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Conscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics online

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fate of those excluded to be so understood. They are shut

^ It would be out of place to take such views into consideration,
inzLsmuch as the moral impression created by the religious and
ethical teaching of Jesus, and the character which they reveal, is the
chief ground of the Church's teaching about His Person.

2 We know that Jesus taught there was to be no marrying or
giving in marriage, and that the righteous would be " as angels in
heaven." The angels were never, I imagine, supposed to eat and

296 Conscience and Christ

out in the " outer darkness " — outside the brilliantly
lighted banqueting hall — where there is " weeping and
gnashing of teeth " (Matt. xxv. 30). Moreover, the
metaphor here used is of a kind which vividly suggests the
pains of remorse, though I am far from suggesting that
these are the only pains which Jesus thought of, or
which a truly ethical conception of punishment can approve.
As to that other metaphor, " where their worm dieth not,
and the fire is not quenched " (Mark ix. 48), it is probable
that the primary thought is simply that of corruption —
the corruption of the tomb — rather than of punishment,
and of a fire which consumes what is corrupt. The words
are vague, and they are derived from Isaiah Ixvi. 24, where
it is distinctly " the carcases of the men that have trans-
gressed against me " which are to be consumed. Here the
meaning of " unquenchable " is clearly " that which will
not be quenched till it has consumed what is put into it."
(3) The only passages in the Synoptic Gospels which
quite explicitly teach that the punishment will be
" aeonian " are as follows : —

(a) It is good for thee to enter into hfe maimed or halt,
rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into
the aeonian fire (Matt, xviii. 8).

(b) Depart from me, ye cursed, into the aeonian fire
which is prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt.
xxv. 41).

(c) And these shall go away into aeonian punishment,
but the righteous into aeonian life (Matt, xxv. 46).

To these three passages may be added a fourth, which,
prima facie, may be held to imply the doctrine of everlasting
punishment : —

(d) " Whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit,

Reward and Punishment 297

it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world [aeon]
nor in that which is to come " (Matt. xii. 32).

I will not here discuss at length the doubts which may be
raised as to the meaning of this term " aeonian" [atwvtos]
or the probable Aramaic original which it may represent.
It is enough to say that it need not necessarily mean
the same as atStos, which is the ordinary Greek word for
" everlasting " ; and that over and over again in the LXX
and elsewhere it is used of things which clearly are not
endless. It may mean " agelong," " very long," or
" belonging to the future aeon," and so be virtually
equivalent to "future." It is pretty certain that for the
Jew of our Lord's time it had acquired the more definite
meaning " belonging to the Messianic age " ; if so, the
fire will be the fire connected with the Messianic Judge-
ment, the punishment will be the Messianic punishment.
Nothing will be determined as to its duration. It has,
moreover, often been remarked that the word used for
punishment (KoAaons) is one which distinctly suggests
corrective, disciphnary, reformatory punishment. There
were other Greek words for retributive punishment which
the Evangelist might have employed if he had wished to
do so. But such explanations will probably seem to some
minds not very satisfying. After all, the term " aeonian "
is applied also to the life of the blest, and there is no doubt
that this was thought of as everlasting, though it may still
be that the word does not mean " everlasting." Assuming
that it does imply or include the idea of endless duration,
it is fair to point out that these passages are all derived
from the first Gospel ; and, if there is a conclusion to
which the general results of recent Gospel criticism point
(no one insists upon it more strongly than Mr. Montefiore),
it is that sayings in the first Gospel, unsupported by the

298 Conscience and Christ

other Synoptists, are very frequently coloured by the
doctrinal beliefs or ecclesiastical arrangements of the
Judaeo-Christian Church at the end of the first century
A.D. These passages may well be " ecclesiastical additions "
— hke the authority to bind and loose, the committal of the
keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter, the command to bring
quarrels to be settled by the Church, etc. ; or at least they
are in all probability very much modified by the un-
conscious influence of ecclesiastical tradition. And it is
observable that the whole of the passage in which the
second and third allusions to aeonian punishment occur
(" I was a stranger and ye took me in," etc.) is one which
on grounds quite unconnected with this question is
by many critics suspected of being influenced by later

(4) I should say that this might be accepted as by far the
most probable solution but for the fact that the last of the
four Matthean passages has a parallel in St. Mark (iii. 29) : —
" Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath
never forgiveness, but is guilty of an aeonian sin,"^ and
is found in another form in St. Luke. Now in this
passage I would observe {a) that the idea of " everlasting "
or " eternal " sin (if it is to be so translated) is not neces-
sarily the same as that of " eternal punishment " ; (b) it is
not said that the sinner against the Holy Spirit has actually
committed an " eternal sin," but only that he is " hable to
it," " in danger of it." This does no doubt imply that a
state of eternal sin is possible, but not necessarily that
the sinner's doom is finally fixed at the moment of
death, (c) The simplest and possibly the original form
of this part of the saying is that found in Luke (xii. 10),
which has nothing about an " eternal sin," but simply

^ So the revised text for the textus receptus translated " in
danger of eternal damnation " (more strictly " judgement ").

Reward and Punishment 1^99

" it shall not be forgiven." Luke is here probably
following O (cf. Streeter in Oxf. Studies in the Syn.
Probl., p. 171). " Ecclesiastical additions " are certainly not
peculiar to the first Gospel, though they are more frequent
in that Gospel than elsewhere, and it is quite possible that
Mark's " but is guilty of an eternal sin," and Matthew's
" neither in this age nor in that which is to come," may be
varying attempts to explain and emphasize the simple " it
shall not be forgiven." {d) If Mark's " aeonian sin" be
regarded as original, the meaning may be " a sin which will
be condemned at the Judgement, which will exclude from
the Messianic Kingdom." We may then suppose that both
Matthew and Luke have attempted to explain in different
ways a word not easily intelligible to Gentile readers.
(e) If Luke's version be accepted as the original, it may still
be contended that even the Lukan saying implies the
severer doctrine. If there is a sin which cannot be forgiven,
and if there is to be a punishment for unforgiven sin, does
not this, it may be asked, imply an everlasting punishment?
I should answer " Certainly not." It would be quite
compatible with the behef in the extinction of unrepentant
sinners at the Judgement or after an interval (and this was
one of the recognized forms of Jewish opinion on the
subject), or with a terminable punishment. One who has
suffered the full punishment due to his sin has not, in the
obvious sense of the word, been forgiven. There is the
utmost uncertainty about the exact form and original
import of this mysterious saying about ''sinning against the
Holy Ghost," and these doubts must cast a certain amount
of suspicion upon the whole saying. Without asserting
that the expression " Holy Ghost " was unknown to the
religious vocabulary of Jesus, it is eminently characteristic
of the EvangeHsts. It is, to say the least of it, quite possible
that the whole passage, in spite of its high external attesta-

300 Conscience and Christ

tion, may have grown out of some misunderstood saying of
a much less definite character. But, if it is genuine, it says
no more than this : " Other sins may be forgiven at the
Judgement, this one will not be so forgiven." As to the
consequence of condemnation, nothing is determined.

(5) There is one other passage in Mark which may be held
prima facie to imply the doctrine of everlasting punishment.
" It is good for thee to enter into Hfe maimed rather than
having two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquench-
able fire," and the following verses ending " where their
worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched " (Mark ix.

Now this passage is the equivalent in St. Mark of the
passage cited above from the first Gospel (xviii. 8). If it
is treated as the original form of the saying, then we get rid
altogether of one of the Matthean passages in which the
word aeonian is used, and the suspicion is strengthened that
the word " aeonian " belongs to the ecclesiastical vocabu-
lary of the two first Evangelists. In that case all the
Matthean passages will be shown not to be exact reports of
the Lord's saying. But it may be asked whether Mark's
" unquenchable fire " does not imply the idea of an ever-
lasting punishment no less explicitly and even in a more
terrible form. I do not think so. To say that the fire is
unquenchable does not necessarily imply that eveiy one
who is plunged into it will remain in it for ever. If I say
that at a certain time somebody was suffering from " an
unquenchable thirst," I do not say that he continued to
suffer from it even for the rest of his life, still less for ever ;
I only mean that he would like to have quenched his thirst,
perhaps tried to quench it, but could not. The fire is one
which those who find themselves in it have no power to
quench. The same remark applies to the expression in a
later verse, " where their worm dieth not, and the fire is

Reward and Punishment 301

not quenched" (Mark ix. 48), which is not found in
Matthew. I do not, therefore, regard these passages as
teaching or necessarily implying the doctrine of an ever-
lasting punishment which no repentance can avail to end.

Moreover, in spite of the prejudice which is always
excited by critical conjectures which may be branded as
" convenient," I cannot help feeling a strong suspicion
that " into the unquenchable fire " is a gloss of the Evan-
gelist, and that the original saying had only " Gehenna "
or " the Gehenna of fire " (as in Matt, xviii. 9 and v. 29, 30),
for which the first EvangeHst has substituted " the aeonian
fire," while St. Mark has expanded it by an explanation —
an explanation by no means superfluous for Gentile
readers.^ This is the version of the original saying which
most easily explains both variants. I have already pointed
out that all the expressions used by our Lord — Gehenna,
unquenchable fire, " weeping and gnashing of teeth," etc.,
were traditional Jewish terms, which need not be sup-
posed to imply ** everlasting punishment " if they did
not invariably do so in the current rabbinic teaching of
the time.

(6) And this last remark brings us to the whole question
of contemporary Jewish opinion on the subject. I admit
that, if it could be shown that the behef in everlasting
punishment was the estabUshed Jewish behef of the time
(outside the conservative Sadducean circles), the prima facie
conclusion would be — for those who are unwilHng to admit
that the religious insight of Jesus rose far above the general
level of His time — that Jesus shared that behef. But this
is not the conclusion to which the best authorities on the

^ Dalman pronounces that the Aramaic equivalent of Gehenna
" is the one term whose use by Jesus is assured, since all three
Synoptists record it among the words of Jesus" (The Words of
Jesus, I, 161).

302 Conscience and Christ

subject have actually come. There were many views
current as to the future destiny of the wicked. And among
them was certainly the view that the wicked were ulti-
mately extinguished. ^ Our Lord cannot be definitely shown
to have adopted the severest view. We are surely not called
upon to believe that He adopted that one of the current
opinions which was most difficult to reconcile with His own
teaching about the Fatherhood of God, though it may well
be that, in the depth of His stern indignation against sin,
He may have used severe but vague prophetic language
without expressly attempting to reconcile it with His
other great conviction about the love of God.

(7) There are a few passages which, without explicitly
teaching the doctrine of an everlasting Hell, have sometimes
been regarded as pointing in that direction, e.g. the saying
" broad is the way that leadeth to destruction " (Matt,
vii. 13). This saying is Matthean only, but it has a fairly
close Lukan parallel in " Many . . . shall seek to enter in,
and shall not be able " (Luke xiii. 24). These words in Luke
are followed by the passage beginning " When once the
master of the house " and ending " Depart from me, all ye
workers of iniquity. There shall be the weeping and
gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac
and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the Kingdom of God,
and yourselves cast forth without. And they shall come
from the east and west," etc. (xiii. 25-28). Now here it
may be observed that these last words are freely rejected
by many critics (including Mr. Montefiore) for their
Universalism,2 and on that hypothesis the whole passage

* In the Ethiopic Enoch the Messiah will " destroy them from
the face of the earth " (Sim. xlv. 6, cf. Ixii. 2). I will not attempt to
collect the views of other Apocalyptists, but will refer generally to
Canon Charles's Eschatology. Cf. Thackeray, The Relation of St.
Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, p. 116.

" But see above, p. no.

Reward and Punishment 303

might be considered doubtful. But I am not myself dis-
posed to adopt this view, and apart from this I see no
reason for doubting the genuineness of the passage except
that xiii. 28 follows rather abruptly upon xiii. 27, and
suggests a separate saying brought into this context.
But to say that some of the consequences of persistent sin
against the hght are irreversible, is a very different thing
from saying that its punishment shall be endless. All the
sayings would be compatible with extinction ; indeed,
Matthew's " destruction " might naturally be understood
as pointing to that view. But they need not imply any-
thing so definite as that. There is, indeed, nothing about
punishment at all, but only about an irreversible loss. To
suppose that opportunities lost in this life may never recur
is certainly not an immoral opinion, or one which implies
a low conception of the divine character. ^ And if any-
one feels bound to hold that in some sense that belief in
everlasting punishment which eventually became the tra-
ditional tenet of the Church must be true, he can
rationahze it by understanding it in this sense, and saying
that the punishment is simply a " poena damni," which
need not exclude the hope of much progress in goodness or
of much happiness.

The parable of Dives and Lazarus, as reported by St.
Luke (xvi. 24), is the only passage in his Gospel in which
Hell (Hades) is actually spoken of as a place of torment,
but here there is nothing to indicate whether the torment
was to have an end or not. It was for the time being im-
possible for Lazarus to revisit the earth during the lifetime
of his brethren, not necessarily for ever. That is all that
the words need mean. It may even be suggested that

^ Other passages sometimes appealed to are Matt. vii. 21-23,
X. 33 ; Luke ix. 26. But they do not necessarily or even naturally
imply an>i:hing more than condemnation at the Judgement.

304 Conscience and Christ

our Lord's reply implies that it was still open to them to
hear Moses and the prophets.

(8) On the other hand there are a few passages which
certainly suggest that the punishment of the wicked is not
endless. The most definite is, " But rather fear Him which
is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna " (Matt.
X. 28). Luke has simply " hath power to cast into Gehenna"
(xii. 5). If the Matthean version be accepted, we shall have
a distinct reason for supposing that our Lord did not think
of punishment in Gehenna as involving everlasting torment.
And, indeed, the inconsistency of this passage, taken in its
literal and natural sense, with the doctrine of everlasting
punishment will be additional evidence either for doubting
the genuineness of the " aeonian " passages in Matthew or
for supposing that our Lord did not regard " aeonian
punishment " as implying everlasting continuance in
suffering. But perhaps, after all, the probabilities are
rather in favour of Luke's simpler version — " to cast into

Then there is the saying, " What doth it profit a
man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life ? "
(Mark viii. 36). If we must not modernize so far as
to give the passage a meaning which has no reference
at all to the question of future reward and punish-
ment, the obvious implication certainly is that the wicked
ultimately cease to live. Another passage which may
be appealed to in this connexion is " many that are
first shall be last " (Matt. xix. 30). To be last in entering
the Kingdom (if this be the meaning of being " last ") is
not the same thing as being shut out from it altogether.
(But perhaps, as Dr. Moffat suggests, this was originally
a quite uneschatological saying. Cf. Mark ix. 35.)
" Thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast
paid the uttermost farthing " (Matt. v. 26 ; Luke xii. 59)

Reward and Punishment 305

may be cited as suggesting that there is a possibihty of
coming out (cf. Matt. xii. 32). Still more noticeable is
"resurrection of the just" in Luke xiv. 14. Cf. xx. 35.

If these passages are not sufhciently trustworthy or
exphcit to enable us definitely to attribute to our Lord the
doctrine that the punishment of the wicked is not endless,
we have at least some reason for suspecting or otherwise
interpreting every passage which is used to defend the
opposite doctrine. On the whole, the truth of the matter
seems to be that the thoughts of Jesus about the future
of human souls did not generally travel far beyond the
moment of the Kingdom's coming. Unrepented sin would
involve condemnation at the Judgement and exclusion
from the Kingdom, which was thought of as in itself the
direst of penalties, and doubtless as involving further
penalties. What those penalties were, and whether after
a period of suffering there would be further opportunities
of repentance — these are questions which Jesus does not
answer, perhaps did not put to Himself, still more probably
did not feel to be revealed to Him — any more than the day
and the hour of the Judgement were revealed to Him.

On the whole then we may say that from the most
severely critical and objective point of view the answer to
our question as to whether Jesus taught the doctrine of
everlasting punishment must be non liquet / the evidence
that He did is quite inadequate to prove that He did, if
the suggestion cannot be decisively refuted. Those to
whom, from their belief in the supreme depth of His moral
and spiritual insight, there seems to be a great improba-
bility in His having held a doctrine which strikes them as
religiously shocking and inconsistent with the general
tenor of His own teaching about God, will feel themselves
justified in going a step further and saying. " It is probable
that He did not teach it." The most that seems at all


3o6 Conscience and Christ

likely is that He may have acquiesced in conventional
representations of the punishment of sin which, without
actually speaking of everlasting torments, did not expHcitly
contemplate a place for repentance after the Judgement or
a termination of penal suffering.

The probability of this conclusion may be strengthened
by the consideration that such a doctrine is conspicuously
absent from St. Paul (this is evidence also against the
general acceptance of it by contemporary Rabbinism),
and by the fact that it was long before it became the
settled behef of the Church.



. iv. 2

• 159


X. 6


. no

iv. 17 .

. 130

X. 9, 10

. 151

V. 3

V. 17-18

V. 17-20

. 124
. 96
. 96

X. 23 .

X. 28 .
X. 33 .

45. 46
. 304
• 303


V. 20 .
V. 24

• 57
. 121

X. 37 •
X. 38 .

. 151
. 122

V. 26 .
V. 28 .

. 304
. 127

xi. 7-30
xi. 12 .

• 52

V. 29-30


xi. 17-19

. 158

V. 32 .

• ^°4

xi. 21-5

. 182

V. 39-40


xii. 1-8

. 100


V. 42 .

V. 43-8

. 141
. 120

xii. 9-14
xii. 12 .

. 100
. 95

V. 45 .
vi. 1-6 .
vi. 16-18

. 113

• 133

133. 160

xii. 32 .
xii. 48 .
xiii. 24 .

296-7. 304
. 178
. 53

vi. 19-34
vi. 29 .
vi. 34 .
vii. 1-3
vii. 6 .

. 124
. 188
. 126
. 177

xiii. 31 .
xiii. 33 .
xiii. 41 .
xiii. 52 .
XV. 5 .

. 52
• 53
. 49
. 55


vii. 13 .

• 302

XV. 11-20

. lOI


vii. 21 .
\ai. 21-3

• 57

• 303


XV. 24 .
XV. 26 .

. no

viii. 4 .

• 97

xvi. 24-6


viii. II .


xvi. 28 .

. 45

viii. 22 .

. 179

xviii. 1-4

. 124

viii. 36 .
ix. 14 .
ix. 15-16

. 304
. 158
. 160

xviii. 3 .
xviii. 6, 7
xviii. 8 .

. 53
• 133
. 296

X. 1-15

. 124

xviii. 9 .

. 301


3o8 Index of Passages in the Gospels




xviii. lo

. 133 1


ii. 18-22


xviii. 13

. 132 '

ii. 23-8 .

. 100

xviii. 17

. 149 \

ii. 27 .


xviii. 21-35 .

. 121 1

ii. 28 .


xix. 3-10


iii. 1-6 .

. 100

xix. 12 .

162, 163 '

iii. 29 .

. 298

xix. 13-4


iii- iZ '

. . 178

xix. 19 .

108 seq.

iv. 26

• 53

xix. 21 .

. 124 ;

iv. 31 .


xix. 24 .

. 124 !

vi. 5 .

. 95

xix. 28 .

. 51 1

vi. 8, 9 .

150. 151

xix. 30 .

• 304

vii. 4

87. 88

XX. 1-15

132, 170-2 j

vii. 18-2

2 . .101

XX. 16 .

. 172 1

vii. 27

. 175.176

XX. 23 .


viu. 34 .

122, 123

xxi. 12 .


viii. 36

. 304

xxi. 19 .

• 173

ix. I

. 45

xxi. 28, 29

112. 131

ix. 29

. 159

xxi. 31 .

• 52

ix. 35

. 304

xxii. II

. 57

ix. 42

. 133

xxii. 14

. 172

ix. 43-8

296, 300, 301

xxii. 39

108 5^^., 286

X. II, 12

104, 105

xxiii. 2-3

. 98

X. 14

. 125

xxiii. 17

. 148

X. 15

• 53

xxiii. 23

. 98

X. 18

126, 184

xxiii. 39

• 45

X. 21

. 190

xxiv. 32

. 173

X. 25

. 124

xxiv. 36

. 46

X. 40

. 51

XXV. 14-30

. 173

xi. 12-2

D . . 173

XXV. 19

. 48

xi. 15


XXV. 30

. 296

xi. 25

. 121

XXV. 31

. 48

xii. 31

108 seq., 286

XXV. 40

. 288

xii. 34


XXV. 41

. 296

xiii. 10


XXV. 46

. 296

xiii. 28

. 173

xxvi. 29


xiii. 32

. 46

XX vi. 63-4


xiv. 9

. no

xxviii. 19

. no

xiv. 25

. 45

xiv. 62

. 47

Mark i. 13

. 159

i. 15

. 130

Luke ii. 52

. 176

i. 44

• 97


iv. 1-2

. 159

Index of Passages in the Gospels 309



^uke V. 14

. 97

Luke xiv. 7-1 1

. 187

— V. 33-9 .

158, 160

— xiv. 14 .

. 305

— vi. 1-5 .

. 100

— xiv. 25-6

. 151

— vi. 6-1 1


— xiv. 26 .

. 152

— vi. 20

. 124

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