Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Universalism/Inerrancy Discussion

Awhile back, I had an exchange with someone who was defending a version of "Pauline universalism." Since some of the arguments he was advancing are similar to some of the material in Rob Bell's book, some readers might find it helpful. It also touches on issues related to inerrancy. Below is part of my side of the discussion:

Evan May
Hey Scott,

This might not be an active conversation any longer, but I found some of your comments interesting and wanted to respond to a few of the claims that you made.

“Philippians 2:11 ends with ‘to the glory of the Father’ which if you remember the description of God’s glory on the mountain suggests that everyone’s confession will be greeted with mercy and loving kindness.”
I don’t see how that follows. Why does the glorification of the Father necessitate every individual receiving mercy? Furthermore, it seems that you are only citing half of the Exodus 34 text. The Lord speaks over Moses, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” but then says, “but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (v. 6-7). God’s glory does not consist in mercy only, but also in judgment for sin (see Jim Hamilton’s book, God’s Glory in Salvation and Judgment, ).

Moreover, the discretionary character of mercy is a theme both in Exodus and in Paul (Ex. 33:19; Romans 9:15). And Paul elsewhere portrays God’s desire to display not only his mercy but also his wrath (Rom. 9:22-23).

Evan May
Hey Scott,

Thanks for replying.

You didn’t respond to my counterargument from Exodus 34 (the text that you initially alluded to with reference to Philippians 2). Please justify the claim that if the Father is glorified, this necessitates that he would bestow forgiveness on every individual, irrespective of their being “in Christ” by faith.

You say:
“Actually Paul moves beyond the anthropormorphic Hebrew idea of God's wrath (except in cases of apocalyptic return, which is still a temporary wrath).”

That is not self-evident. It is an assertion without corresponding argument or exegesis. What exactly, then, is the “day of wrath” concept, for Paul? “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). There is an eschatological force .

I disagree with your summary of Rom. 9-11, but that discussion would cause us to digress. Your use of Romans 11:32 doesn’t do justice to the context, which refers to the Jew/Gentile distinction. Paul is not making the claim that God will have mercy on all without *exception*, but all without *distinction* (God will have mercy on both Jews and Gentiles).

Your citation from Ephesians 1:7 is counterproductive, for “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” for Paul is received only by faith and repentance.


Evan May
Hey Scott,

“Phillipians 2 does not necessitate my conclusion. However, given Paul's idea of universal reconciliation in Christ (Eph 1:7-10, Phil 3:21, Collosians 1:9-21, 2 Cor. 5:18-19) it is a far more plausible to suppose that he me...ant eventually all would repent.”

Fine, but it seems the goal post has moved. And, of course, I reject your premise.

“And given that that would give God the most Glory it is even more likely.”

That is a presupposition brought to the text of Scripture, not derived from it.

“And because God showed mercy to Gentiles by hardening the Jews he will also show that same mercy to the Jews (presumably later).”

Your assumption, though, is that God will show mercy *to the vessels prepared for destruction.* But the text nowhere asserts that. Rather, the point is that God has an elect people (vessels of honor) among both Jews and Gentiles. And he also has vessels of wrath among both Jews and Gentiles.

“Ephesians 1:7-10 is not counter productive because it shows what Paul believes the purpose of all of creation is (that is hardly counter-productive).”

Of course, I did not mean that Ephesians 1 was counterproductive but that your citation of it was counterproductive to your argument. That is because you pick up on the universal language of verse 10 while missing all of the qualifying statements along the way. For Paul, as well as the rest of the New Testament, forgiveness of sins comes only through repentance and faith in the work of Christ. That is the consistent testimony. Unbelievers must hear and respond to the gospel in order to be saved (Rom. 10:13-15).

It does not follow that because God’s plan for the fullness of time, which is cosmic in scope, finds its center in Christ that therefore unbelievers are “in Christ” in the Pauline sense. That is an equivocation of union language. Furthermore, v. 22 clarifies the nature of the union of all things in Christ. Everything has its reference to Christ for all things are under his feet. As Hoehner points out, “The metaphorical language ‘under his feet’ has the idea of victory over enemies. It is used of the winner of a duel who places his foot on the neck of his enemy who has been thrown to the ground, like Joshua who had his generals place their feet on the necks of the five defeated Amorite kings (Josh 10:24; cf. 2 Sam 22:39). Similarly, everything is subjected under Christ’s feet, meaning that everything is currently under his control, both friends and enemies.” Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker 2003), 283-84.

“Also Paul specifically states that it is by grace you have been saved through faith and not anything you have done lest you should boast. God saves you without condition on your part (election). That is what believes... and he can hold that belief consistently because he believes in the end all shall be saved. To hold that it is your faith that saves you in contrary to God sovereignty which Paul clearly clings to.”

I find it interesting that you can quote Paul as saying that salvation is by grace *through faith* and then maintain that faith is unnecessary for salvation. And I do not believe that faith saves but that Christ saves; but his salvation is received by faith. And you’re dealing with someone who believes in unconditional election. God does not choose anyone on the basis of their faith; he chooses them and gives them faith.

You then quote 1 Corinthians 15. There seems to be a pattern of when you receive push back on your use of a text, you then cite another passage (usually one that has “all” language) without providing any exegesis or justification for your conclusions from it. However, what you need to recognize is how Scripture often uses the word “all.” If I have a board meeting, and I ask, “Is everyone here?”, do I mean, “Is everyone in the whole world here?” Of course not. The context determines that I mean, “all of the board.” You see, “all” is a universal quantifier, but it is always descriptive of a *class.* That is, the *sense* of the word is fixed (universal in scope), but the *referent* is variable. Context determines the referent. Sometimes it means “all individuals,” sometimes it means “all nations,” and sometimes it means, “all of the church, God’s elect.” Context is key. (For the linguistic details, see here: )

So what of the universal quantifier in 1 Cor. 15:22 (“all will be made alive”)? The “all” who are made alive in v. 22 are the same as “those who belong to him [Christ]” in v. 23. Who are they? Those who fell asleep in Christ (v. 18). Deceased Christians. Not those who died as unbelievers. The Resurrection is a distinctively Christian hope (1 Thess. 4:13-14).


Evan May

In response:

“First, you comment that I imposed a presuppostition to the text and did not derive from it. You do the same thing with Armenianism which you also are forcing on the text.”

Well, I doubt that, since I am a Calvinist and not an Arminian. I attempted to make that clear when I said that I believe in unconditional election, which is a tenet distinctive to Calvinism.

In any case, this is not an issue of “you’ve got your presuppositions; I’ve got mine.” The question is, “Are my presuppositions consistent with the text?” And, I would add, your presuppositions concerning the nature of Scripture itself contradict Paul’s (2 Tim. 3:16).

“Secondly you try to avoid the universal language by claiming that I am missing the subject of the all, however, it is blatantly clear that he is talking about all of creation. The semantic game about how he “could” be referring to something else is moot on this point.”

Noting the linguistic features of the word “all” is not a “semantic game.” It is a legitimate issue in scholarly discussion. In any case, you haven’t dealt with my specific argument from the text (assuming you are referring to 1 Cor. 15:22). My point is that the “all” who are made alive is qualified by Paul’s statement that those who belong to Christ are made alive (v. 23), which is a reference to Christians who have passed away (v. 18). Unbelievers who died rejecting Christ are simply not included.

“The main difference between our interpretative paradigms is that guided by your idea of inerrancy you superimpose that all the authors agree with a specific systematic theology so you play word games to make all authors fit it.”

You’re responding to a straw man. Of course, I affirm inerrancy and the legitimacy of a coherent New Testament theology, but where have you seen me cite non-Pauline authors in this discussion? I’ve been answering you on your own terms (Pauline universalism is no more tenable than New Testament universalism). And I would note, as I have, that your position concerning the nature of New Testament Scripture is contradicted by the New Testament itself.

“Rather than accepting that Paul and the ‘blessed disciple’ (author of John) and in some ways the author of Peter’s letters have quite different theological perspectives from their synoptic counter parts. And that you should try to learn from all of them and our knowledge today to create a viable means of understanding God.”

I agree that the different New Testament authors have theological distinctives while maintaining that they are complementary rather than contradictory. (See Vanhoozer’s Theological Interpretation of the New Testament: ). But how would a collection of contradictory, theologically dissonant, factually errant documents help to “create a viable means of understanding God”? When two authors disagree, do I just go with my personal preference? It seems that in the end, for your position, the existence of the New Testament is rather unnecessary.

“Talbott’s triad which is an exercise for understanding Christian views on hell (named after Thomas Tablbott), holds that there are three biblically affirmed doctrines to which only any two of the three can actually be held consistently without contradiction.”

This seems disastrously simplistic, akin to the atheist’s argument: “1) God is all powerful. 2) God is good. 3) There is evil. 4) Therefore, God doesn’t exist.” It attempts to strap everything into reductionistic, unnuanced statements while ignoring key data in order to establish a contradiction.

“1 God exercises sovereign control of all things. 2 God desires/wills the salvation of all. 3 Many if not most, people on the earth and throughout history go to place of unending torment. Calvinists hold 1,3. Armenians 2,3. And universalists 1,2. Thus in a literal sense all positions are unbiblical to some degree.”

Which Calvinist authors have you read in depth? Calvinists affirm all three, as long as we are allowed to clarify our terms. Here is one sample:

“And the support for eternal hell (most universalist accept a temporal hell state) is based on the Latin translation of greek word aionios to eternal. Which is a superimposition because the word means a very long time (literally age-long) but is dependent on its subject.”

You are committing the etymological fallacy. Have you read the lengthy entry for αιωνιος in the standard lexicon BDAG?

“Thus applied to God it means eternal because an age to God is eternal. Applied to the Earth or creation in means age-long.”

What is your lexical backing for this assertion? All you cite is an electronic rendering of an 1875 source, written before the discovery of the papyri and the methodological shift to synchronic linguistics.

“Oh and let me quickly wrap up about Paul.”

I think there is a key piece of evidence from Paul that you have ignored: Paul’s biography. Why would Paul face beating, starvation, and near-death so many times for his evangelistic missions if he believed that in the end it all came out in the wash?

“But Paul does not believe that if you don't on earth then your chance is over.”

Since you’ve recommended a few resources to me, let me recommend a couple for you. One is called Paul, Apostle for God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology by Thomas Schreiner ( ). In it he has an excursus on Paul and universalism.

Another, brief but helpful, resource is a new book by John Piper called Jesus, the Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved? ( ). Of course, you disagree with his theology of Scripture and his attempt to gather a systematic doctrine on this issue, but you may benefit from his exegesis of the key texts, both inside and outside of Paul.


Evan May

To Scott:

“My mistake on the Armenian thing”

Technically, Armenian is an ethnicity, while Arminian is a theological position. But no need to split hairs! :-)

“As for 2 Timothy 3:16 the verse reads that all scripture is inspired and useful for training correcting rebuking etc in righteousness. Useful does not mean that it is all consistent or perfectly true.”

It is a little difficult to hit a moving target! Inerrancy is another issue, which I addressed since you brought it up. However, you brought it up because you were not responding to my actual argument (from the Pauline corpus) but claiming that I was importing my inerrantist view of the Biblical authors into this issue. I responded by noting that I have not done this, that I have interacted with you on your own terms, though if I had done otherwise I would not have been wrong.

Actually, the word is θεοπνευστος, God-breathed. The idea is not that God has taken something and then breathed into it (added a divine character to something that is of human origin). Many people mistakenly assume that’s what “inspiration” means. Rather, the picture is that God has exhaled the Scriptures. They find their origin in him. They come with the trustworthiness of his character. Do you honestly think that the Apostle Paul had in mind that God would produce a revelation that was untrustworthy as to its factual character? And the result is that the man of God is “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” I would say that if what we had was a collection of theologically inconsistent documents, we would be lacking something in our ministry!

Let me be straightforward: I am engaging in this dialogue because I am seeking to correct you from the Word. It is my conviction that you have affirmed false things about the Word. That’s not to call you a name or anything, but that’s just the case. But let’s say you are accurate about this issue in Paul, and that you are the one who is correcting me. Is the New Testament a sufficient resource for correction? Does it provide a consistent standard, so that you would be able to “correct” me? “Reprove” me? Paul seemed to believe that Scripture had this capability, but I fail to see how that is consistent with your view of Scripture. That is why I claim that you and Paul have different presuppositions. I would add that Paul also claims that Scripture is profitable “for doctrine.”

“And on another note scholars are uncertain to whether it should read ‘all inspired scripture is useful’ as opposed to all scripture is inspired.”

That is overstated. The issue isn’t that difficult to decide. I’m not sure how much background you have in Greek, but the question is whether θεοπνευστος is an attributive adjective (“all God-breathed Scripture is…”) or a predicate adjective (“all Scripture is God-breathed…”). Here are the basic arguments in favor of the latter:

1. Taking και as adjunctive is awkward in the text. And the sentence would more likely begin with a connective if it had an adjunctive και.
2. When two adjectives follow the subject and are connected by και, they are usually parallel (rather than one predicate and one attributive). Thus “God-breathed” and “profitable” would typically either both be attributive or both be predicate.
3. It is likely that “God-breathed” and “profitable” are parallel descriptions as to their characteristics. The latter results from the former.
4. Wallace writes, “In the NT, LXX, in classical and Koine Greek, the overwhelming semantic force of an adj-noun-adj construction in an equative clause is that the first adj will be attributive and the second predicate” (Exegetical Syntax, 314). In other words, pas is attributive while theopneustos is predicate.
5. Again Wallace: “In pas + noun + adjective constructions in equative clauses, the pas, being by nature as definite as the article, implies the article, thus making the adjective(s) following the noun outside the implied article-noun group and, therefore, predicate” (Exegetical Syntax, 314).

So the issue is pretty much settled.

“Strict biblical inerrancy is kind of foolish given direct confrontation between authors and what we know of the disputes of the early church.”

Following this statement you shoot off a quick fire-round of issues. I don’t have the time to get into them, but they are all addressed in the standard commentaries.

“I think that some authors better understand certain aspects of Christianity, through reflection on God and Christ. Just as some children understand different elements of their parents better than their siblings. It does not mean that they are wrong per say, but that they can be negated by someone else's better understanding.”

How would you describe, say, God’s understanding of Christianity? Is God’s understanding that of a child’s? Does God have an inability to communicate his revelation?

“Admittedly this is a difficult process but it is better than trying to string them all together as if they say the same thing.”

Another straw man. “Saying the same thing” and “not contradicting” are different contentions, and the latter is what I am asserting. But I would add that a basic assumption of the N.T. is that there is a standard of doctrine, “the Apostles’ teaching,” the kerygma, “the faith once for all delivered.” There is a body of teaching that the N.T. church defends and is expected to hold fast to. In that sense, the Biblical authors are all “saying the same thing.”

“Now Talbott’s triad is simplistic because it is a starting place. The idea that God is sovereign over ALL things and desires that all be saved brings up a pretty significant problem for eternal hell without even introducing the dualist problem.”

It is problematic precisely because it is simplistic. I’ll give you time to read the Piper article I linked before I comment further. (And that, by the way, is granting your exegesis of 1 Tim. 2:4).

“As for Aionios it is translated in different ways than eternal in the Bible and therefore cannot be limited to that translation by default.”

I agree that it, like every word, has a semantic range. What I disagreed with was your contention that the “basic” meaning was restricted by its cognate noun, αιων. That was the etymological fallacy.

And what I asked for lexical backing for was your assertion that when αιωνιος is applied to part of the creation that it means “age-long” and *not* “eternal.” It’s fine to say that αιωνιος has a semantic range. It is entirely something different to claim that it *must* mean a certain thing in a certain context. That is the type of claim that must be supported by lexical evidence and exegesis of the text at hand. So I ask you again: Have you read the entry for αιωνιος in BDAG? That is the first step before making grand allegations about all English translations botching the job.

By the way, another semantic fallacy is to claim that in any context a word can mean anything from its semantic range. James Barr (who was no bastion for conservatism) coined the phrase “illegitimate totality transfer.”

“Also I find it highly suspect that once the Bible stopped being read in Greek the once popular view of universalism in the church died out.”

Since that is an assertion without any accompanying evidence, I will leave it aside for now.

“Add to that the highly suspect view that when Jesus uses Gehenna (a burning garbage heap outside of Jerusalem) and an apostle uses Sheol (essentially the Greek Hades) two totally different concepts and images, they are both translated as hell.”

What translation are you using? KJV? And, since the N.T. was written in Greek, the authors did not use the Hebrew word Sheol.

“And you get a clearer picture of how the translator’s theology is highly influencing the translation.”

If you have a specific question instead of a vague generality, perhaps we can look at it together.


Evan May
In reply to a message from Scott related to John Piper's article:

“I read the section and it was interesting but I found his argument to be flawed.”

Whether or not you agree with his position really isn’t the point. The reason why I linked to the article was to show that your claim about what Calvinists do not believe was untrue. You are of course free to disagree, but the point was to demonstrate what Calvinists authors are saying.

“Contradictions can actually be contradictions rather than coming up with a strange round about to attempt to reconcile them.”

It is one thing to say that one N.T. author contradicts another N.T. author (that is false, but it is easier to maintain). It is another thing entirely to claim that a N.T. author contradicts himself in the same paragraph. To claim that the tension is one of contradiction does not account for the theological perspective that the N.T. author is intending to convey. Piper was dealing not only with N.T. theology as a whole, but the theological presentation of particular portions of Scripture (such as Acts 2 & 4). The distinction between the two senses in which God is said to will something is not imposed on the text but is a category created by the text. Ultimately, the aim is to attempt to remain faithful to how a N.T. author defines his own terms (such as ‘willing’ language) rather than equivocate the usage of those terms and contend that he meant it in a uniform sense (which is, again, the fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer).

“Secondly, he seems to be confused with the idea that God could will ‘evil’ in order to create good.”

See Genesis 50. That is a basic motif of O.T. and N.T. revelation.

“As free-will is necessary for actual love to exist”

I reject that premise if you are defining free will in libertarian terms. Furthermore, it is impossible for a universalist to hold to libertarian free will. If in the end God saves even those who willingly rejected him, how is that libertarian free will? They made their choice. Who is God, on libertarian terms, to tell them that they need to rethink their decision?

“However, because God allows for free-will being loving and just He also does not leave His creations which did not will themselves into existence, to be forced to make the choice of loving Him or going to eternal suffering.”

Of course his creatures did not will themselves into existence. That is the definition of a creation. They are not the creator; they did not autonomously self-generate. God created them, without asking for their permission. Why then do you necessitate that their post-creative existence be autonomous?

And if God offers salvation to all (which is much more than rebellious creatures deserve), how is that unjust?

“Instead He could allow essentially unlimited time for the choice which would lead to the eventual salvation of all (In the fullness of time). Hence the choice is actually free-chosen but the outcome is still controlled by God.”

That is still not libertarian choice. Let’s say I kidnap you. I keep you in a closet, and I demand that you give me your bank account number. Initially you refuse. But then I keep you in the closet for weeks, and after enough time has passed you relent and give me the information. Was that a free choice on your part? Was that free will? You may say that the situation is not analogous, but how isn’t it? For, on your view, hell is the closet. After enough time, eventually people give up their resistance and choose God. But that is not a libertarian choice. Time is the forceful factor. It is no more libertarian than the Reformed view, in which God changes the resistant heart of sinners and gives them new hearts and they willingly respond to him. On my view, God causes sinners to be willing by alluring them with his unfailing love. On your view, God causes sinners to be willing by boring them to death.

And there is no such thing as unlimited time when it comes to making choices. At some point, there is a cut-off, even if the cut-off is the point at which they choose God in hell. How is that fundamentally different from the cut-off being on this earth? Don’t you think God is wise enough to know how much time warrants the rebellious being declared without excuse (Rom. 1)?

“The whole reconciliation of the ‘Two wills of God’ simply needs that you eliminate eternal hell.”

Perhaps that solves an apparent problem, but it creates more problems than it solves.


Evan May
“I am not advocating that we should hold the bible at suspect in every passage. However, those passages that seem to hold contradictory opinions should be analyzed as possible having one author being mistaken.”

The functional result, however, is an undermining of our confidence in Scripture. Even if you believe the errors in Scripture are relatively few (though most people who deny inerrancy are quite willing to point out many apparent errors), you still end up with a revelation that is not completely trustworthy. You cease to have a consistent standard for truth. God’s Word loses the pure quality that the Biblical authors attributed to it (Psalm 119, for example).

I am not saying the Bible is without difficulties. In it we find many things that are challenging. But will we have a posture of trust, that submits our thinking to God’s wisdom, that humbly searches for a solution, or is our reflex to name ourselves the judge of truth and error, right and wrong? While this may not be intentional, your position makes you the final arbiter of truth. God’s revelation helps, but it is mixed bag that must be sorted by your own decisions.

“Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is God-breathed.”

So we agree on the translation now?

“First off Paul has no conception of ‘all scripture’ and for the matter the issue of cannon has never been solved look at Catholicism or orthodox.”

Really? Paul has no conception of ‘all Scripture’? You neglect the fact that the N.T. church had a canon: the Hebrew O.T. and the Greek Septuagint. They were not without a Bible. And the N.T. indicates that the apostolic writings represented a canon of teaching that was binding for the church (2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14; Jude 3; 2 Peter 3:16). There is an apostolic-prophetic foundation that Christ has laid (Eph. 2:10).

But even though Paul did not have a bound N.T. with 27 books, his point is clear. When he asserts that all Scripture is God-breathed, the statement is that if something is Scripture, then it is God-breathed. He is speaking of the characteristics of Scripture itself, and his words apply whether or not he had a specific canonical list in mind.

As for the issue of the canon and Roman Catholicism, both Protestants and Roman Catholics agree on the N.T. canon, and the Protestant O.T. canon is identical to Christ’s, Paul’s, and that of the first century church (See Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church - ). The only reason the Roman church thinks otherwise is because of her unbiblical view of papal authority.

“Secondly God breathed is the same description of how humans were given life it hardly makes them infallible.”

You are correct that the metaphors are similar but there is a key structural difference. God breathed life *into* lifeless humans. God exhaled the Scriptures. And apart from the breath metaphor, the similarities between God’s creation of humans and his work of inscripturation quickly collapse. Scripture is in the category of revelation. The consistent theme throughout redemptive history is the reliability, trustworthiness, and truthfulness of special revelation. Humans have rebelled; God’s Word never fails.

“Timothy 3:16 is one ambiguous verse which people are basing there entire biblical interpretative scheme off of and I think that is dangerous.”

I cited 2 Tim. 3:16 as *representative* of the N.T. perspective of the character of Scripture; I never claimed that that perspective was contained solely in that text. There are many passages that we could discuss (Matt. 4:3-10; 5:17-18; 18:3-6; 23:1-3; Mark 12:19-24; John 5:39-47; 10:35; 14:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:13; Gal. 1:8-12; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1, etc.). But I tend to like to look at verses in their contexts rather than scatter-bomb someone I’m debating. :-)

“As I said something can be useful, say Genesis which is extremely useful, but hardly accurate (or in Paul’s terminology profitable).”

Paul does not call Scripture useful in a vague sense. After asserting its divine origin and quality, he then says that it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” On your view, is Scripture profitable for doctrine? For a doctrine of creation? For a doctrine of inspiration? For a doctrine of salvation? On your view, is Scripture sufficient to make us “competent, equipped for every good work”?

“Timothy does not give license for the Bible being 100% correct because it is straight from God, that is a relatively new idea in Christianity which was borrowed from Islam.”

That is an entirely false historical claim. Inerrancy is no novel doctrine. See Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal by Carson & Woodbridge ( ) and The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism by Beale ( ).

“Calvin thought some writers were wrong.”

Another false claim. Show me your citations from Calvin and we’ll discuss them. Calvin’s comments about N.T. manuscripts have been inappropriately applied to N.T. autographa.

“Inerrancy fails to account for the human element in the bible and so I think it often fails to see that the Bible is a collection of responses to God not the word of God Himself (which it is not ever referred to but Jesus is).”

Who is the intended audience of Exodus? Deuteronomy? Isaiah? Is it God or God’s people? And your claim that Scripture is not referred to as God’s Word is demonstrably false in both Testaments. The Apostles themselves applied the Word of God category to their own teaching (1 Cor. 2:13). To say that Christ is God’s Word and therefore Scripture is not is to commit a category error. Furthermore, Christ as God’s last word to us is available only through the apostolic witness (Heb. 1; Eph 4).

But let’s talk about the Christ-Word connection. You say that inerrancy fails to account for the human element. I disagree. But your assumption seems to be that if something is human it must necessarily contain factual errors (which is untenable; if I write a report that doesn’t contain error, does that mean I didn’t really write it?). Was Christ fully human? Did he sin? I assume that you affirm his sinlessness. But how can you affirm that Christ is both fully human and yet without sin while claiming that a writing cannot be fully human (and fully divine) while lacking error?

“Paul’s views on women in church for example are clearly his own biases slipping through.”

And once again your position on Scripture makes your personal views the final arbitrator for truth.

“However, the end of Revelation shows that the author does not believe Hell to be eternal”

Actually, Revelation presents a view of hell as eternal, conscious punishment. I assume that you are referring to the second death in the lake of fire. But this fire does not consume its victims. Satan is also said to be thrown into this lake of fire and experience the second death. Note what it says: “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and *they will be tormented day and night forever and ever*” (Rev. 20:10). Conscious, eternal torment – that is Revelation’s portrait of the fate of the damned. It is a sobering reality. But it makes the need to evangelize and the call for individuals to respond to the gospel (in *this* life) all the more urgent.

“And I think common sense over the dualist problem that would occur as well as the vindictiveness problem…is sufficient grounds to translate it otherwise.”

Several issues: 1) We don’t base our translations on what we believe would be “problematic,” what doesn’t fit our presuppositions. We base our translations on lexical data, syntax, and context. 2) You are using the word “dualist” in a non-historical way. Satan under Christ’s feet for eternity is not dualism. 3) “Vindictiveness”? I assume by that you mean the common retort that it is unjust for God to respond with infinite punishment for sins committed within a finite life. Well, leaving aside the argument (made by Edwards and others) that the value of the offended party determines the severity of the punishment, what makes you think that people will stop sinning in hell? Biblical anthropology presents man as dead in sin, unwilling and unable to please God, locked in rebellion. On earth sin is restrained by common grace; in hell there will be no grace to restrain. God is not punishing man only for sins he committed in life; man has an eternity of sins that warrant an eternal punishment.

“All I meant to illustrate is that a particular theology of hell is being imposed on the text by translators.”

Again, which translations? I’m only aware of the KJV using “hell” to render hades, and that’s simply a result of the semantic range of that term in Stuart England.

But we also mustn’t commit the word-concept fallacy. What matters is whether Scripture teaches the concept of hell, not whether a particular term is consistently used.

“There have been legitimate arguments that Jesus was simply referring to ruin or waste, or even the coming destruction of Jerusalem if you tie it in with partial preterist interpretations of Revelation.”

We haven’t yet gotten into Christ’s teaching (who taught on hell more than any other N.T. author). Of course, we would need to look at those texts (Matt. 10:28; 18:8; 25:41-46; Luke 12:4-5; etc.) in their contexts.

“And in my personal opinion Gehenna is a place therefore is not in need of translating anymore than Jerusalem.”

Ok. So you think that Jesus meant that the unrighteous would literally be brought to Gehenna and burned there? Gehenna as a metaphor for God’s retribution did not originate with Christ. You’ll find the same in rabbinical commentary.

“First I think that holding someone for their own good is completely different than trying to take something from them.”

I agree, and even better to change their will for their own good! But the point is that “holding someone for their own good” does not fit into the categories of libertarian freedom. The principles of libertarianism do not permit the inhibition of freedom, even if teleologically motivated.

“The purpose of hell is for them to understand the value of themselves and God.”

Because they have such a good track record of doing that on earth…

“Like a parent that restrains children from doing bad things because the child is too young to understand that it is bad.”

Is that the way that the N.T. portrays unbelievers? Is that how Paul portrays them, as children who don’t know any better? No, he portrays unbelievers as wicked people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and are accordingly without excuse (Rom. 1:18ff).

“But I do leave the condition open for the unforgivable sin, that is rejecting your own justification through Christ.”

Where does the N.T. define the unpardonable sin as “rejecting your own justification through Christ”?

“And in this case God destroys them (un-creates them) so that all of creation is still reconciled in the end.”

How long does God wait until that happens? You aren’t solving anything, only pushing the question back a step. Why is it wrong for God to restrict the time of repentance to this earth, but not wrong to restrict it in the afterlife?


Evan May
“I don’t think that the functional result is an undermining of confidence in scripture, but rather a greater appreciation for the variety of responses to God and Jesus.”

Are all of the “responses” equally true and legitimate? Are any of them false? If so, how is that determined?

“The fatalist view that if we undermine the Bible in one point we can no longer use the whole thing is nonsense.”

That is not my contention. Of course, you’ll still use the Bible, but you will subject it to your own values and judgments. Functionally, Scripture loses its authoritative character. And I think we’ve witnessed that here to an extant (e.g., your comments about Paul’s views of women and ministry).

“While I agree that there are other verses beside 1 Tim. 3:16 there are none which actually state that the Bible is without error.”

So if Scripture testifies to its purity, authority, trustworthiness, unfailingness, and direct divine character (even in the smallest details) it is not affirming its own inerrancy? Again, you’re committing the word-concept fallacy. What kind of statement would you expect Scripture to make about itself in order to affirm inerrancy? Does it need to be spelled out in English?

“And I do think that the Bible is adequate to shape doctrine.”

But you think that the Bible presents a collection of contradictory doctrines.

“Even if some of the authors were perhaps mistaken in some assertion the Bible still contains all the resources to sort them out.”

This sounds nice in theory but in practice I have seen, even from you, a much more critical posture toward the content of Scripture (e.g., your comment on my wall about the nature of 1 Peter: “I usually ignore 1 Peter because he is making an awkward case…”).

“The Holy Spirit is promised to increase our understanding throughout the age (with no reference to scripture).”

The Spirit’s leading the church into truth is *by means of the Word*. Your citation of John 16 stopped short of the verse where Christ says, “He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (v. 14), which is a restatement from the previous Paraclete discourse in which he says that the Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Where do we find the teaching of Christ?

“There have always been those who have held it but from a scholarly perspective even Augustine considered to be the “first” theologian did not hold it nor did many of the reformers and other popular theologians (such as C.S. Lewis) and it did not become popular until recent times.”

I again direct your attention to the Carson & Woodbridge book, which corrects this repeatedly stated yet false historical perspective.

“As to the Word of God, I mean to say that scripture (itself) it is never referred to as being actually from God.”

So if God breathes it out, it isn’t “actually from God”? If God “speaks,” it isn’t “actually from God”?

“The context of Corinthians is that Christians can speak spiritual truth via the Holy Spirit and only those who are Christians can understand.”

Roughly, yes, but I don’t think you have interacted seriously with what 1 Cor. 2:13 is asserting. Feel the force of the antithesis: “…words *not* taught by human wisdom *but* taught by the Spirit.” Can you read this statement and then conclude that the Apostles didn’t apply “word of God” language to their teaching/writings? Can you read this contrast and then make claims that taking the human character of Scripture seriously demands recognizing its capability (and tendency) for error?

“Paul clearly states that women are not to speak in church. I know some commentators play word games with it. But I think that he is explicitly clear.”

You have the tendency to want to cut me off at the pass by charging commentaries with “word games” and the like. As if wrestling with a text in its context somehow lacks integrity. But do you take the Muslim seriously when he claims that the “plain meaning” of Jesus’ statement, “The Father is greater than I” implies that Jesus is not God? Context, context.

And the context of 1 Cor. 14:34 has to do with orderly worship and the weighing of prophecies. It is with respect to this authoritative task that the women are to “keep silent” (note the usage of that phrase in v. 28 and v. 30; the command is not of permanent silence but silence with respect to the particular activity under discussion).

As to 1 Tim. 2, I agree that Paul prohibits women from teaching men in the church, and that he roots this prohibition in the creative order. And I submit my doctrine and practice to the Word here. What do you do? Do you subject the text to your egalitarian judgments? You see, that is what the issue of inerrancy comes down to. If I find something challenging in Scripture, I wrestle with it and seek to conform to it, for my conviction is that it is true. It seems, rather, that you are free to ignore it. If the text is only as useful as it conforms to your preconceived ideas, what point is there?

“Notice that by this point all the saved are already in the city. Yet not only is the gate open but, he explicitly goes on to tell who will not enter, which would be pointless if no one could enter. He says only those in the Book of life.”

Dennis Johnson: “Because night never falls and no defiling intruder can slip into the city under veil of darkness, the city’s gates never close but remain wide open to receive a glory that will constantly enrich its beauty. …John does not literally envision Gentile nations outside the holy city, for the Gentiles whose names are written in the book of life are the city (cf. Rev. 22:27). Those not inscribed in the Lamb’s book have already received their apportioned inheritance in the lake of fire (20:15; cf. 21:8) and have no place in the new heavens and earth, of which the new Jerusalem is queen. The nations’ influx into the city, bearing their glory and honor, vividly portrays the reality that this bride of the Lamb does and will include and embrace the elect from all the world’s peoples (7:9).” (Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, 318-319).

“One last thing that you did not address is aionios which is really the kingpin of the argument.”

Did not address it? Are you kidding? Twice I asked for lexical backing for your assertion. Twice I asked you if you had even looked up the entry in the standard lexicon BDAG. I’m not going to construct the argument for you in order to knock it down. If this is really the “kingpin of the argument,” surely you can formulate it with supporting evidence.

“And actually the Forever and ever mentioned is actually ‘aionos ton aionon’ which would be evidence that it does not in fact mean eternity else ‘ton aionon’ would be unnecessary.”

This ignores idiomatic usage. The combining of αιων with its cognate is a typical Koine Greek idiom for “eternal” (see BDAG, p. 32).

“This one is shorter and a bit more convincing than my last one”

Another online article citing outdated scholarship committing basic lexical fallacies.

“Once evil (souls opposed to God) enter into a state of eternity it gives evil independent existence, and gives the evil no purpose for good.”

Who said that the evil has “independent existence”? Who said it has “no purpose for good”?

“For now I will continue to look into aionios which I feel is the more important aspect of the debate.”

Get some real resources! :-)

“So to me I can summarize my thinking this way you have two seemingly contradictory types of verses”

I have already replied with an exegesis of Ephesians 1:7-10, to which you have yet to respond. The tension you are seeking to create is only as legitimate as your exegesis of the relevant texts.


Evan May
Hey Scott

While I probably wouldn’t have used the text that Kyle chose or structure the argument in exactly the same way, I believe that the basic point that Kyle is making is sound. Here is how I would frame it:

“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:21-24)

God has vessels of wrath among both Jews and Gentiles, and God has vessels of mercy among both Jews and Gentiles. God has “prepared” the vessels of mercy “for glory,” and he has “prepared” the vessels of wrath “for destruction.” There is a total contrast and an absolute division between the two groups. The text never says that the vessels of wrath will eventually receive mercy. God endures with the vessels of wrath “with much patience,” but the time will come when he longer has patience for them. The situation gets worse, not better, for the vessels of wrath.

So the question is, why do these vessels of wrath exist? Stated another way, what is the teleology of reprobation? Paul is clear—God has prepared vessels of wrath for destruction for two reasons: 1) To display his wrath and power, and 2) To make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy. So when Kyle states that the unredeemed exist for the benefit of the redeemed, it seems that Paul would agree. God’s fundamental desire (and this is clear throughout Romans) is to display his glory to his people. He wants them to see the panorama of his attributes (those listed, for instance, in Exodus 34). And he accomplishes this, according to Paul, by means of election and reprobation. (For detailed argument/exegesis, see John Piper, The Justification of God: ).

To respond to this by saying that God could accomplish the same purpose by temporarily punishing the nonelect and then eventually receiving them into glory is to make an assertion that is not only absent from the text but contrary to it.


Evan May
Hey Scott,

I have enjoyed the discussion so far, but I don’t know if it is still beneficial. It is becoming repetitious, and I’m not sure if it is edifying. But for now I will continue a response:

“Now if aionios should mean eternal before punishment then I grant that it is only logical to reframe our interpretations of Tim 4:16 which says Jesus is the Saviour of all especially those who believe, 1 John 2:1-2 which says that Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of Christians and also those of the whole world, and verses like Eph 1:3-10 which say the purpose of Christ is to reconcile all things.”

I disagree with your perspective on the relationship between lexicology and theological interpretation. It seems that for you a certain Greek term is the decisive factor, and Scriptural texts must conform in one mould or another, depending on the rendering of that term. You’ve made several statements along the lines of, “If αιωνιος means this, then we must interpret these other passages this way. But if αιωνιος means that, then we must interpret them this way.” But my perspective is that Scriptural texts must be exegeted within their immediate contexts first, and then within the canonical context. For someone who often charges others with reading their theology into the text, it seems that is precisely what you are advocating here.

In any case, you are taking for granted your understanding of the three passages you’ve cited. Again, I’ve already exegeted Ephesians 1, and you haven’t responded with any counter-exegesis. The same can be done for 1 Timothy 4 and 1 John 2, but why should I do the work to respond to an argument that you have failed to adequately construct? Why must I do the exegetical work while yours is assumed?

“However, and I want a straight answer from you guys, if robbed of this word necessarily meaning eternal would it be logical to re-interpret the above verses or change the translation of aionios.”

The fact that “eternal” is part of the semantic domain of αιωνιος simply isn’t in dispute. You are correct that the semantic domain is *wider* than the concept of “eternal,” but your insistence that a particular rendering is more appropriate than another must be informed by syntax and contextual features. You must learn to distinguish between an assertion and an argument.

But which texts do you have in mind? Many texts that I “use” to support an eternal hell don’t even have the term αιωνιος in them. Again the concept, not the word, is what matters.

“So if the word is in doubt would it not make more sense to re-translate rather than put forward a round about explanation of the rest of the biblical texts?”

I’m sorry, but for someone who hasn’t presented any exegesis of the relevant texts, you aren’t in a position of charging others with “round about” explanations.

“Especially when the end result is more consistent with God’s sovereignty and will (not that I am saying it is unjustifiable otherwise, but simply that this explanation is better), and God being described as love and having perfect patience, unending mercy etc.”

We need to distinguish between those descriptions of God within the Scriptural context and your assumptions of what those descriptions must imply.

“First off I cannot because the only ones I can find on the internet are for bible students and are therefore narrow in scope, limited by theology, and have a vested interest in being usable to orthodox bible students”

I pointed you to the standard work, Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich. Since the initial lexicographer, Walter Bauer, was a liberal German scholar, you can’t exactly charge that work with an inordinate commitment to orthodoxy.

“Secondly, historically (and I have not yet found anyone claiming differently so I will assume it is true) universalism was vibrant in the first 400 or so years of the church”

See Kostenberger and Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy:

“I believe that independent of these verses there is far more reason to believe that Tim 4:16, 1 John 2:1-2, Eph 1:3-7, Col. 1:9-21, Corinthians 15:21-28 say exactly what they appear to say and re-translation is necessary not re-interpretation.”

Again, I have responded on Eph. 1 and 1 Cor. 15. And, again, I disagree with your functional methodology. Lexicology is not determined by theology.

“What I mean about Paul’s views on women is that he justifies his claims that women should not speak in church and that they should submit to their husbands, by referencing how women were created from men and therefore subordinate.”

It seems that you are confusing 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2, which I distinguished in my response to you.

But here’s the issue: You continue to assume that Paul is wrong. On what basis? Why are you right, and Paul wrong? And my point is that this betrays the functional position in which a denial of inerrancy places you—you become the final arbiter for truth.

“Also on a secondary note, how does one of strict inerrancy hold the idea of the Trinity? Which, as you pointed out, is contradicted multiple times by Jesus?”

I did not point that out, but referenced Islamic arguments in order to make a point, assuming that you would find them to be unconvincing. Apparently I was wrong. Safe to say I reject your assertion that Jesus contradicts the doctrine of the Trinity. But I do not have the time to go down that road. For discussion of those passages, see James White, The Forgotten Trinity ( ).

And I think you are showing your hand here. Earlier you assured me that a denial of inerrancy does not really affect our approach to the Bible; that is, we don’t hold it entirely suspect, and we still find it useful for doctrine. But if the Bible presents a contradictory presentation of as fundamental a doctrine as the Trinity, how is it trustworthy in any true sense?


Evan May
Hey Scott,

Things have become a tad sloppy. It seems that the pattern is that you will raise an issue, I will respond, and you will either restate what you previously asserted without updating your argument or you abandon the issue altogether and raise something entirely different. It makes responding to you quite cumbersome. And it appears that your modus operandi when it comes to Scriptural texts is to cite a portion of a verse, or in some cases merely the reference, and claim that you have adequately addressed the issue. I am not saying this to offend you. But I do think this reveals which side is willing to honestly and substantively engage with the text.

“Your interpretation of Eph 1 and 1 Cor 15, I did not realize that I had not addressed. You say that Eph 1 should be understood that God has everything under control in Christ. I disagree, that interpretation ignores the final statement in 1 Cor 15 that ‘God may be in all’.”

Wait a minute: so your response to my exegesis of Ephesians 1 is to cite 1 Corinthians 15? Do you really think that is an adequate handling of the passage?

I hate to be repetitious, but it seems that is required. My point about Ephesians 1 is that you are equivocating with reference to the “union” language. You are assuming that the uniting of all things in Christ means that all things are “united with Christ” in the Pauline sense. You are importing systematic-theological categories into a text that is not addressing those categories. Rather, verse 22 makes clear that the centrality of Christ in the plan of God results not in universal reconciliation, but the universal dominion of Christ over all things, both his people and his enemies.

On another note, I assume that your use of 1 Corinthians 15 to interpret Ephesians 1 implies that you accept Pauline authorship of Ephesians. If so, why? Critical scholarship rejects authentic Pauline authorship of Ephesians. Why are you willing to snuggle up to critical scholarship except when it would harm your position to do so?

“And secondly God already has sovereign control from the beginning and does not need Christ to achieve it, so that seems counter-intuitive.”

This misses the point. God purposes his universal dominion in Christ not to gain something he previously lacked, but for the precise reason that it is *in Christ.* There is a redemptive-historical accent to it. Christ is representative, not only as the second Person of the Godhead, but as the Messiah. God’s plan is to accomplish his salvation through the humiliation and sacrifice of the Messiah, and then to raise his Messiah in exaltation and give to him universal dominion. It is similar to Paul’s contention that the Father has given to Christ “the name above every name” (Phil 2.). That is not because the second Person of the Godhead lacked that name, but because the Father gave it to his Messiah as the crowning feature of his exaltational ministry.

“Ephesians 1:3-10, 1 Corinthians 15:21-28, and Col 1:9-21 state that Christ's purpose is to reconcile all and Corinthians gives more a less a timeline for it. ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn:’”

You’re repeating a dead argument. To quote myself: “My point is that the ‘all’ who are made alive is qualified by Paul’s statement that those who belong to Christ are made alive (v. 23), which is a reference to Christians who have passed away (v. 18). Unbelievers who died rejecting Christ are simply not included. The Resurrection is a distinctively Christian hope (1 Thess. 4:13-14).”

However, let’s grant for the sake of argument that the “all” of verse 22 who are made alive includes unbelievers. That still does not make the point that you are attempting to present. Paul is referring to a physical resurrection, and elsewhere he states that both the just and the unjust will experience the general resurrection (Acts 24:15, for instance). So even granting you’re atextual assumptions, it proves too little.

“As for Paul, I am making the claim that his argument is false. I can do that because In this day and age we know that Genesis is not to be taken literally.”

Even critical liberals would wince at this simplistic statement.

“I believe this a part of the role of the Holy Spirit in moving us forward into truth. Jesus and the Bible do not independently contain all the answers else He would say the Holy Spirit ONLY points to what I HAVE PREVIOUSLY said.”

My point was that you misused the Paraclete text. You asserted that the Spirit leads the church into truth independent of the Bible, but I pointed out that the very means that Christ highlights for the Spirit to lead the church into truth is the words of Christ.

“But rather He says their are somethings I cannot bear to tell you know, I think perhaps evolution could safely be said to be one of them.”

This is still taking the text out of context. The referent for what the Apostles cannot yet bear to hear is not Darwinism but the full revelation of Christ’s messianic work. And that is presented in the Apostolic witness, not outside of the Word. Plus the audience for the Paraclete discourse is the Apostles. When exactly did they learn about macroevolution or Darwinian natural selection?

“As for the Trinity, my point was not to contradict it, but rather to show that to sustain that belief, correct as it may be, you have to de-facto deny or negate many statements from Jesus a process called sublation. That process seems to be in conflict with how you look at the rest of the Bible, an exception if you will.”

This is too imprecise.

“And you ignored my question of whether if ‘hypothetically’ aionios could be rationally re-translated do you believe there is enough independent evidence to suggest translating it eternal?”

I answered your ‘hypothetical’ in my statements about the relationship between lexicology and theological interpretation. See above. And I have yet to receive from you *lexical* *syntactical* and *contextual* reasons for rendering it another way. And you haven’t even provided an alternate gloss. How would you choose to render it? On what basis?

In any case, I have been too generous with you on this issue. The standard lexicon disagrees with your assertion, and I don’t really think you are in a position to adequately dispute it. If you had taken the time to look up the entry before publishing your assertions online, you would have discovered that BDAG lists three main categories for αιωνιος: 1) Pertaining to a long period of time, “long ago.” 2) Pertaining to a period of time without beginning or end, “eternal.” 3) Pertaining to a period of unending duration, “without end.” Before you attempt to claim the first one as your position, you must realize that that category applies only to *past time* (not future), and it is appropriate only when αιωνιος is modifying χρονος. That is what I mean by syntactical features. In fact, all of the judgment texts that use αιωνιος are located in category three (unending duration, “without end”).

Furthermore, you have tremendously inflated the significance of this term. It occurs with reference to judgment in only a handful of passages (Matt. 18:8; 25:41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7). The issue is hardly decided on the basis of this one word. Can we move on?

“Matthew 25:46 contains an additional clue confirming the temporary nature of God’s judgment. The Greek word, translated “punishment,” is kolasis.”

Ok. Well let’s do the right thing and take a moment to consult BDAG. We find two categories of definitions for κολασις: 1) Infliction of suffering or pain in chastisement, “punishment.” 2) Transcendent retribution, “punishment.” BDAG locates Matthew 25:46 in the second category, with no citations from the New Testament in the first. Moving on…

“William Barclay, world-renowned Greek scholar, translator, and author of the popular Bible commentary, The Daily Study Bible and New Testament Words, notes: The Greek word for punishment here [Mt. 25:46] is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all.”

Etymological fallacy.

“ It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment.”

Why is secular Greek literature primary? That is the most remote circle of influence. Much more significant is how the term is used in the LXX, NT, and apostolic fathers.

“Thomas Talbott, philosophy professor at Willamette University in Oregon and author of The Inescapable Love of God, explained: According to Aristotle, there is a difference between revenge and punishment;"

Already Talbott has betrayed the fact that he is commenting on something that is outside of his field of expertise. What is his background in lexicology? He appeals to Plato and Aristotle, as if that has a significant bearing on how the term was used in the N.T. four hundred years later. He has a serious case of diachronic linguistics.

“Check out the punishment that Paul prescribes in I Corinthians 5:5.”

Κολασις does not appear in 1 Corinthians 5:5.

“I checked the Greek lexicon and ‘Correction’ is the first translation for kolasis”

Which lexicon? Did it list Matthew 25:46 under the category of “correction”? What syntactical features did it highlight?

“So ‘eternal correction’ hardly seems to make any sense, thus perhaps it should read. Matthew 25:46 (Rotherham 's Emphasized version) And these shall go away into age-abiding correction: but the righteous into age-abiding life.”

This is methodogically flawed on two levels. Even granting your mistaken conclusion about κολασις, that has no bearing on the semantics of αιωνιος.

And what exactly do “age-abiding correction” and “age-abiding life” mean, anyway? Are the “ages” the same or different? Same length of time or differing lengths of time? And where does Biblical eschatological refer to such an “age”? Rather, the N.T. has a two-fold framework of “this age” and “the age to come.” Inaugural eschatology. You are creating an “age” that is foreign to the structure of N.T. eschatology.

I’ve been forceful in my response to you this time. I am not writing out of aggravation, however. I simply want you to recognize that your arguments are without warrant. You are playing games with the text, and it isn’t productive. More significantly, it is damaging to your soul to take this critical, autonomous posture toward God’s Word.


Evan May
“I cited Corinthians 15 because you did. You interpreted Ephesians by comparing it with all things being ‘under His feet’.”

Please show me where I cited 1 Cor. 15 with reference to Ephesians 1. I’ll quote myself again: “Rather, verse 22 makes clear that the centrality of Christ in the plan of God results not in universal reconciliation, but the universal dominion of Christ over all things, both his people and his enemies.” Are you even looking at the text? I’m not talking about 1 Cor. 15 but Ephesians 1:22, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.”

“As for critical scholarship it hardly seemed to matter since it was the avenue you chose I was just addressing it on your own terms.”

Let me help your recollection. In your second comment in this thread, you were the one who stated that you were advocating Pauline universalism. And then you were first to bring up Ephesians 1 in support of your position. So do you accept Ephesians as authentically Pauline?

“You then qualify that the ‘all’ is christians only, I do not except that because he follows with Christ, then Christians, then death/everything.”

You are mishandling the text. 1 Corinthians 15:22-26 reads, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” You are correct that the order is Christ first, then Christians (“those who belong to him”). But death is not included in the “all” that is raised! Christ’s enemies, including unbelievers and death, are destroyed and placed under his feet. They are not said to be raised. Only “those who belong to him” are said to be raised. You are reading something that simply isn’t there.

“Apparently the fact that Jesus flat out denies the Trinity in the synoptics is too imprecise for you, whatever that means.”

What I meant was that your statement was too imprecise; I didn’t understand it. But now I know what you are claiming, and, of course, I reject it. As I said, I don’t have the time to go there, but I linked to the White book that discusses those texts.

“Im going to ignore the Lexigraphical issue because you only trust your source and won't accept any type of argument against it.”

I only resorted to an argument from authority because my questions and my requests for documentation were remaining unanswered. And I don’t really think you are in a position to dispute with a standard scholarly work that you haven’t even opened.

“Though you reference the church fathers of which as I stated before, a good number were universalist and kept using the word aionios but you dismiss as not relevant.”

My reference was to the Apostolic Fathers, those who lived within a generation of the Apostles (1 and 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Diadache, Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, etc.). They are the ones who are lexically relevant. Origen, by the way, is not an Apostolic Father. Someone writing a century and half after the Apostles does not have bearing on what the Apostles meant by the terms that they used.

And you have provided zero documentation for your often repeated claim that the fathers were universalists and “kept using the word aionios.” Please give me the citations so that I can look at them. Why should I respond to a vacant argument?

“You claim Talbott is out of his field but then again, where are your lexigraphical credentials? Could he not have studied it?”

I’m interacting with secondary source literature; you cited Talbott (a philosophy professor) as an authority on primary sources. If Talbott and I are in the same boat, then it is no more legitimate for you to cite him as an authority on lexicology than it is for someone to cite me.

In any case, Talbott, even in the small text you quoted for me, commits basic methodological errors. Why does he think that Plato and Aristotle, who wrote in Classical Greek 400 years before the N.T., are relevant for Koine usage? That’s like citing Shakespeare’s use of the word “gay” to explain modern usage. Do you realize how much language changes in 400 years?

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some resources on basic linguistic methodology:

The Semantics of Biblical Language by James Barr

Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics by Moises Silva

Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek by David Alan Black

“I checked the online greek lexigraphies that i could find. All had correction, punishment, penalty as the definitions (in that order).”

Please provide links to these sources so that I can evaluate them.


Evan May

Thanks for taking the time to reply and for participating in this discussion. While responding to your most recent statements would be tempting, I will let you have the last word. My main encouragement to you would be to become involved in a local church if you are not already. The discipline of theology is a wonderful pursuit, but it should not be an independent study. Become a member of a church that is committed to the Word and lives it.



  1. You've made a lot of good points, Evan. I'll add some of my own, including some that expand on what you've already said.

    Belief in a high degree of apostolic unity doesn't depend on a belief in inerrancy. Paul repeatedly writes of his unity with the other apostles (1 Corinthians 15:11, Ephesians 2:20), even when noting his disagreement with Peter on a lesser matter (Galatians 2:7-11). Such comments, which Paul and the other New Testament authors frequently make, are significant as historical evidence, even apart from any consideration of inerrancy. The early patristic sources who knew one or more of the apostles (Clement of Rome, Papias, and Polycarp) refer to a large degree of unity among the apostles. Similarly, other men who were contemporaries of the apostles write about the unity the apostles had and refer to them collectively as if they had taught the same doctrines. For example: Clement of Rome (First Clement 5, 42, 44); Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians, 11; Letter to the Magnesians, 13; Letter to the Romans. 4); Aristides (Apology, 2); The Epistle of Barnabas (5); Papias (in Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:4); Polycarp (Letter To The Philippians, 9). The sort of apostolic errancy and disunity your opponent has suggested is highly inconsistent with the testimony of the apostles and those who knew them.

    Belief in the inerrancy of scripture and a Hell of eternal, conscious punishment were widespread among the early patristic Christians. On inerrancy, the patristic scholar J.N.D. Kelly commented that:

    "This attitude was fairly widespread, and although some of the fathers elaborated it more than others, their general view was that Scripture was not only exempt from error but contained nothing that was superfluous." (Early Christian Doctrines [New York: Continuum, 2003], p. 61)

    The fathers don't often address the issue in the sort of depth we see in modern literature, but the general thrust was along the lines of what Kelly describes above. See, for example: Clement of Rome (First Clement, 45); Justin Martyr (Dialogue With Trypho, 65); Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 2:28:2-3); Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation To The Heathen, 9); Tertullian (A Treatise On The Soul, 21); Methodius (From The Discourse On The Resurrection, 1:9); Gregory Nazianzen (Oration 2:105); Augustine (Letter 82:1:3).

    (continued below)

  2. (continued from above)

    On early beliefs about Hell, see here. Note that my article on Hell just linked makes reference to the testimony of Celsus. He was a second-century critic of Christianity, and he spoke of belief in a Hell of eternal punishment as if it was the mainstream Christian view. Where's your opponent's comparable or better evidence for early belief in universalism? Regarding Origen, see the comments section of the thread here.

    On the relation between scripture and Jesus' comments about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16, see here.

    Regarding Ephesians, it should be noted that Ignatius patterns his letter to the Ephesians off of Paul's letter to that church, which suggests that the latter was well-known and highly regarded by both Ignatius and the Ephesian church by the early second century (Clayton N. Jefford, The Apostolic Fathers And The New Testament [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006], pp. 41-42). Polycarp cites Ephesians as scripture (Letter To The Philippians, 12). Given that the document claims Pauline authorship, and given early Christianity's opposition to pseudonymity, the evidence I've mentioned from Ignatius and Polycarp suggests that the document was widely accepted as genuinely Pauline while contemporaries and disciples of the apostles were still alive. Ignatius was a bishop of a Pauline church and was writing to the Ephesian church itself, which would have been in a good position to judge the authorship of Ephesians. Polycarp was a disciple of multiple apostles, and he was writing to a Pauline church (Philippi).

    Keep in mind that your opponent sometimes appealed to the testimony of the patristic Christians himself. The patristic evidence would be significant even if he hadn’t done so, but it becomes even more significant in this context when he himself opened the door to the kind of evidence I've cited above.

  3. Jason,

    Extremely helpful comments as usual!