Objections? Wait another minute! What about the Scriptures that say unbelievers will be sentenced to everlasting destruction and banished from the Lord for their wickedness? Good question. Consider II Thessalonians 1:6-10 (WEB),
6) Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay affliction to those who afflict you, 7) and to give relief to you who are afflicted with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, 8) punishing those who don’t know God, and to those who don’t obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus, 9) who will pay the penalty: eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10) when he comes in that day to be glorified in his saints and to be admired among all those who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
This passage is clear that those who do not know God will be punished with eternal destruction. So even though I suggested that the Arminian and the Calvinist bend Scripture to fit their salvation model, now it seems that I am also bending Scripture and there is no possible way that all mankind can be saved. However, before we conclude too soon, consider a few questions.
Who are those mentioned above who do not know God and do not obey the gospel? Are they unbelieving mankind or only fallen angels? We see from Luke 16:19-31 that unbelieving men are punished in Hades, but later are safely extracted in Revelation 20:13. We also see from Revelation 20:7-10 that fallen angels, demons, are sentenced to the Lake of Fire for The Ages of The Ages. However, this passage seems to be clearly talking about unbelieving men being punished with eternal destruction, not angels only.
So is the punishment described above the temporal punishment of Hades or The Ages of The Ages condemnation in the Lake of Fire? Which punishment is in view? If the judgment mentioned above is the Great White Throne judgment at the commencement of eternity, then the Lake of Fire must be in view. However, if it is the judgment at each individual's death or at Christ's intermediate judgments, then the verse above must be talking about unbelieving men being sentenced to Hades or even simply sentenced to the destruction of their wicked earthly lives. Yet can it possibly be Hades because this punishment is described as eternal? That is a good point which leads us to a very curious observation in the Scripture.
Are you ready for a curious observation?
Simply stated, the Hebrew and Greek words translated as 'eternal' do not always mean forever. "Aha," you say, "now Jeff is bending the Scripture!" Yet, consider Deuteronomy 15:17 (WEB),
Then you shall take an awl, and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise.
In this verse the Hebrew word for 'forever' was used to mean the time until the death of the master or servant. Certainly the servant is not bound to his master eternally, even beyond death! This observation causes us to pull our Hebrew dictionary off the shelf. Look for yourself and you will see that there are several valid denotations for the Hebrew word 'olam,' including 'eternal,' 'forever,' and also 'a long time, until.' I have already written at length about this in point #9 in my article, Ten Theological Absurdities. This may be a new idea for you, so take the time to do your own homework before you shake your head in disbelief.
The Old Testament Hebrew word 'olam,' translated 'eternal,' and the New Testament Greek synonym word 'aion,' also translated 'eternal' have been mistranslated at times. The Greek word 'aion,' pronounced 'I - own,' is translated 'eternal' and 'forever' in the New Testament. However, the meaning of 'olam' and 'aion' is 'age' or the 'duration' of the subject in view. 'Aion' can also simply mean 'complete.' For example 'aion' can refer to the length of a man's life, the temporal time in Hades, The Ages of The Ages in the Lake of Fire, and the infinity of God. The subject itself determines the length of time meant by 'aion.' In fact, the etymology of the present day word 'eon' descends directly from 'aion!' This is a critical observation. Our modern New Testament translations have failed to properly communicate the duration of the punishments applied to the unbelieving.
Hebrews 9:26 (WEB) is an example where 'aion' is properly translated as 'age' because 'eternal' simply does not make sense.
or else he must have suffered often since the foundation of the world. But now once at the end of the ages [aion], he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
I had originally hoped to expand on these thoughts myself. However, recently the Lord has blessed me through a reunion with John Wesley Hanson's classic 1875 work titled, The Greek Word Aion-Aionios translated Everlasting-Eternal in the Holy Bible Shown to Denote Limited Duration. I was first introduced to this work in college by a good friend, but sadly my memory is largely untrustworthy and I forgot about the essential points made in this book. None-the-less, this classic work is available for free from the U.S. Library of Congress website and also from my own website. This 88 page book is a must read for anyone who agrees or disagrees with my conclusions. There is little point to my adding further to this definitive work. Study this volume for yourself and your faith and understanding of the Bible will be challenged in radically positive ways, if you are willing to let go of tradition and all self-righteousness. Dr. Heleen Keizer has also written a dissertation proving the same, titled Life, Time, Entirety - A Study of Aion in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo. You can read her 315 page dissertation online or an abstract of her conclusions on my website. You might think it is incredulous to claim that 'aion' is mistranslated in many Bibles. Unless you are competent in ancient Greek you may not even know how to verify this for yourself. The NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek in English is an invaluable resource on my shelf. Young's Literal Translation of the Bible is also a valuable resource.
Thomas Talbott also makes a critical observation in The Inescapable Love of God. Talbott suggests that 'apo' is also mistranslated in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as 'from.' Talbott proposes that 'apo' should instead be translated 'at' in this case. So a proper translation would be "who will pay the penalty: eonian [or complete] destruction at the face of the Lord and at the glory of his might." Talbott's proposal then makes even better sense that the unbelieving are punished at the Lord's coming judgment which is the subject in context. Unbelieving mankind will suffer the complete loss and destruction of their wicked earthly lives and ambitions unless they repent. The verse is not saying that the unbelieving are punished with eternal separation from God!
As an aside while discussing grace with a friend, he made an interesting comment to me. He said that people who believe salvation is completely unmerited eventually degenerate to believing that all mankind is saved. He mourned the thought. However, I cannot mourn, but must rejoice!
Will you rejoice with me?