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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Destruction

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The material is scanty in St. Paul’s writings for ‘a detailed theory on this most awe-inspiring of all subjects,’ and it is proper for us to note ‘the “wise Agnosticism” (the phrase is Dr. Orr’s in discussing the teaching of Scripture on eternal punishment) of St. Paul with the attempted theories of the Synagogue-theologians’ (H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, 1904, pp. 313, 315; cf. also 4 Ezra 9:13, ‘Enquire not further how the ungodly are to be tormented, but rather investigate the manner in which the righteous are to be saved’). But there can be little doubt that the term ‘destruction’ to St. Paul meant, not annihilation, but a continual existence of some sort in the outer darkness away from God. St. Paul has a group of words for this idea. ὀργή (1 Thessalonians 1:10, Romans 2:5; Romans 2:9; Romans 5:9) is a more general term and applies to the Day of Judgment. θάνατος (Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:6) is not the death of the body, which is true of all, but rather the second death of Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:14. The NT gives no scientific description of death, nor is one possible in the spiritual sphere. The analogy of Nature (see Butler’s Analogy, ed. Gladstone, 1896, and Drummond’s Natural Law in the Spiritual World, 1883) does not make annihilation necessary. The words φθείρω and φθορά (Galatians 6:8, 2 Peter 2:12) have the notion of corruption. Note the contrast in 1 Corinthians 15:42 between ἐν φθορᾷ and ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ. St. Paul uses φθείρω in 1 Corinthians 3:17 for the punishment of one who destroys (φθείρω) the Temple of God. In Romans 3:16 destruction (σύντριμμα) and misery (ταλαιπωρἰα) are coupled together for the ways of the sinful. But the chief words for the idea of destruction of the unbelieving are ἀπώλεια (ἀπολλύω) and ὄλεθρος, both from ὂλλυμι, ‘to destroy.’ In Revelation 9:11 ὁ Ἀπολλύων, the destroyer, is the title of Satan. The use of ἀπό in ἀπόλλυμι and ἀπώλεια is perfective, and in Greek literature generally the terms mean ‘destruction.’ This fact is used by the advocates of conditional immortality in favour of the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, but it is by no means clear that the words connote extinction of consciousness. Least of all is this true of the Septuagint use of the words. In 2 Peter 3:7 ἀπώλεια is used for the Day of Judgment and punishment of the wicked, which implies life after death. In Philippians 1:28 the word is in opposition to σωτηρία, in Hebrews 10:39 it is opposed to περιποίησις τῆς ψυχῆς (see also James 4:12, Judges 1:5, 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 10:9; 1 Corinthians 15:18, 2 Corinthians 2:15 f., 4:3, Romans 2:12, Philippians 3:19, Revelation 17:8; Revelation 17:11). There seems no good reason for reading into the context the notion of annihilation of the soul, for that was probably an idea wholly foreign to St. Paul. The term ὄλεθρος meets us in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Timothy 6:9 (εἰς ὄλεθρον καὶ ἀπώλειαν). In 2 Thessalonians 1:9 we have τίσουσιν ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον, which is the only passage that makes a statement about the duration of the destruction of the wicked. Aristotle (de Cœlo, i. 9, 15) defines αἰών as the limit (τὸ τέλος) either of a man’s epoch or the limit of all things (eternity). The word does not in itself denote eternity, but it lends itself readily to that idea. The context in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 makes the notion of finality or eternity necessary (Milligan, Thess., 1908, ad loc.). The word ὄλεθρος denotes hopeless ruin (cf. Beet, The Last Things, ed. 1905, p. 122ff.). In 4 Maccabees 10:15 we have τὸν αἰώνιον τοῦ τυράννου ὄλεθρον in contrast with τὸν ἀοίδιμον τῶν εὐσεβῶν βίον (cf. Milligan, op. cit. p. 65). St. Paul’s natural meaning is the ruin of the wicked, which goes on for ever. It is a dark subject from any point of view, but eternal sinning seems to call for eternal punishing. See also articles on Life and Death, Punishment, and Perdition.

A. T. Robertson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Destruction'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/d/destruction.html. 1906-1918.

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