Judas’ eternal sin | Christian Beliefs of hell

Christian beliefs of hell | Judas' eternal sinThe three major views on final punishment of the wicked can be outlined like this:

1. traditionalism: God will justly punish unbelievers with an unending process of perpetual torment.

2. universalism: God will justly punish unbelievers for their personal sins, and eventually restore them to his favour.

3. conditionalism: God will justly punish unbelievers for their personal sins and eventually destroy them.

All three views have been honestly argued from scripture, and all three have been contested as unbiblical. As believers seek to sort out what the Bible actually teaches on this subject, they need to consider those arguments carefully. Attacks against one’s position may cause them to rethink it, or they may help them understand it more clearly, and therefore defend it more effectively.

John Piper has consistently argued for position 1 (which we call traditionalism) and has opposed both universalism and position 3 (which he calls annihilationism). One of his arguments has to do with what the Bible says about Judas Iscariot. There are four passages pertinent to this argument:

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.1

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.2

But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.3

And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.4

Piper sees the evidence describing Judas’ fate as proving that he had committed the unpardonable sin, and therefore will never be forgiven. That speaks to the universalist position. He also claims that what the Bible says about Judas’ fate negates the conditionalist position: that Judas will be judged and eventually destroyed.

“If Judas were destined for glory eventually (as in universalism) or even destined for extinction (as in annihilationism), it is difficult to imagine why it would have been better for him not to have been born.”5 

Conditionalists can be thankful for this argument for at least two reasons. First, it is a “chapter and verse” approach which allows those interested in the debate to actually exegete the texts to see if they support the propositions of the argument. Secondly, it is a legitimate argument, since it involves a question to be considered. That sets the parameters for a potentially civil discussion, rather than simply choosing sides and condemning the opposition.

Matthew 26:24

Piper proposes that Judas must suffer perpetually for his betrayal. If Judas was to suffer only a finite amount of time, justice would not be served, and Jesus’ “woe to that man” remark would not make sense. The remark suggests that the betrayer would undergo a fate worse than nonexistence, that he would endure some unthinkable suffering. Specifically, Jesus said that it would have been better for his betrayer if he had not been born. Piper’s reasoning can be mapped like this:

unthinkable suffering = eternal torment

unthinkable suffering ≠ eventual restoration

unthinkable suffering ≠ eventual destruction

A biblical discussion on that line of reasoning might be helped by reference to similar passages which speak of a person’s fate as being worse than having not been born. There are a few such passages in the OT wisdom literature. Job lamented his birth, asking why he had not been stillborn.6  He had suffered so much that he began to regret his life altogether. Job’s experience definitely qualified as unthinkable suffering, but it did not involve perpetual suffering. He was eventually restored, which (one might suppose) would be an argument for universalism. However, Job’s suffering was not punishment for his sins, and thus it is not proof of eventual restoration after final punishment. Neither does it prove either of the other positions.

David prays that his enemies’ arrows be “like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.”7  He asks for the LORD to make his enemy’s plans come to nothing. Having the opportunity to live and see the sun is very important. It is a terrible fate to never have had that experience. It is a life that is wasted. But what Jesus said about Judas was that his fate was worse than that of a wasted life. It was a life that could have been lived for Jesus, but was not. Judas was a disciple. He learned what the other disciples learned, saw the miracles that they saw, but he ended up turning away from that. His life was truly wasted, and that made it worse for him than for the man who was never born. David’s prayer would suggest that the reason Jesus pronounced a woe upon Judas was not so much what Judas would experience in hell as what he refused to experience in his life.

Solomon claimed “If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.”8  The Preacher of Ecclesiastes had known every possible achievement, yet he came to the conclusion that one could not gain lasting satisfaction from accomplishments themselves. Unless a relationship with God is in the equation, all the accomplishments in the world are meaningless.9 

From these three OT references, one might draw a general conclusion about the stillborn metaphor. It refers to meaninglessness and futility. When we overlay that conclusion with what Jesus said about Judas in Matthew 26:24, this is what results: Judas’ life was worse than meaningless. In fact, Judas had the potential to lead the world to its Saviour, but betrayed him instead. Jesus was not so much predicting Judas’ future fate, as he was lamenting Judas’ present decisions, and stating that he would some day regret those decisions. But Jesus did not imply that Judas would be suffering for, and regretting those decisions perpetually.

John 17:12

Piper is comfortable with the idea of Judas as a “son of destruction” as long as he is allowed to define the word destruction so that it does not mean what it obviously means. He concedes that the noun apoleia in John 17:12 is related to the verb apollumi in Matthew 10:28.10  Ok, that would mean that since God is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, and Judas is a son of destruction, then Judas will be destroyed soul and body in hell.

But wait: Piper is not finished. He goes on to say “the word for destruction (olethros) means ‘ruin’ (1 Timothy 6:9; 1 Corinthians 5:5). The picture is not of obliteration but of a ruin of human life out of God’s presence for ever.”11  John 17:12 and Matthew 10:28 do not contain the word olethros. They use other words for destruction: apoleia and apollumi. A recent study of the apoleia word group used in the same way as these two texts found that the words always refer “to the literal killing of a person, with not a single exception.12 

In fact, 1 Timothy 6:9 says that the fate of the lost will be both “ruin and destruction” (olethron kai apoleion). So, the lost will be separated from God’s presence forever, but will also be destroyed soul and body in Gehenna. What the conditionalist refuses to accept is the idea that since unbelievers will suffer ruin (olethros) that somehow negates their destruction (apoleia). Since the Bible declares both as the destiny of the lost, that is what we believe.

Mark 3:29/Matthew 12:32

The two remaining texts put forth by Piper are not specifically applied to Judas in the scriptures, but Piper uses them because they connect the idea of sin with the word aionios: (eternal). Piper argues that “there will be no forgiveness in the age to come for the unforgivable sin, and so Mark calls it an eternal sin, which shows that the word ‘eternal’ is indeed a temporal word of duration and not just a word referring to a limited period in the age to come.” He is particularly addressing universalism here, as he states that the texts rule out “the idea that after a time of suffering in hell, sinners will then be forgiven and admitted to heaven.”13 

Admittedly, the assertion of no forgiveness in the age to come does speak against the notion of eventual restoration. Yet, conditionalists are bothered by the assumption that if a sin is eternal, the sinner who sins it must never die. Piper is implying this, as it were, through the back door. He argues that an eternal sin requires a perpetual punishment.

The word aionios can possibly mean perpetual, but its most usual meaning is permanent (as opposed to temporary).14 A permanent sin will be punished by the permanent destruction of the sinner in Gehenna. It does not require that the sinner be granted eternal life so that he can continue to sin and continue to be punished. The wages of sin is death15 , not an everlasting life of sinning and being punished. The eternal punishment the Bible describes is a lake of fire called the second death, a permanent event.16 It is a description of the eternal consequences of eternal sins committed against an eternal God, but it results in the opposite of eternal life. It does not, and cannot involve eternal life.

God demonstrated his great love for humans by having his own Son put to death as our substitute. Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life, but whoever does not believe will perish. Judas looked like a believer. That made his betrayal and unbelief all the more despicable. Judas made his choice, and will one day stand before the Saviour he betrayed, and receive his just punishment. Jesus was absolutely truthful in declaring that his fate will be worse than that of a man who was never born. His sin was great, and his punishment will be unspeakable. But the greatness of Judas’ sin does not give him the privilege of eternal life. That gift only belongs to true believers.

 

References
  1. Matthew 26:24 ESV. []
  2. John 17:12 ESV. []
  3. Mark 3:29 ESV. []
  4. Matthew 12:32. []
  5. John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 123. []
  6. Job 3:16. []
  7. Psalm 58:8. []
  8. Ecclesiastes 6:3 ESV. []
  9. Ecclesiastes 12:13; 1:2. []
  10. John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 123. []
  11. John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 124-125. []
  12. Glenn Peoples, “The Meaning of ‘apollumi’ in the Synoptic Gospels.” http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/the-meaning-of-apollumi-in-the-synoptic-gospels/ []
  13. John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 124. []
  14. Jefferson Vann, “Hell is Permanent.” http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2011/theology/annihilationism-annihilationist/hell-is-permanent/ []
  15. Romans 6:23. []
  16. Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8 []
Jeff

About Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is a missionary with Advent Christian General Conference, and elder at McAlpin Advent Christian Church in Florida and Relevant Church in Virgina. "My hope is that everyone who reads this blog will have an opportunity to understand the gospel, and will know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior." You can read more of Jeff's writing at Devotions  | Vann Newsletter |An Advent Christian Systematic Theology | Commands of Christ | Learning Koine Greek Together

Comments

  1. The notion of eternal consciousness is so unspeakably wicked that no one believing in a God of all compassion ought to entertain it.
    Universal reconciliation is ruled out by Heb. 6 and Heb 10.
    The third option is right. Conditional immortality and annihilation by “the fire of the age to come” (Jude 7) which burns up and is not extinguished.

  2. Alan Corrie says:

    Jefferson, both Edward Fudge & Mark Galli (Christianity Today editor) agree with me, in personal e-mail correspondence …. (& Prof Alfred Edersheim, deceased) …. that there are in fact 4 major positions, NOT THREE. The 4th is “future probation” i.e. universal resurrection (sozo) for judgment/opportunity.

    There is a “good attempt” to answer the question “why universal resurrection i.e. why will God universally raise the dead, only to destroy (most of) them” …. at the 2nd death/Lake of Fire” ?? However, the author doesn’t believe in “future probation”, so I personally don’t agree with his 3 reasons !!
    Read it at:- http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/double-jeopardy-why-raise-the-dead-only-to-destroy-them
    There have, however, been 3 books published recently, advocating the Wider Hope of “future probation”: “Razing Hell”; “Love Wins” & “Man’s Ignorance & God’s Grace: a case for Conditional Immortality”. Things are looking up !!
    1. “Razing Hell” has some good content, but is too “philosophical” for my taste. The author, Sharon Baker, believes in future probation i.e. universal physical-resurrection, for judgment/opportunity, then destruction for those who finally refuse to repent of their personal sins. She doesn’t believe in “universal salvation”.
    Her view IOW is identical to that of James Langton Clarke M.A., late fellow of the University of Durham, who (in his 1905 book: The Eternal Saviour-Judge”, (2nd ed. 1905, London: John Murray), also agrees with Dr Alfred Edersheim, when he writes in his “The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol 2″, (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1884: 795) …….. as follows:-
    “It seems at least an exaggeration to put the alternatives thus: absolute eternity of punishment; annihilation; OR else universal restoration. Something else is at least thinkable, that may not lie between these hard & fast lines of demarcation. It is at least conceivable that there may be a QUARTUM QUID … that there may be a purification or transformation (sit venia verbis) of all who are capable of such ….. so that ‘only that which is morally incapable of transformation … shall be cast into the lake of fire’.”
    2. “Love Wins” too has some good content, although Rob Bell probably believes in “universal salvation” (but he refuses to say so !!). He emphasises correctly, however, that neither “going to heaven when you die” nor “conscious, eternal suffering for the lost”, are taught in scripture, & he also believes in future probation & future hope/opportunity for restoration. Where he goes off the rails, however, is in his assumption that the human soul/spirit is immortal !!!
    3. “Man’s Ignorance & God’s Grace: a case for conditional immortality” again teaches future probation & universal resurrection for judgment/opportunity …. then destruction for those who finally refuse to repent of their personal sins:-
    http://www.amazon.com/MANS-IGNORANCE-GODS-GRACE-CONDITIONAL/dp/1937064158/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344347399&sr=1-1&keywords=galstad+ignorance
    Recently, Edward Fudge recommended this 3rd book highly, with (unsurprisingly) the following reservation:-
    “The suggestion that those who die NOW, never having encountered Christ in the gospel, will be given that opportunity LATER …. is not held by most conditionalists, including me (i.e. E F) — although I certainly could wish that to be true”.
    Finally, let me mention a 4th book, written by 2 universalists, which is quite long-winded, but has many good bits in it (about aion; aionios etc.), but I cannot agree with their universalism viewpoint:- “Is God Fair ?, what about GandhI ?”.
    [ http://www.jewishnotgreek.com/ is also a conditionalist site with a "few" well-written expositions of difficult "hell" verses].
    Alan Corrie, ENGLAND

  3. … I cannot find Alan Corrie’s posted reply to this topic anymore. Where did it go? Someone was referring me to it, and they have it on their screen still…

    • …Never mind, now it’s back again.

    • Psa 51:16-17 KJV
      (16) For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
      (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

      I once asked a Baptist preacher, straight out, quoting that verse, if on the day of judgment a person stood before God with sorrow and repentance, would his God despise that broken and contrite heart? And he said yes, God would despise that broken and contrite heart.

      His reasoning? He said that repentance only counted if it was “before you died” … but he refused to show any proof from scripture when I asked for it. He said that he didn’t need to and that I had a “spiritual problem” and wouldn’t accept scripture even if he showed it to me. To date I have never been able to get anyone to provide a scriptural proof for a “before you die” disclaimer (and I have asked others before also.)

      Luk 15:29-32 KJV
      (29) And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
      (30) But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
      (31) And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
      (32) It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

      We should think carefully about the God we serve, the God revealed to us in Christ. Would Jesus (who knows the heart) ever reject sincere repentance?

  4. By the way… what I was originally going to mention, was that the “eternal sin” argument you were addressing didn’t exist until after the Revised Version was published. It was used quite heavily by William Procter of R.A. Torrey’s “Fundamentals” in his argument that he put for for eternal conscious torment.

    My bible doesn’t have “eternal sin” in it. This is what it says (and what bibles always said until this last century):

    Mar 3:29 KJV
    (29) But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:

    How could sin be eternal when it is an attribute of men (or angels) that are fated to be destroyed? The sin is either blotted out with repentance, or destroyed along with the sinner. That “eternal sin” argument seems seems a bit off the wall to me, as it depends upon the RSV-style translation of an already well-recognized passage.

  5. … so you think that “eternal sin” , a minority reading that only became popular with the RSV, is to be preferred to the Majority reading of “in danger of eternal damnation?” If sin and the sinner are to be destroyed, there can be no such thing as “eternal sin” for it would require an eternal sinner. It only wastes time dancing about a flawed reading from bad source text.

    On the other hand, eternal damnation (as the passage reads in any Majority text) is what you would expect with the rest of the biblical worldview. The damnation is eternal either because the damnation shall never be repealed. If the damnation would be repealed, then those who were destroyed would be restored, but the damnation is eternal, so those destroyed in that judgment shall never be un-destroyed.

    I know that crying “The Emperor Has No Clothes” does not make one popular with the nobles, but sometimes it needs to be said. There is something wrong with your bible that says “guilty of an eternal sin.”

  6. “the Majority reading of “in danger of eternal damnation?””

    Unfortunately the KJV just got this one wrong. The ESV and other modern versions may not have it perfect either, because krisis mens judgement, not specifically damnation.

    Interesting Andrew, that the next time I see you, you’re back on the KJV promotion team. :)

    • Glenn, if you would check the meaning of English words, a negative judgment is damnation. Judgment is not used in a positive sense in that context, ergo, damnation is the correct translation of its source text. If you were paying attention, this isn’t a question of translation, because the ESV is correctly translating its word as well… the problem lies that it has chosen a badly supported minority reading to translate. This is a sample case where it does start having implications on specific doctrines.

      Interesting that this next time I see you, you’re back to the “If someone uses the King James text don’t deserve a place at the table” mode. Could you attempt to look past your prejudice and deal with the actual topic at hand, on its merits? Or is that too hard?

  7. Even Judas would be forgiven – if he had asked. The sin of judas continued to the sin of despair – when he killed himself knowing what he did. In his heart he must have felt shame and guilt before he ended his life. He may have been one of those that Jesus went into the dead to recover. perhaps Jesus knew that Judas would also hand himself over to Satan by taking his own life – perhaps the woe he referred to was the eternal damnation that judas faced in hell over his despair.. I believe that the first one he forgave was Judas in hell.
    Saving the saints – that’s easy… satan probably laughed at Jesus in hell…This time Jesus said to Satan the same question about what is easier for the Son of Man to do…he forgave Judas right in front of Satan…He would never leave without his soul. His defeat of Satan must have been complete…Satan came into the soul thinking that Jesus would never forgive him after his despair of suicide….The final victory..!

  8. I think that possibly the key to understanding this verse does not lie so much in the word “eternal” but rather in the corresponding verse by our Lord in Matthew 12:32 “nor in the age to come”. There is the present age Jesus is referring to and also the one to come or future age. Unfortunately the KJV uses the word world but aion is the Greek word here which is usually rendered age not world. So whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in any age regardless. It’s not that the same guilty person will live onto or in the next age but that anyone in any age who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will simply not be forgiven. This sin is damnable in any age. In my opinion, the blasphemy of God’s Holy Spirit is a sign of reprobation since the obvious cannot be made any more obvious. To miss it one has to have been given over by God to believe that which is false thus proving themselves to be the sons of their father- the devil.

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