Packer: How could God have made ECT any clearer than He did?


I’ve heard this question before (Luke?) so I thought it deserved it’s own topic. Apart from the obvious point that the writers could’ve at least not included all the “all”, “love”, “reconciliation”, etc. passages, I think somewhere, someone said, that there is a less ambiguous and more precise Greek word for infinity that the writers could have used, but chose not to. Please can someone confirm or deny this?


Packer himself acknowledges that “aionios” does not mean “endless” so I think it’s presumptuous to say that Jesus was teaching ECT. His argument rests on the parallelism of ‘eonian life’ and ‘eonian punishment’, and on the assumption that the Jews and Jesus believed that the age to come would be endless.

I’m not sure where he gets the info on what Jesus “believed” so I can’t comment on that, and I don’t find Jewish tradition authoritative enough to base doctrine on, but I’ll comment on Packer’s def of “aionios” as “pertaining to the age to come”.

I’m not saying I agree that this is the best def of aionios–I’m not decided on that, but looking at the text from the perspective of that for the sake of argument, I don’t see how it is required to mean “lasting the duration of the age to come.” It could well mean, “which occurs during the age to come.” But there’s also the fact that multiple “ages” can exist simultaneously or overlap each other. The “age” exists for as long as the characteristic factor of the age continues. Seems to me that as each comes to repentance they would move out of their own age of punishment into their age of life–in the same way that we now are said to have eonian life through the knowledge of God. These would then be subsets of ages within the overarching age of the reign of Christ.

The model Packer is assuming seems a little too simplistic to me, especially in light of scripture testimony to the coming of multiple future ages, for example:

Eph 2:7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

As to the suitability of other words than αἰώνιος to convey endlessness, one option is ἀπέραντος which is translated “endless” in 1 Tim 1:4.



God could have made ECT much clearer? Yes, much clearer!

  1. To begin with, He could have inspired at least one of the NT writers to use the word Tartarus to warn of ECT for that is what Tartarus speaks of in Greek Mythology, a place of ECT for all the enemies of Zeus - Titans and humans. But of course, Tartarus is only used once in the NT and it is used to speak of the place where the sinning angels are held until judgment. If God intended to warn of ECT then surely Tartarus would have been used to translate Gehenna instead of just transliterating it. And Luke would have used it to speak of the place where the rich man was held in torment; but He didn’t, instead he used the non-specific word Hades (realm of the dead) (though, I believe it’s likely that Jesus actually said Gehenna).

  2. And if God meant to warn of ECT surely He would have done so from the beginning, but He didn’t. Instead He warned that if Adam and Eve ate of the fruit they’d surely “die”. And death in no way implies ECT. At worst (as if this is not bad enough) death would speak of annihilation.

  3. If God meant to warn of ECT surely such would be repeatedly warned of in the Law. Egyptian mythology warned of the “devourer” who would punish the unrighteous dead for a season before they were finally annihilated. Did God inspire Moses to correct these wrong beliefs and teach ECT? No! In fact, Hebrew does not even have a word that means ECT; and the punishment of sin in the OT Law is destruction, disease, poverty, bondage, death, etc. - not ECT.

  4. If Jesus had meant to warn of ECT surely He would have specifically warned of such repeatedly, but He didn’t. Instead He used a word, Gehenna, that was a word used by the Pharisees to warn of non-specific post-mortem punishment, possibly ending in annihilation - if the person was irredeemable.

If God meant to warn of ECT then surely He would have inspired the Hebrew prophets, especially Moses, to at least coin a word that means ECT, but He didn’t. Surely God would have inspired the NT authors to use the word Tartarus to warn of punishment for humans, but He didn’t. Praise be to God though, no person is irredeemable! For me it was the above facts that freed me accept in faith the promises of scripture that speak of UR and not disregard them. It was my study of what scripture actually warns of concerning the punishment of sin that freed me to believe that one day every knee (in heaven, on earth, and under the earth) shall bow in worship and joyfully proclaim their devotion and love for Jesus Christ our Redeemer!

And btw, Peter notes that the angels that sinned are held in torment in Tartrus until judgment. Where are the sinning angels now? It seems to me that they are presently on earth plaguing humanity (demons). Paul says in Gal. 1:3 that Jesus saves us from this “present evil age” and in Col. 1 speaks of us being saved from the “dominion of darkness”! So where is Tartarus, where are these sinning angels being held until judgment? They are now in this world as principalities and powers of darkness plaguing humanity. This “present evil age”, this “dominion of darkness” is in the present. We are born into this reality of separation from God, clothed in flesh, having a sinful nature, oppressed by evil on every hand! “I’m a mess and everyone I know is a mess!” Death, sickness, disease, depression, murder, adultery, homosexuality, every form of evil surrounds us. And without God intervening in our lives, we’d die and go into oblivion after an existance plagued, consumed by evil - Hell on earth - this Present Evil Age!


And it’s used in a context that elsewhere in the same epistles (the Petrine duo) turns out to be quite hopeful about their eventual salvation!

Though I must also point out that Tartarus is in fact used (2 Peter 2:4-10, its one NT occurrence) in reference to the punishment of human sinners contextually: if God doesn’t spare sinning messengers but thrusts them down into Tartarus, and floods the ancient world, and zorches Sodom and Gomorrah, then those today going after the flesh in defiling lust and despising lordship had better watch out! (The same contextual warning is paralleled, in less detail, in Jude’s epistle.) The warning of Tartarus does indeed go for all the enemies of Zeus, in 2 Peter, Titans and humans both (so to speak).

But yes there are several things God could have done to make ECT (or annihilation instead) clearer, such as not including so many affirmations of hope in so many places (OT and NT both) where people think hopeless punishment is being taught instead.

As an ultimately trivial but pertinent complaint, God could have stated somewhere, “And I shall throw all sinners after a certain point (or alternately all the non-elect whom I never intended to save) into a punishment that will certainly never end (not continue for an indistinct period of natural time); yes, I shall certainly never save those sinners from their sins, for I will not be their Savior anymore (or alternately never was their Savior to begin with); even if they repent of their sins, I shall not hear them, for I do not listen to the prayers of those who ask to be saved from their sins. Not those people anyway. Some people yes I listen to when they ask to be saved from sin, but not those anymore (or alternately not those ever). I Myself shall ensure that they never repent and pray to be saved from their sins! Or the Adversary perhaps shall defeat Me and snatch them out of My hand at last, to keep for himself in torment as the one true Lord of their life for whom they depend for their existence, even though I wanted to save them and acted to do so.”

I could be facetious and demand that someone show me where it says all this in one place in scripture, and vow never to believe it unless it is all spelled out just like that in one place (much as someone we know facetiously declares, here and elsewhere–to much applause from some audience–that he will never believe God saves people out of the lake of fire unless he is shown where it specifically says this in scripture.)

But I don’t treat theology that way in other regards (most pertinently in regard to trinitarian theism!) So it would be cheating for me to treat ECT that way; similarly it would be cheating for non-Kaths to treat universalism that way. If the details add up one way, so be it; if they add up the other way, so be it. I don’t have to have everything spelled out explicitly for me like a 3-year-old, and I have never required that either ECT or annihilationism be spelled out that way either.

Still, it’s true that things could have been clearer if God spelled it out in exclusively non-disputably clear detail somewhere; just as ortho-trin could have been clearer if God had included the catholic faith statement found in the (so-called) Athanasian Creed some one place in scripture somewhere. :wink:


Note though Jason, that 2 Peter doesn’t warn that humans will be thrown into Tartarus, but warns of judgment with negative results and gives the sinning angels being thrown into Tartarus as an example of judgment.

And I too do not have to have things spelled out specifically for me to believe something. Even so, to me the evidence in support of ECT is so sparse (“IF” there is any that strongly asserts such), and the evidence against it so overwhelming that I’m amazed the concept of ECT became such a foundation concept for traditional Christianity. It doesn’t have to be spelled out, but something so foundational should be well substantiated and not need to be mistranslated into scripture.


True it doesn’t explicitly say so. It’s a contextual inference based on the parallels involved, as well as on warnings elsewhere that sinners will be put somewhere originally not made for them but for rebel angels.


Yes, sinners, those who have not recieved the gift of faith and salvation are currently under the dominion of darkness, separated from God, under the oppression of evil, without hope of life in God. This is a present evil age and people continue in that until they come to faith and repentance and then we are translated into the Kingdom of light. It seems to me that Tartarus, kingdom of darkness, and this present evil age are similar, Tartarus being the sinning angels’ perspective/reality and this present evil age being our perspective/reality. When a person dies without Christ he comes into the full reality of Tartarus, this present evil age and is no longer shielded from this reality by our flesh and experiences this until they cry out to God to save them, and He does.

Well, anyhow, I appreciate you pointing out that there is even hope of reconciliation alluded to in Peter for even the sinning angels.


Wow. Contra Packer, I don’t think ECT is clear at all from scripture. Tendentious translations can put ECT into the Bible, though.


High Geoffrey, actually Hell was translated “into” the Bible. St. Jerome mistranslated Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, and Tartaroo as Infernum 110 times in his translation, the Latin Vulgate. And of course the Latin Vulgate was a primary foundational element of Catholic theology. And the Latin Vulgate significantly influenced English translations. The 1610 Catholic Douay Rheims English translation came straight from the Latin Vulgate and has Hell in it 110 times. The KJV corrected 54 of these and only has the word Hell in it 64 times. NKJV only 32 times, other modern translations 12-14 times, and some correctly have the word Hell in them “0” times! In short, for generations scripture has been tendentiously translated from a perspective that believed in ECT and sought to promote that concept even if it meant mistranslating scripture. Modern translations are correcting this error.


I heard or read somewhere that if the Bible said “Christ is not the savior of anyone especially those that don’t believe” if people would believe that some would go to heaven based on what He did on Calvary.

I was told by an old preacher not too long ago that every doctrine in Christendom was explicitly taught in the first 12 chapters of Genesis. I wanted to ask him which verses taught ETC but couldn’t do it.


“Christ is not the savior of anyone, especially those that don’t believe.” If 1 Tim. 4.10 was reversed would this mean that some people are saved anyhow. Now that’s very interesting and possibly a good tool to help shake people from their refusal to see that it says that Jesus is the savior of all humanity! Thanks.

Yes, to me the fact that ECT is NOT warned of in the Torah is very significant. One has to really search the whole OT to find any verse in which ECT can be read “INTO” it. Rather, what I see in Genesis is that because of Adam’s sin we were all plunged into the “kingdom of darkness”, “this present evil age”, into death. We’re physically born into the kingdom of darkness, are slaves of unrighteousness, cut off from the presence of God, under the penalty of death, perverted in every way by our selfishness, and even oppressed by demons, sin, death and destruction on every hand. It is this “present evil age” that we are saved from. We have no hope apart from the intervention of God saving us. Without God saving us we are doomed to continue indefinitely long (as long as we live and possibly longer, beyond the horizon) in the “kingdom of darkness”.

So I find scriptures like 1 Tim. 4:10, Rom. 5:18 and many others to be precious promises of God’s ultimate salvation of everyone, and Jesus’ ultimate triumph over every form of evil. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Gal. 3:10-11)

We have such a dim understanding of what is beyond the horizon and the eternal purposes of God (what this is all about) that I’m really humbled to think that for so many years I thought I had it all figured out. That’s why I say “to me” in so many of my replies because I increasingly recognize just how little I know and even what I “know” I could misunderstand completely. And thus I seek to “trust in the Lord with all my heart, and not lean on my own understanding!”


Yeah, I hear it all the time. “Matthew 25:46, ya heretics. Eternal (aionios) life for saints, eternal (aionios) punishment for sinners. UR refuted, end of discussion.”

However, the key question is: what kind of judgment is Matthew 25 describing, and when is it going to take place?

An excerpt from Aldai Loudy that compares Matthew 25 with Revelation 20:


  1. At Revelation of Christ One thousand years later
  2. On the earth (Joel 3:2) Heaven and earth gone
  3. Living nations judged The dead
  4. No resurrection All resurrected
  5. Three classes: “sheep,” One class: the dead
    “kids” and “brethren”
  6. No books mentioned Books opened: book of life opened

For the whole text see … pose16.htm

Matthew 25:31-46 is not describing the Great White Throne Judgment, make no mistake about it.


It’s fairly clear Jesus is talking about the future “When the Son of Man comes in his glory” (v31), in fact he’s talking about the final judgement, “before him will be gathered all the nations” (v32) and that judgement will involve Jesus choosing some to spend “eternal life” (46) with him, and others to go away into “eternal punishment” (v46). This is further strenghted by this sobering verse from 2 Thess 1:9 “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”.

The best Universalist arguments leave the passage as it’s been traditionally understood but argue that some sort of salvation (second chance) is available during the “eternal punishment.” Arguing about meaning of “eternal” is ludicrous because any argument or counter argument uses biased lexical material which means no-one has a pure translation.


Luke, note though that the judgment in Mt. 25 is a judgment based on works, not on faith. The point of the passage is to encourage people to not be so immature, selfish, but to be socially and spiritually mature in recognizing and meeting the needs of others. Those who are immature and selfish will face aionian punishment (terrible punishment from God that is beyond our understanding) whether they are believers in Christ or not! This passage is meant to call believers to repentance. To take this passage and interpret it to warn of a separation of believers and unbelievers w/ unbelievers being sent to Hell is to completely misinterpret it. It nullifies it’s power to call believers to repentance, and it doesn’t do any good for unbelievers because they see the hypocricy of the traditional interpretation and it confuses the issue of salvation for them.


Luke, in what sense do you believe that the “nations” will be judged?


Luke, I’m confused about what “arguing about the meaning of eternal is ludicrous” implies. Are you urging that all lexical debates should cease?


It’s interesting that traditionalists have to quickly qualify this translation of Thess, otherwise, it would appear to be supporting annihilation :neutral_face:

It seems that up until Calvin (over 3/4 of Christian tradition/history), the possibility of a “second chance” was the consensus. And I often hear Christians, even traditionalists, argue that people who haven’t hear of Jesus in this life (be that because they die young or in a non-Christian country), will some how get a chance post-mortem.

If this is the case, why should anyone just assume it means “eternal”?



Unless your a Pelagian, traditional (Reformed) theology teaches that if we untied with Christ by faith then the good works of Jesus, his faithful obedience to the law will be considered our good works. Your argument misses/ignores this crucial premise.


I presume you mean in a Hebrews 9:27 sense “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”? Revelation broadly describes the final judgment but as Matthew 25 describes I imagine God will separate the elect from the condemned (Matt 25:34).

I don’t follow what your saying Alex, the verse says eternal destruction, Annihilation argues for destruction and that’s it, nothing eternal about it.

I agree, that would seem to be the easier and more powerful path of argument.

How do you know that it doesn’t mean eternal? I’ve pointed out elsewhere any evidence you provide to show it doesn’t mean eternal is just as biased as BDAG!


What about this comment?

If you’re annihilated, you will *eternally *stay destroyed, which is why I guess both Carson and Packer felt the need to address this exact verse. e.g.

:confused: I was simply saying your argument that “any argument or counter argument uses biased lexical material” implies no one knows what “aionios” means. Therefore we don’t have to assume it means anything, including “eternal”.

Personally, I do think we *can *get a good idea what the word means by using context, looking at usage across the Bible, looking at “olam” that gets translated into “aionios”, looking at usage in other texts looking at the root word, etc. (i.e. similar techniques as BDAG uses, just coming to a different conclusion).