The Evangelical Universalist Forum

It would be better to not have been born...

"The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."

One thing that is difficult about ECT is that a statement like this is not as powerful. The reality is that it would be better for most humans that ever existed to not have ever been born. For most people, the good news is not good news because part of the good news is that the road to this news is quite narrow.


But it’s equally problematic for universalists who believe every person is ultimately reconciled to God and enjoys the fullness of his/her existence. If Christ was a universalist, how can he think it would be better for anyone (even the one who betrays him) to have never lived? How can it ever be true for someone whose ultimate destiny of eternal life is guaranteed that it would be better had they never been born?


What if the nature of Judas’ betrayal required that Judas spend an unusually long time in Gehenna in order to be corrected, and/or he required a much more intense form of suffering in order to be led to repentance? Surely then, it could be true that “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Can you imagine the horror of being the one who betrayed the Lord of Life? Of all the evil things to be guilty of, I don’t know if there’s anything worse than that.


It could be that Christ was simply doing no more than expressing the sentiment of Judas himself.
Judas committed suicide ie he wished that he had never been born (as Judas).
I think it is dangerous to extend this statement beyond our earthly existence.
As Chris has intimated, if we believe that the statement is saying something on an eternal level, then it is far more problematic for ECTers.

Can I hazard a guess? Christ is speaking to the evil non-being, the nameless shadow-self that haunts our life and causes us so much trouble. Truly, it would have been better if this sinful thing “had never been born”. It’s end is destruction in God’s fire.

In a similar vein, one can also ask of ECTers, “Knowing the high probability your child will end in hell, how can you justify having children?”

A.E. Knoch’s take on the Case Judas.

An interesting read, in my opinion.

This is true, and it is an excellent question that I will need to think about. I didn’t think of it that way. What do you think?

In the article I posted a link to, Knoch argues the correct translation of the passage is “it were ideal for Him [Christ] if that man [Judas] were not born.”

Hairy Tick (beautiful name, by the way :wink:,
Is there actual grammatical evidence for this? Does anybody know?

If I can offer a bit of a poetic guess.

Killing God incarnate (through betrayal) isn’t exactly something most people should be apt to do, even if they’ll be redeemed.

It doesn’t seem all that complicated, even if the man were to have every blessing given him it would still be, comparatively speaking, good for him to not have been born than to betray the source from which those blessings came - I need not mention the infinite increase of horror that killing (by proxy) this very same source for a mere bit of silver entails.

It would have been good indeed for any of us who daily betray our Lord to never have been born. But it is better that we were, and better that we are redeemed and made right.

In the case of Judas, though it would have been good for him not to have been born - there he sits, born. Made by God, knit in his mother’s womb; born, alive, and…um…still hanging around…? Actually no, not hanging around anymore, the rope broke. But anyway…

He was born, and so it must have been “good” that he be born also. We don’t often see that if not for Judas, Christ would (not? maybe through another, but none the less; we’ll go with not) have died on the cross, the act which lead ultimately to our redemption from Death, and Sin.



I’m not seeing the problem this verse poses for ECT. If ECT were true, then it would just be the case that comparatively speaking “to never have been born” will be objectively better than the “hell” that those in hell experience eternally. And certain that’s true. Never existing at all is better than existing in hell with no hope of escaping. And this would be true for each person (however many) that ends up there. I don’t see the problem.

But this ‘objective’ view IS problematic for UR, because however long hell lasts for any individual, it ends and gives way to ineffable bliss and eternal joys. So the comparison you need to make sense of Jesus’ statement falls through. No pain of a temporary hell can make it “objectively better” that the one suffering should never have been born if that person ends up in endless bliss with God.

The only thing I’ve been able to think of is to understand Jesus as describing the “subjective” perspective of the one suffering. He will experience a state of suffering that will “make him wish” he had never been born. But that so weakens Jesus’ statement as to empty it of any real punch. A LOT of people reach that subjective state in this life. That’s why people commit suicide. It’s hardly eschatological hell.

Which leads us to conclude (who said it above?) that Jesus is just predicting a subjective state of mind THIS SIDE of hell. He’s not talking about hell at all. He’s just saying that when the truth dawns on Judas, he’ll wish he had never been born…and he’ll act out accordingly whatever he ends up doing.

But it’s important that we not understand Jesus to be describing an objective state of affairs, because given UR it can never become objectively true for anyone who exists that his/her non-existence would be better than their worst suffering imaginable since beyond their suffering is a bliss that relativizes all conceivable suffering into virtual meaninglessness. Nothing can compare with the joys of being with God.


Jesus is known for his hyperbole.

So does YLT and the “KJV of the Catholics”, Douay–Rheims.

But I think the assumption of the problem is that God will not be all in all. This existence is temporary.

Is it just me, or does this quote have even further wait if we take into account the full implications of ECT for roughly 80-90% of all humanity…

to me it seems that if someone truly does believe in this traditional ECT, then it would be morally reprehensible and selfish to have children. If there is an 80%, or 50% or even 10% chance that your child will burn in unending agony forever, then it seems morally evil to bring any children into existence.

I know of a couple who mentored my wife in the faith who now that they have had children, have left the faith because they cant imagine God sending his children to hell, especially now that they have known the love that they have for their children. They have left the faith because they see “the faith” as ECT.

What do you all think?

The grammar is kind of squirrely (and probably represents an Aramaic original passed down to text). To give only one example, despite a very popular and widespread emendation, there was most likely no verb in the Greek at Mark 14:21, but the verb is supplied at Matt 26:24 (the texts of which are otherwise identical):

kalon (en) aut(i)o ei ouk egennethe ho anthropos ekeinos

kalon = good

(en) = was (found in GosMatt’s text)

aut(i)o = a prepositional third person pronoun, but in a weird case: “him” with a preposition implied. Most translations go with “for” as the equivalent English preposition, but to be blunt that’s kind of a guess, as exemplified by Green who in his literal translation took the standard “for” but in his super-literal translation he didn’t bother even trying to supply a preposition!–but placed the implied “it” there instead.

ei = if

ouk = not

egennethe = was born

ho anthropos = the person

ekeinos = this is an odd reflexive term in Greek; it’s built from a word for “there” but is used for emphasis in regard to the noun it modifies (sometimes with its own direct article, though not this time). We would say in English “that there one”! :mrgreen: Or “that selfsame one”.

The final clause certainly reads then: “if not was born that there person” or “that selfsame person” or or “that very same person”.

The implication from the emphasis at the end is that the speaker is talking about a person he just recently referenced. By context, this can only mean Jesus or Judas; and almost certainly means the person being talked about in the first clause.

So if the “him” in the first clause is Judas, the second clause’s person is also (almost certainly) Judas. If the “him” in the first clause is Jesus, the second clause’s person is (almost certainly) Jesus.

Now however we get to another related use of {ekeinos}: a tool for helping authors distinguish between men when talking about two of them (especially in relation to each other). Is there another nearby use of “that very man”? Yes there is, back in the previous sentence (both in GosMatt and GosMark; also GosLuke for what it is worth although GosLuke doesn’t have either of the two clauses of the ending sentence.) “But woe to that-very man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.”

By grammatic implication, the two “that-very” men are the same man, namely the one who betrays the Son of Man. So was the Son of Man betraying the Son of Man? Matt 26:25 “And Judas, who was betraying Him…” starts the next sentence. (Also preceding context “One of you will betray Me”.)

This however opens back up the possibility that the “him” in the first clause of the final sentence does not refer to “that-very man”, since the term is definitely used for another purpose. It could of course be used for both purposes; but since “him” has already been used once in this statement and only for the Son of Man, then the parallels of usage would suggest that “him” refers to “Him” rather than to “that-very man”.

In the final analysis the grammar could be used either way: “him” in verse 24c (and its Markan parallel) could still be Jesus or Judas, although Judas is definitely “that-very man” at the end of 24c (and GosMark’s parallel).

Fortunately all this can be settled by cultural context much more easily–and, in passing, also lends weight to an interpretation of what we ought to be expecting from Christ in regard to Judas: the saying elsewhere (such as in Job) is a call for pity for that man of whom it would have been better had he not been born. And that fits the term being used for “wail” or “woe” in all three Synoptics here: it means “lament” in pity.

That means the saying is in fact about Judas in both its clauses. But it isn’t a curse of hopelessness for Judas: it’s a cry for pity for Judas. Jesus instructs His other disciples (and us too by extension) to be sorrowing in pity for Judas; to be hopefully loving him even in our grief for him. (True, Peter at least doesn’t seem to be doing this later in Acts; but Peter messes up a few times in other regards in those same opening chapters regarding his ministry and has to be slapped up and down a bit. :wink: This could be one of those times as well. At least Matthew in his unique Gospel material works hard at soliciting pity for the traitor–maybe having lived his life as a traitor to Israel before his apostolic call, he was able to pity Judas more.)

This could have independent (if subtle) confirmation from GosJohn, too: theologians have long wondered why “be loving one another” was supposed to be a new commandment. This Easter while devotionally reading the material, I noticed for the first time that Jesus tends to say this in proximity to references to Judas and his coming betrayal!

Loving our greatest enemies is presented elsewhere by Christ (especially in the Synoptic preaching material) as being the greatest fulfillment of the Law to love our neighbor; in the form “you have heard it said, but I am saying to you”, Jesus is practically re-giving the commandment in a new scope. I think it makes sense for Him to be challenging (and requiring!) His disciples and apostles to be loving one another even when “one another” includes someone like Judas Iscariot.

By this indeed “men shall know you are My disciples: if you are loving one another.”

What faithful disciples of a teacher do not ideally love one another?! But, which teacher has ever gone so far as Christ in insisting on loving the worst traitors as He has loved us when we were still sinners?

No greater love is there than this, that a man will lay down his life for his friend, Jesus says. Yet Jesus also says that this is entirely normal among the nations, and that loving those who love us is of no special weight; and St. Paul agrees that for a good man someone may dare even to die. But “this is love” that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

And Jesus, at the moment of betrayal, still calls Judas: “Friend.”

Wow; is all I can say here…

Which post are you referring to?

What of these thoughts?