s discouraging to realize that so many of us don’t believe that God will save all in the end. How could we be so blind?