The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Isaiah and the hope in 2 Thessalonians 1:9

2 Thessalonians 1:9 is often cited as scriptural testimony for either eternal conscious torment or for annihilation.

As the New American Standard Version translates: “And these [who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, per verse 8] will pay the penalty [literally ‘the justice’] of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

The term “eternal destruction” is “olethron aiônion”. “Olethron” is an emphasized variant of “ollumi”, to ruin; it may be thus translated “utter ruination”, or a bit more colloquially (as in Knoch’s Literal Concordance) “whole-ruination” (also there “extermination”).

To begin with, the term itself is not inherently hopeless, as the same term is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:5 to refer to the destruction of the flesh that he curses the Stepmom-Sleeping Guy with so that the SSG’s soul may be saved in the day of the Lord to come. It may be noted that the same term is used in Hebrews 11:28 to describe the extent of the physical destruction of the firstborn sons of Egypt (all the firstborn), and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:10 to describe the deaths of those who murmured against Moses in the wilderness.

This will especially have bearing when considering my main concern for this article, which is the Old Testament context for this phrase. Paul is alluding to the coming judgment of YHWH in the day of YHWH’s forthcoming appearance, Isaiah 2:10: “from the terror of YHWH and from the splendor of His majesty”; also paralleled 2:21 as “before the terror of YHWH and the splendor of His majesty”. (Similarly, in verse 7 Paul when speaking of the Lord Jesus being revealed from heaven with the angels of His power, is referencing Zechariah 14:5b where the prophet says in regard to the same situation, “Then YHWH my Elohim will come and all the holy ones with Him.”)

This Isaianic prophecy extends from what we call chapter 2 through the end of chapter 5. While the term “whole-ruination” is not used in this Isaianic prophecy, the bulk of the prophecy is aimed at criticizing unjust and oppressive Jewish rulers and population, although especially the rulers. YHWH declares that they shall eventually be (in effect) ruined in the Day of the Lord to come, at the coming of YHWH among them.

This is not the end of the story for them, however, in these chapters, although this can be obscured by the fact that Isaiah does not report coming things in sequence. He starts with the end result, for example, 2:1-4 where mountain of the house of YHWH will be established as the chief of mountains, and all the nations shall stream to it to be taught YHWH’s ways by YHWH so that they may walk in His path; and YHWH will act as arbitrating judge among the nations so that they will live in peace with one another ever afterward.

It is in context of looking forward to this day that Isaiah calls Israel to stop their injustice and their idolatries and repent and come back to walking in the light of YHWH. People, especially the egotistical leaders, who refuse to do so will be humbled and abased so that YHWH alone will be exalted in that day. A repeated theme (2:10, 19, 21) is that doers of injustice will try to hide from YHWH’s appearance in caverns; but they will also throw away their idols (2:18, 2:20)–possibly into the same caverns (with the moles and the bats) where they themselves attempt to hide.

In the second half of chapter 3, Isaiah switches metaphors and begins to speak of rebel Israel as daughters of Zion who are proud, seductive adulteresses who shall be humbled in fashions analogically parallel to the more masculine humbling imagery elsewhere in the prophecy. The outcome of this, however, is more fully reported than in some other places of the same prophecy: defeated rebels shall appeal to the righteous to save them and to take away their reproach (the imagery is that of desperate women after a battle begging to be made the indentured servant concubines of the conquerors). Notably, the righteous remnant, “everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem”, the holy ones “who are left in Zion and remain in Jerusalem”, servants adorned by the beauty of the Branch of YHWH, are called the survivors in distinction from the rebels pleading for salvation. (4:1-3)

Nor shall the pleas of the defeated rebels go unanswered: YHWH shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, purging the bloodshed of Jerusalem from their midst by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning. The result will be that the pillar of daysmoke and nightfire (as in the presence of YHWH during the Exodus) will be a shelter from the storm and the rain and the heat. (4:4-6. Chapter 5 goes back to the theme of coming punishment for rebel Israel and does not mention salvation of the rebels.)

In this context, verse 2:9 (preceding verse 10, referenced by St. Paul in 2 Thess 1:9) should not be translated “But do not forgive them”, as for example the NASV. Rather the primitive verb there, which means to lift, and has a wide variety of usage in the OT, should be interpreted in a sense parallel to other portions of the same chapter: do not lift up the humbled proud again to their former status of exalted rebellion. (For example 2:22, “Cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils, for in what should he be esteemed?”)

In any case, the context of Isaiah 2 through 5 indicates that the fate of rebels wholly ruined from the presence of YHWH is not hopelessly final. The proudest rebels are shown in a process of preliminary repentance (though not yet seeking salvation) by throwing away their idols; other proud rebels seek repentance (including by petitioning the victorious righteous) and receive reconciliation with YHWH; and the whole prophecy begins with a portrait of broad repentance among all the nations in the day of YHWH to come, which by narrative and thematic logic must necessarily be subsequent to the punishment related afterward in the chapter, resulting in loyal fellowship with YHWH where no such fellowship previously existed and peace among the nations under YHWH’s fair justice.

Note: for a somewhat different interpretation (more preteristic and also less trinitarian :wink: ), see also Aaron Reynold’s essay here with a sort-of followup in a different thread for a related topic here.

Thanks Jason, coincidently (or by the Spirit) I was just chatting to some on FB about 2 Thess 1:9 when I saw you had posted this :sunglasses:

Hi Jason,
I just noticed your fine study on this issue! I printed it out for future reference. I hope others will also give it a serious read.
Just a note concerning salvation out of destruction. Jesus stated:
Mat 15:24 Now He, answering, said, “I was not commissioned except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

I’m sure you are aware that the Greek word behind “lost” is also translated “destroyed.” It seems to me that often, destruction is a prerequisite to salvation. Why would Jesus waste his time going to the destroyed sheep if He didn’t think they could be saved? And does He not seek the straying sheep till He find it?

It is too bad that the NASB and the ESV have inserted the word “away” into the text. As far as I know, no other translators have done that. Without the “away” it seems clear that the “eternal destruction” (whatever it is) has as its source, the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power.

I don’t think translating <ἀπό> apo away from in this verse necessarily detracts from its source being ‘the presence of the Lord’ etc.
14 translations indeed do run with it. Not only that, there are literally many places in the NT where away from seems a reasonably good fit; here are a few examples of <ἀπό> apo rendered as “away from”…

I think THAT evidence alone should mitigates against any apparent problem :open_mouth: , IMO of course. :mrgreen:

How does that work qaz?

Oh ok, I see yep gotcha.

Everlasting destruction — this is a perfect example of how modern English turns ancient Greek into an oxymoron. Everlasting meaning continuous, whereas destruction means annihilation — logically by their very nature the two are mutually exclusive. This everlasting destruction speaks of the TOTALITY of the punishment meted out and suffered in the AD70 cataclysm — thus it is qualitative as opposed to quantitative in application.

From my perspective… “eternal” carries connotations of “totality” and completeness, or fullness; for example, Jesus speaks of “eternal life” in terms of knowing God — IOW there was/is a fullness or TOTALITY to life in God to be found through Christ… thus Jn 17:3 has echoes of Jn 10:10 with regards to said fullness or TOTALITY of LIFE.

Now for any Israelite in Palestine OR beyond (of which the early church was initially primarily JewishActs 2:5; 15:21; 1Pt 1:1) Jerusalem and in particular her Temple was THE focal and focus point of the their existence, as therein dwelt ‘the presence of God’. Now to be shut off or out from or excommunicated from “the presence of God” as they knew it was to be equated with death.

So again, according to some translations…

Remember, “eternal destruction” speaks not of longevity but of TOTALITY — this language is qualitative NOT quantitative. History bears witness to the fact that in the aftermath of the AD70 Judgment, aka ‘the Roman-Jewish Wars’, a goodly portion of Jewish captives were taken back to Rome and paraded as slaves of and before the conquering Titus as part of his spoils of war. These captives were all still very much alive and yet having had “their part in the lake of fire” (Rev 21:8) were now banished forever… permanently exiled (DEATH) away from the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem — their world had come crashing down and they were as dead-men-walking… judged and found wanting.

A lot more commentary collected on it here in my ExCom entry.

I think it does.
There’s a wide difference between my receiving an explanation FROM you, and my receiving an explanation AWAY FROM you.
There’s also a wide difference between receiving something FROM the Lord, and receiving something AWAY FROM the Lord.

You seem to have cherry picked verses where “from” was used in the sense of “away from.” It often IS used in that sense. But many times it ISN’T.

I looked at a few examples of the use of “απο” in Matthew:

Matthew 5:42 "Give to the one asking you, and the one wishing to borrow from you, do not turn away.

In this case, you are the source of borrowing, and it would be quite a stretch to render it as “the one wishing to borrow away from you.” In fact,if it were “away from,” that one would suggest that the borrowing was from someone else.

And, it would make no sense to translate “απο” in Matt 7:20, 9:22, and 10:28 as “away from”.

Also let’s see what the word means in Matt 15:1
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying…

Clearly this indicates that Jerusalem was the place of origin of those scribes and Pharisees—just as today, when we say that a person is from Toronto or Chicago. If we insert “away” before “from,” the meaning would be quite different. It would mean that the scribes and Pharisees happened to be away from Jerusalem at the time.

Here is the way, I would translate 2 Thessalonians 1:9

  • who will suffer the recompense of lasting ruin from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…*

Not being a preterist who assigns virtually every saying of our Lord that most Christians see as post-mortem judgment, to the events of 70 A.D, I do not receive your explanation. Also I think it is a grave error (and I am not sure whether or not you do this) to suppose that everyone will automatically be with the Lord forever, because Jesus death somehow covered them regardless of how they lived this earthly life.

Jesus made it clear in John 5:28, 29
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

That resurrection of judgment will be necessary to correct unrepentant sinners.

Thus IN THE FUTURE when Jesus comes again “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, giving justice to those who do not know God and to those who will not listen to the good news of our Lord Jesus—who will suffer the recompense of lasting ruin from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…”

Those who have not known God during this life and refused to listen to the good news, will have to undergo a severe correction from God, even if it means lasting ruin. But that ruin will not be permanent; they will sooner or later have a change of heart and mind (repent) and become just as acceptable to God as those who knew God in this life and who responded to the good news prior to death. They will not necessarily be AWAY FROM God during this correction; I think rather they will be corrected right in the presence of God.

I understand the Orthodox Church teaches that both the “saved” and the “lost” will experience, not apart from each other but together, the same flaming fire of God’s love, but the former will experience it as joy, and the latter as pain.

Don, Don, Don… :unamused: you have completely MISSED my point!

I deliberately “cherry picked” those texts TO SHOW that <ἀπό> apo CAN have those renderings according to sentence structure and CONTEXT. Of course, there are oodles of other examples going the other way, as you briefly show… BUT THAT wasn’t MY point; sad to say your positional blindness wouldn’t allow you to see this.

You may have noticed, though probably not, that in my post above I quoted BOTH alternative renderings of 2Thess 1:9, one with “away” and the other without it, because I see BOTH outcomes as equally valid, i.e., one outcome (away from the presence) was directly related to the other (from the presence) — that’s what this text allows… HENCE the at least 14 other variable translations demonstrating this.

I accept as an automatic reactive given that this is your ingrained default position; thus my responses are generally given for the hopeful benefit of any others following along who might not be afraid to consider things beyond the own protective blind-spots. :astonished:

Again you simply assert this WITHOUT any textual support, other than supplying your own interpretation. The text itself however indicates something other than your speculative assumption. Verse 25 preceding says this…

Jesus in referencing Daniel was speaking TO ISRAEL… notice his “and now is” — Jesus is speaking to HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL who were “THE DEAD” i.e., ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. Israel will hear, i.e., was hearing during this time of his national proclamation… “the voice of the Son of God” making his appeal to repent and follow his words, the very words of the Father whom He represented, and in consequence “those who hear will live.” IOW… Jesus was speaking to THEIR situation NOT anyone else’s (Lk 21:20-24).

This then (vs. 25) was the basis for what followed in verses 28-29, as per… “the resurrection of condemnation”. Most NT texts dealing with “judgment” are in fact related to works and thus their attendant rewards or the loss thereof. The determining factor in Jn 5:29 based on verse 28 is NOT the acceptance or non-acceptance of Christ as personal Lord and Saviour, but rather… the performance of works, good or bad. The recipients in this resurrection received either “reward” or “ruin” i.e., suffered loss in regards to “treasure in heaven” (whatever “treasure” might mean etc, 1Cor 3:13-15; Mt 19:21).

Thus “judgment” and that which related to it, that is, “rewards” was directly related “works” and works had nothing to do with the gaining of redemption, but were a reflection of it.

Again, this whole issue of “the resurrection of condemnation” MUST be kept in the context of Christ’s AD70 Parousia — when we start dragging stuff past that point that’s when we start “adding” qualifications and the like to this scripture.

Again this is nothing but your own theology determining what the bible says; BUT the bible DOESN’T say this — which WHY you have NEVER produced any texts saying this… your “interpretation” ALWAYS falls flat BECAUSE it has no substance, other than that with which you try to prop it up with, i.e., your unfounded proclamations.

I guess the good news here for you Don wherein you will be greatly comforted, is that JUST LIKE your ‘eternal conscious torment’ brethren, you too will be able to communicate fully across the gulf (Lk 16:23-24, 26) with your loved ones (whether unrepentant non-believers OR stubborn-hearted believers) as the they writhe in God’s furiously purifying flames as you stand there watching and rejoicing at them being lovingly, as you say… “corrected right in the presence of God”… :blush:

A terrifying gospel indeed!

Yep well I can’t speak for what “the Orthodox Church teaches” but lot of teaching within Christendom is indeed schizophrenic…