2 Thessalonians 1:5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—
2 Th 1:6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
2 Th 1:7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels
2 Th 1:8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
2 Th 1:9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
2 Th 1:10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Amazingly, this passage, and specifically verse 9, is one of the most relied upon verses in the defense of the traditional view of eternal torment. And just as amazingly, of all of Paul’s writings, it is the only verse he wrote that is claimed by traditionalists to specifically support the theory of eternal conscious punishment. It actually does no such thing. The book version(still a rough draft) of my assessment of this passage is lengthy and detailed, but for this blog version I’m going to try to hit just the highlights: We’ll look briefly at the background of why Paul is writing this second letter to the Thessalonians. We’ll also see that there are a number of ways that the Greek word aionios, here translated as “eternal”, is used in Scripture, sometimes not at all referring to something that will extend into timelessness. There’s also another Greek word in this verse that is being translated poorly and I’ll get into the details of that a little. And then there’s something that’s so obvious, that it is somehow just overlooked by those who force this verse to be a prediction of an eternal process of destruction that never ends, and occurs “away from” the Lord. So I’ll begin there. It’s that this verse is not a picture of eternal destinies at all. It is describing an earthly event, the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth, which will begin His millennial reign. If you’ve read other things I’ve written, this will probably be repetitive, but timeless eternity begins after Jesus has reigned on earth for 1000 years. The unsaved lost, those who rejected salvation during their earthly life, are still in Hades(Hell) awaiting final judgment during those thousand years. Contrary to what many other non-traditionalists believe, I see biblical evidence that they may experience conscious torment during that 1000 years (as well as during the time between their physical death and the beginning of that thousand years). Whether they are conscious for that entire time period I believe is very much up for some debate, but either way, they are still in existence in some form, and this existence precedes final judgment. I hope you’ve been able to click on the “The Garden of Eden” tab above and read through that. There I explain how the “eternal conscious separation from God” theory has become the bedrock of the traditionalist view on eternal conscious torment, and how Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden has been erroneously used as the ground zero evidence for that doctrine. And this verse in 2 Thessalonians is another that is misused to teach that same idea. It’s the phrase “away from the presence of the Lord” which the verse states is “where” the lost will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction. But I’m going to come back to that thought, because I think it’s important to first understand the various uses of aionios (eternal) in the Bible. As I wrote above, the full version of this is extensive, and gives all the references for what I claim. But in this blog, I’m just going to state the facts, and the reader can look into Scripture for themselves, or wait for the book to be finished to verify it. And this may seem like splitting hairs, but there are places in Scripture where the Greek word being translated into English as “eternal” and “everlasting”, clearly means “permanent in effect”. It would make this longer than I want it to be to defend that here, but it’s a biblical fact. So let’s first just note that this “eternal destruction” spoken of in the verse at least could be a statement that those who are afflicting the Thessalonian Christians will simply be permanently “done for”. It seems this is verified in verse 8 of the following chapter where Paul is talking about the “lawless one…whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (italics for emphasis). There’s much more to say on this, but that lays the groundwork at least.
Let’s look at another Greek word in this verse that seems to be getting a poor translation into at least modern day bibles. First, it’s notable that verse 9 is an awkward way to structure a sentence that is supposed to be telling us where something will happen, where it says they will be “destroyed away from the presence of the Lord….” It’s strange to think of something being destroyed “away from” something. It reads poorly, and if the idea of separation were intended, there’s any number of ways this could have been worded more clearly. But there’s a reason that it doesn’t read well, and it’s because it’s the wrong translation of the Greek. The Greek word that is being translated as “away from”, as well as “shut out from” in other versions, is apo, and it can have a number of meanings. But if you’ll check your Strong’s Concordance, you’ll see that “because of” and “from” (as in ‘due to’) are also in the list of possible translations. Let’s plug that in. Here’s 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10:
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, because of the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
That makes a whole lot more sense, and it also lines up with what we noted above where Paul says in chapter 2 verse 8 that the lawless one would be “brought to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” There’s two more things to note about this poor translation of apo in this verse: First, this word appears 649 times in Scripture, and this is literally the only place where that one Greek word alone is translated as “away from”. And in a search of the King James bible, I found that the places where the phrase “away from” appeared, and where the Greek word apo was being translated as “from”, the word “away” was being translated from its own Greek word. In those cases it is a 2-word phrase in Greek being translated into a 2-word phrase in English. The one time in Scripture where the single Greek word apo is translated into the 2-word phrase of “away from” is here in 1 Thessalonians, so it is certainly unprecedented, and uncalled for, and is the result of interpreters and translators forcing their doctrine into the translation rather than translating it most clearly and in congruence with the overall context of the verse. I appreciated the footnote in the Crossway English Standard Version. They noted that it could also be translated as a destruction “that comes from the presence of the Lord”. In other words, it’s because of His presence that they are destroyed. He is a consuming fire after all. And this isn’t the only place in Scripture that we’re told He is returning in fire to destroy His enemies who are on the earth at the time of His coming. Last thing about apo and this whole phrase and its translation. The exact same series of Greek words that make up the phrase “from the presence of the Lord” (Strong’s coded numbers: 575, 4383, 3588, 2962) is only used in one other place in the entire Bible, and there the Greek word apo being translated as “from” clearly means “because of” or “as a result of”. It is in Acts 3:19: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”. If we plugged in “shut out from” or “away from” here, as it was over-interpreted in 2 Thessalonians, it would lose all meaning and make no sense. And this verse certainly does not imply a separation from His presence, but clearly we have a contrast between what the presence of the Lord does to the faithful and what effect it has on those who persecute the faithful. It is a refreshing comfort to believers, but it consumes the unbelievers. Even just a few verses later in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul writes that the lawless one will be destroyed “by the brightness of His (Christ’) Presence”. Well I could go on, and in the book, I do, but that’s enough for the purposes of this blog. The next verse in the list of the top ten traditionalists proof texts that we’ll analyze analyze is Revelation 14:10, and we’ll see that it is once again speaking of this earthly event of Christ’ second coming, and not giving us a picture of the eternal destiny of the lost. There is much evidence for what I claim. Please click on it and continue on with this study.