Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 2b) – Eternal Fire

Since I have written part 2a, there has been an attempt to dilute the argument concerning the article-noun-article-adjective construction (called the second attributive) in Matthew 25. But the attempt is, once again, a linguistic game that seems to be the trend amongst conditionalists. In essence, what is being stated is that there is no special emphasis placed upon this kind of construction in Greek, and that the other kinds of constructions, that are like this one, are used just as much, if not more, in the New Testament, and they too have the same attributive meaning. In other words, there are other grammatical constructions that are used in the New Testament with adjectives that can express the same kind of attribution, but doesn’t give the special emphasis that I claim it makes.

For instance, if you remember from my previous article, “the fire, the eternal one” would be the somewhat literal but awkward translation of this fire. Now, whether the Greek uses another type of adjectival construction (first or third attributive as they are called) to describe eternal fire or not, is something that can be debated. But it doesn’t do away with the fact that the Greek language makes the fire categorically different from all other fires. This is something I mentioned in 2a of this series. Since the Scripture references this fire as a separate location also makes a significant difference. But, what is being rebutted is the fact that the construction I pointed out is no more significant than any other construction. And then, an appeal to multiple resources that point out that there isn’t any difference is how the diffusion is attempted (don’t be fooled). To this I will say a few things before we move forward.

1. There are at least three resources that show the construction I pointed out in 2a are significant. Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, A.T. Robertson’s, GRAMMAR OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT (which Wallace draws from), and Deeper Greek. These resources come from scholars who have practically spent their whole lives studying the Greek Language. However, the other respected scholars affirm that there are no differences in meaning. But it is no surprise to me that linguists would emphasis or not emphasis certain nuances within a language. Language is often complex, fluid, and nuanced. So even if there is a disagreement (which we can’t be sure if the authors are even aware that there is even a contention) concerning the kind of emphasis the word “eternal” places on the fire in Matt 25, there is one thing that is for sure – the adjective describes the fire in and of itself as eternal. An inescapable truth that is still being twisted.

2. Making a case that there are no differences in meaning between the types of constructions ignores the most fundamental thing that adjectives do to nouns. In language, adjectives describe, limit, modify or expound upon the noun and can attribute special characteristics depending on the context. It is clear, even in the English, that the noun (fire) is modified by the adjective (eternal), making the fire in and of itself eternal. This is especially significant since, as I said in 2a, that the fire is indicative of God’s wrath. So if you have a fiery wrath that burns forever, but no one is there to burn against it since they are consumed, you have a huge (perhaps heretical) problem. And yes, the fire exists because the wicked exist. One attempt was made to say that because no one is in the fire even while it is burning means that the fire does not need people to burn against. Once again, this is an attempt to deflect the obvious.

3. There is one other thing about these Greek constructions with adjectives that most people who do not study linguistics may not  know about that other languages demonstrate. It is called apposition. What apposition is is a phrase, word, or description that further expounds upon  another word, phrase, or description. A simple way of explaining this would be like saying, “Ricky, the tall dude over there, likes to eat…” The emphasized portion is the apposition. In our case of eternal fire, the way the Greek is constructed, even if one disagrees with the significance of grammar, the fact that the fire is appositionally described as “eternal” further makes the case that this fire is indeed categorically different than other fires. Therefore, if even some linguists of Greek see no difference in meaning between constructions, at base level, they are appositional. In laymans terms, eternal fire means that it will burn forever.

The next thing to point out is the attempt to say that the fire is eternal in the sense that it is from God. Since God is a consuming fire, then the eternal fire is just another way to point out that it is God doing the punishment of annihilation or consumption of the wicked. There may be nuances as to how this is argued, but the general attempt is to sweep away the obvious. The fire in which Satan, his angels, and the wicked are thrown into is going to be a fire that burns forever. And in Matt 25:46, the fire is semantically linked to eternal punishment (as well as unquenchable fire). This punishment is going to be eternal because, quite simply, the fire is eternal. If an attempt is made to say that the fire is only simply God, of God, or from God (something I wouldn’t holistically disagree with), that is ignoring the fact that the language portrays that this fire is still categorically different. It is created and located somewhere for a specific purpose. And, if it is God who is partaking of this burning, yet the wicked are eventually consumed, then who is He burning against if they are supposed to be eventually annihilated?

There is more to this, and this series will go on for quite some time I assume. But the main gist to grasp from this is that the language is clear in that it makes a distinction  that eternal fire is just that, eternal. I only made this article less technical in the attempts to reach mass amounts of readers. There are more linguistic evidences and arguments that could be made. The only word of advice to the reader I have at this time is this. If you think that the wicked are not going to face eternal conscious torment, whether you realize it or not, it will affect your view of the atonement. This is something I plan to address in detail in the future, but for now, please know that some in the conditionalist camps have defended abhorrent theology like Evangelical Universalism, and there are others that seemingly reject the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ (like Edward Fudge, who is one of the main foundation stones). As you read further articles, I pray more connections would be made plain.

-Until we go home

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