The Evangelical Universalist Forum

David Bentley Hart's Translation



Only if hell is an intrinsic characteristic of God, which no one anywhere (or no Christian I should say) believes. At most a Christian proponent of some type of eternal conscious torment would say that hell is an attribute of God’s justice, and that God’s justice is an intrinsic characteristic of God.

Specifically as a trinitarian theologian, I agree that justice is an intrinsic characteristic of God; but upon examination it will soon become apparent that they mean hell to be a modal operation of God’s justice, and an accidental modal operation at that – I mean “accidental” in the philosophical sense of being something that doesn’t necessarily have to exist. What they’re really talking about is God’s wrath, but God’s wrath isn’t an intrinsic characteristic of God. It’s something God can start doing toward an object, and something God can stop doing toward an object, being an ‘accidental’ modal expression of some other characteristic of God. What characteristic? God’s justice? Okay, but at the level of God’s own self-existence, God’s justice is the ongoing accomplishment of fair-togetherness between persons, the essential ever-ongoing result of God’s essentially being love. (I mean if trinitarian theism is true, or even only binitarianism. Various unitarians will have to try a somewhat different theology, of course, to account for this.)

Well, that sure isn’t what ECT proponents want to mean by God’s justice! – not when it comes to affirming some kind of ECT! (Or some kind of annihilation either!) That would mean God’s wrath against sin has that ultimate justice as God’s intended goal for the wrath: the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons! But that essential goal of God permanently and ultimately fails if ECT or anni is true! Worse, if God intends for God’s own essential justice to fail, that amounts to God acting against God’s own self-existent reality! When we do that, we’re sinning against God, and acting against the ground of our own derivative existence; but we can still continue existing by the grace of our ongoing ground of existence (but then only if the goal of our ground of existence is to bring us to stop doing injustice and to do only justice forever more. Which is not ECT nor anni, again!) Whereas, if God acted that way, against His own active self-existence, all of reality, including all our past, present, and future, would cease to exist!

Now, how far would Plato agree with that? Probably not so far: he was only nominally a theist. His idea of the ultimate ground being Reason, involved Reason never acting to do anything at all really, and any language we might be metaphorically forced to use (in lieu of saying nothing at all about God), about God’s intentions and actions, would be only and purely metaphorical. (This is why even some Christian theologians, who ought to know better, including today, will complain about arguments on universal salvation relying on “theistic personalism” instead of “classical theism”, and appeal instead back to the “classical theists”. But the classical theists didn’t believe in a personal God at all: not a God Who had real preferences, not a God Who actually ever did anything, definitely not an ultimate God Who would incarnate as a human baby and grow to live and die as a man, must less an ultimate God Who was actually three Persons of one substantial deity.)

The non-universalist might punt to some other characteristic of God like “God’s holiness”, but unless they’re pitting one essential characteristic of God against another or schisming them off independently of each other, then God’s holiness (being other than not-God) must consist (if trinitarian theism is true) of God’s justice and love being God’s own essential self-existence as the ground of all reality including of all not-God reality. And then they’re back to what they were trying to get away from.

The upshot is that ECT and anni theories end up contravening trinitarian Christian theism, if followed out to their logical conclusions. Insisting on ECT or anni, they end up dropping back (if only temporarily for convenience of ECT or anni!) to some non-trinitarian theology. And even there, they wouldn’t necessarily be safe from a conclusion of universal salvation! – but at the level of trinitarian theism, they can never coherently propose a non-universalism.

If they did appeal to Plato (which I’ve seen before, although more often they complain that universalists are really only Platonists or neo-Platonists, which I find wryly amusing), to defend ECT (if not anni) by appeal to the never-ending eternity of hell based on the perfection of Plato’s mere God, then that would only be another exhibition of the tacit underlying rejection of trinitarian theology upon which ECT and anni concepts rest.

My personal experience for nearly two decades now has been one hundred percent verified by this exhibition (once the various logics are followed out – upon which I find it common for ECT and anni proponents to give up on logic and denounce it as merely human and not divine or even as being satanic, which is damned foolishness in itself); and in principle I expect that unbroken record to continue unbrokenly. :wink:

But: I’m primarily a trinitarian theologian, and any belief I have in soteriology (a doctrine or logic of salvation) is totally subsequent and consequent to that. If I’m ever convinced that some type of ECT or annihilation fits orthodox trinitarianism better, then that’s what I’ll go with; or alternately if someone ever convinced me that some lesser theology is true (I know other people here don’t like me calling unitarian or modalist theologies “lesser”, but that’s how I evaluate the situation), then along with having to put up with that I’d be more open, consequentially, to universal salvation being false and some kind of ECT or annihilation being true instead.

I’m not going to say that that’s impossible to happen – my beliefs aren’t God Most High, the ground of all reality – but that isn’t where I am now. I’m a trinitarian theist now, and I don’t foresee that changing or even how that would change.


As a thread-bump note, I split the discussion off to this thread, since we’re waaaay off topic on discussing DBH’s NT translation now. No fault to Danielle. :slight_smile: Just trying to make the topical distinctions cleaner.


Relatedly, I split off my replies (and any other potential replies) to Danielle98’s question about Platonic eternity perhaps being used in favor of some type of ECT (if not annihilation) in the New Testament, over to this new thread.

Further discussion on that topic is welcome over there. :sunglasses: :nerd:


I removed the words ‘trinitarian’ and ‘unitarian’ from the original, and guess what? - it does not change the above content, which is excellent btw - at all. I could make a sweeping generalization based on that but I won’t, though I could give a hundred examples of statements from here and there that begin with ‘As a Trinitarian, I believe’ (or some such language), followed by good content that is not trinity-theory dependent at all.
Yeah, you know that the epithet ‘lesser’ will rankle anyone that disagrees with you? :unamused: We can’t just disagree? There has to be a value judgment? Why?


Thank you so much Jason for your in depth response and for making my comment into a new thread as I’m very new here Haha!

What I meant by Plato’s definition of “something that extends in perfection from God” is that something he creates or does what is perfect, which would include hell because God’s judgement would be perfect because it is something he does. I’ve heard that this was Plato’s definition of aionios. He said if the adjective describes something God does or creates that is “perfect” then it no longer means age.


According to Greek scholar William Barclay, this is the/a definition of aionios in Plato’s writings:

"But it was Plato who took this word aionios – he may even have coined it – and gave it its special mysterious meaning. To put it briefly, for Plato aionios is the word of eternity in contrast with time. Plato uses it, as it has been said, ‘to denote that which has neither beginning nor end, and that is subject to neither change nor decay, that which is above time, but of which time is a moving image’.

“Plato does not mean by this word simply indefinite continuance – this is a point to which we must later return – but that which is above and beyond time.” … al&f=false

That definition of Plato seems opposed to the New Testament usage, which speaks of “before aionios times” (2 Tim.1:9; Titus 1:2) proving the “aionios times” had a beginning & aionios is a part of time. So i’d opine that Plato’s definition above is never used in passages that regard so-called “hell” (e.g. Mt.25:46). Matthew 25:46 speaks of people receiving aionios punishment at the time of Christ’s return. It seems unlikely that Matthew 25:46 is referring to a punishment (or corrective chastening) that is, according to the aforementioned Platonic definition, without “beginning or end” in its duration.

Getting back to Plato’s definition of aionios, if he used it as defined above in at least one context, perhaps he did not use it with that meaning in every context where the word appears in his writings, if the following info is accurate:

“Plato uses aión eight times, aiónios five, diaiónios once, and makraión twice…Referring to certain souls in Hades, he describes them as in aiónion intoxication. But that he does not use the word in the sense of endless is evident from the Phædon, where he says, “It is a very ancient opinion that souls quitting this world, repair to the infernal regions, and return after that, to live in this world.” After the aiónion intoxication is over, they return to earth, which demonstrates that the world was not used by him as meaning endless. Again,(31) he speaks of that which is indestructible, (anolethron) and not aiónion. He places the two words in contrast, whereas, had he intended to use aiónion as meaning endless, he would have said indestructible and aiónion.”

“In the Republic (362D), Plato uses the adjective in connection with drunkenness…where it bears the sense of “continuous”, consistent with the traditional sense of αἰών as a long period of time…As for αἰών and αἰώνιος Urmson observes that in themselves they indicate a lifetime or a long or indeterminate stretch of time, and that only in Plato and in Neoplatonism do they refer to metaphysical eternity, beyond time” (Terms For Eternity: Aionios and Aidios in Classical and Christian Texts, by Illaria Ramelli & David Konstan, 2013, p.12,14).

“…the LXX use of aionios differs greatly from the way it was used, e.g. in the texts of Plato and Epicurius: the meaning of aionios in the LXX can only be established from the meaning of Hebrew olam and LXX aion…The meaning of the words aion and aionios in the Greek Bible (Septuagint and New Testament) is primarily that of the Hebrew word olam” (Life Time Entirety. A Study of AION in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo, by Helena Maria Keizer, 2010, p.171, back cover): … SmshbeyUsC


I like davo’s explanation of aionios punishment. [tag]davo[/tag] do you want to share here?



I wrote a blog series about Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats that talks (more toward the end) about aionios punishment. If you’re interested, it might give you a few things to think about anyway. It starts here: The Sheep and the Kids and the specific post about aionios punishment starts here: Eternal Punishment = Eternal Life?. In all, there are three posts (because I prefer to keep them short). Navigation buttons are at the bottom of each post. If you use the arrows on the side, keep in mind that they’re backward. I don’t know where they came from (I’m guessing they’re part of the theme I chose) and I don’t know how to get rid of them–but unless you’re used to reading from right to left, they’re confusing! :confused:

Blessings, Cindy


True, if you remove the mere words “trinitarian” and “unitarian” and leave the trinitarian theology in place (I bolded where you quoted the trinitarian theology), then it does not change the content in the slightest.

I’m glad you accept the trinitarian theology as excellent when it provides moral grounding! I wish you would accept the trinitarian theology as excellent when we aren’t talking about moral grounding. :sunglasses:

You are of course welcome to delete the trinitarian theology, too, not only the term (in fact I went no farther than binitarian theology, but the same ground would apply in trinitarian theology); and substitute in one or another unitarian theology instead to provide a different moral grounding than a single ground of all reality which actively self-exists by being itself an interpersonal unity. An interpersonal God isn’t only a monopersonal God, and I was talking about the implications for morality from an interpersonal God being true.

But if the lesser unitarian theology is true, then something less is going to be true on the moral grounding, too. Which would change the above content, categorically.

When you affirm my theological moral grounding while denying those same claims being true when we aren’t talking moral grounds, then yep, I’m going to have a value judgment about that. :unamused: :laughing:

But when I talk about unitarianism being a “lesser” theology, as I have always explained, I’m simply comparing ontological claims. Your theology has fewer details. Mine has more details. But if my theology is false for being too much, why complain about your theology being lesser by comparison with the false too much?

Yet then, it turns out my theology is not too much once the moral grounding implications are spelled out: my theology has a clearly superior moral grounding. That’s why you didn’t delete those details – and maybe didn’t notice what I was talking about. Surely a multi-personal God as ground of morality doesn’t have to be multi-personal!.. but, uh, keep that multi-personal detail, and call it a unitarian theology. Ha, who needs trinitarian theology now? Why the value judgments calling unitarian theology “lesser” when we sometimes want unitarian theology to be just the same as trinitarian in its details? :open_mouth: :confused:

Sure, you could make some sweeping generalization based on that. Or you could just, y’know, stop borrowing my theological claims and calling them the same as yours when you want your theology to have the morally useful more-details, and use less theological details for your theory of moral grounding instead.

But then you’ll get a different moral ground from those fewer theological details. And not as fundamental of a moral ground either. It may be as fundamental as a unitarian theology can provide, whatever that may be – but it won’t be an interpersonal unity as the ongoing self-existence of God and so, consequentially, as the eternally active and ongoing ground of all not-God reality, too.

Because that isn’t any unitarian theology. It’s what any and all unitarian theologies deny.

But that’s the theology I was describing, from one trinitarian to (presumably) another, as fundamental love and justice. You can’t really have that theology as a moral ground without having that theology.

If you can’t believe that theology to be true, so be it: I’ve never once disrespected anyone for that. But then reject that theology for the moral grounding, too: be satisfied, as far as you can be, with a less fundamental ground for morality than the details of my theology that you regard as false.


Well to be honest, I don’t believe your argument a bit. You do have the gift of much longer posts though!!
But, seeing as how you self-describe as HYPER-trin - which means more trin than regular trins?? :laughing: :laughing: - it is clear that, even though I observe you from a higher place :astonished: :smiley: it’s an argument not to be settled reasonably.
Really I don’t even care - it’s just a dislike of being condescended to.

edited to remove what might have been construed as a personal attack.


Well, not to put words in DaveB’s mouth, but let me reframed that a tad… Unitarianism must by the nature of the case then be concise, whereas Trinitarianism must by the nature of the case then be convoluted. :laughing: haha… only joking Jason and being a little mischievous. :laughing: :mrgreen:


I still think “lasting” is the best translation of “αιωνιος” (aiōnios). Clearly, the word does not mean “eternal” since it is used in the Septuagint in description of Jonah in the belly of the fish. Jonah wasn’t there forever; he was there for three days. Josephus, who wrote “The Wars of the Jews” in Greek also used “αιωνιος” to describe Jonathan’s term in prison. It is believed that Jonathan spent 3 years in prison. But even if it had been 50 years or more, he was not there forever.

But what about the phrase “εις τον αιωνα” (eis ton aiōna)? It literally means “into the age.” Both the Diaglot and YLT render the phrase “to the age” leaving the reader to its interpretation. I’m going to suggest the adverb “permanently” makes sense as a translation of the phrase. Most translations render its negative as “never.” I would translate the negative as “not permanently.”

Here is a passage in which there seems to be inconsistency when the negative of “εις τον αιωνα” is translated as “never”:

According to this rendering, Jesus first acknowledges that there are people who believe in Him (or entrust themselves to Him) who may die. Even if they do, He says, they will live [again]. Would Jesus then affirm that every living person who believes in Him will NEVER die? Oh yes, I realize that some spiritualize “never die” so that “die” has a meaning in the second clause that differs from its meaning in the first. But I don’t think Jesus would do that.

I would translate the second clause as “Everyone who lives and believes in me will not die permanently,” that is, will not remain in a state of death permanently. This doesn’t contradict the first clause but reinforces it—so that the passage looks like this:

In this passage, Jesus proclaims the RESURRECTION of the dead. Anyone who has entrusted Himself to Jesus, and had died will live again! Jesus will raise him to life again! And anyone now living who entrusts Himself to Jesus may die, but not permanently; he, too, will be raised to life and live again.


That’s actually a fair criticism! – I’ve poked fun at myself on that, too, occasionally. :mrgreen:

In fact I have never once complained about people rejecting trinitarianism for being too convoluted (or equivalent reasons). I rarely complain at all about people rejecting trinitarianism, for that matter.

I do complain about people borrowing details of my theology (and convoluted details at that!) which they otherwise reject, in order to present their (usually simpler) theology as being just as good at including those details with the same results, despite rejecting those (admittedly convoluted) details in their theology. Although my complaint about such a strategy, when they do this, isn’t that it’s convoluted. :wink:

Anyway, back to Platonic eternity.



A nice little pdf that IS clear, unlike my mischievous ramblings: (don’t ask me about the website though) … rizing.pdf

A teaser:

Abstract : In recent years, many resourceful thinkers have brought a new clarity
to the issues surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity. Two incompatible families of
Trinitarian doctrine have been clearly distinguished: Social Trinitarianism and Latin
Trinitarianism. I argue here that no theory in either camp has yet evaded the triune
pitfalls of inconsistency, unintelligibility, and poor fit with the Bible. These two main
approaches appear to be hopeless, and I argue that appeals to ‘mystery’ are no way
to avoid the difficulties at hand. Thus, the Trinitarian project is as yet unfinished.


Can anyone tell me if they’ve heard this explanation of how Plato defined aionios:

He said aionios means timeless when describing something God does or creates that extends in perfection from Him.


I’ve heard it but it doesn’t make sense to me, Danielle. The word was used by Josephus to refer to the jail term of Jonathan. It is said that Jonathan spent 3 years in jail. That certainly was not “timeless” or “outside of time.” Indeed the term “outside of time” in incoherent to me.

In my simplicity, I regard “time” as the temporal “distance” between events. The only way there can be “timelessness” is if there are no events.


Paidion, you are very wise. Good post.


But how is something eternal if it isn’t an infinate duration? I thought that was the definition of eternal (forever) (never ending)?


I don’t think that the word ‘eternal’ necessarily means endless in duration.
It can also mean a quality - 'this is eternal life, that they know You…"

The context usually makes the intent clear.