The Lake of Fire, or the Molten Sea
In our previous chapter, we established that the Fire of God describes both His divine nature and law (word), which expresses it. We saw from Isaiah 26:9 that the purpose of God's judgments (i.e., penalties for sin) was to bring the inhabitants of the world to a place where they would learn righteousness. We saw how the Fire of God purifies us, for God sits as a Refiner of gold and silver (Malachi 3:2 and 3).
Justice is never satisfied until full restitution has been paid to all the victims of injustice. It is bad enough that our civil courts seldom recompense the victims. But the civil courts ultimately reflect the will of the people. If the Church had not abandoned God's true judicial system long ago, the civil courts would not have done so either. The laws and government of a nation simply reflect the religious view of its citizens, except in cases where one nation is occupying another.
In the case of the judicial system itself, how can we expect our judges to establish justice in the courts, prescribing judgments that are neither too lenient nor too harsh, when the Church itself prescribes an infinite and horrible punishment upon all sinners alike, regardless of the nature of their crime? The courts are merely reflecting the values of the people.
Which is worse, to sentence a man to five years in prison for theft, or to sentence him to a torture chamber for all eternity? Civil judges today know that the punishment should vary, depending on the severity of the crime. Yet much of the Church is still influenced by the Roman logic that the purpose of punishment is to deter crime, rather than to restore justice. With this mindset, it is logical that if punishments are severe enough, law and order will be maintained, and the people will be obedient.
If they had been students of the divine law, they would have understood that the purpose of judgment is to restore the lawful order by restoring the lost property to the victim, while restoring the sinner to grace and forgiveness.
The White Throne Judgment
In Revelation 20:11-15 we are given a description of the great White Throne Judgment. John says,
11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
Take note that these men are all judged on the basis of their deeds. We are saved by grace apart from our works, but when it comes to the judgment, those not justified by the blood of Jesus Christ are judged according to their works. God does not just lump everyone together and give them all the same judgment, as is commonly taught. We will prove this as we proceed. John continues:
14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
At first glance, this seems to imply that everyone receives the same judgment. But if this were so, then how could they be judged according to their deeds? The lake of fire is a general picture of the process of judgment-NOT a specific judgment in and of itself. The lake of fire is the fiery law itself, and the law consists of many different types of judgment, which fit the specific crime committed.
This is made apparent by Daniel's description of this same White Throne Judgment in Daniel 7:9 and 10.
9 I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened.
What John called "the lake of fire" in the book of Revelation, Daniel describes as "a river of fire." God's Throne itself is pictured as a fire, which then flows like a river out upon the people standing before Him. Very few today would describe the lake of fire as Daniel did!
The meaning is quite clear. The river, or lake of fire is God's justice being administered to the sinners. What is the nature of that justice? As always, it is defined by God's Law, for all sin is judged by the Law.
A throne is a universal symbol of the law by which a king rules, or judges. Thus, the "fiery Law" of Deut. 33:2 is pictured in vision form as a fiery throne in Daniel 7:9. They are one and the same.
Is the Fire Literal or Spiritual?
Most people would agree that the lake of fire is indeed God's judgment upon sinners. The real disagreement comes in defining the nature of that judgment, that is, the specifics of how it works out in practice. Is it a "literal" fire? Is it a "spiritual" fire? We believe it is not literal, but it is certainly of a spiritual nature, because the Law is spiritual (Romans 7:14).
All of our misunderstandings of the lake of fire would easily be solved by a study of God's Law. After all, this is the most relevant factor in this matter of judgment. Paul says in Romans 6:23, "for the wages of sin is death." Ezekiel 18:20 confirms this: "The person ["soul"] who sins will die."
Anyone who studies the divine law will see that death is the worst possible punishment that can be meted out. Even when a man was guilty of multiple murder, the maximum penalty was death. There is no sin worthy of being burned at the stake, much less being burned in a torture chamber for an eternity.
There were some instances where the dead body of the offender was to be cremated rather than buried (Joshua 7:25; Lev. 21:9). This was the most dishonorable way to die in Scripture. In the New Testament times, the bodies of such criminals were thrown into the valley of Hinnom, which was Jerusalem's city dump. It constantly burned, as even modern dumps do. In the Greek, this valley was called "Gehenna," and Jesus used it as a warning in Mark 9:42-50.
47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell [gehenna], 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
Take note that the worms here are not immortal or fireproof. The city dump constantly burned, and in the places where no flame had yet reached, there were countless worms, or maggots, to consume the garbage. But there is no record that anyone was ever cast into gehenna as a means of torture, except in ancient times, when the Canaanites caused their children to die by fire to the god, Molech. Jeremiah speaks of this in 32:35.
35 And they built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
This ungodly practice, performed in the valley of Ben-hinnom (i.e., "the son of Hinnom," or gehenna in Greek) was a direct result of their religious doctrine of the fiery underworld, a teaching that was well developed in Egypt, Babylon, and Canaan. The Hebrew Bible's description of the state of the dead stands in stark contrast, and the few times it does speak of fire are quite obviously symbolic.
When Jesus spoke of gehenna, he was simply quoting Isaiah 66:24, where the prophet speaks of the final battle at the end of the age. He closes with this description, which Jesus ascribes to gehenna:
24 Then they shall go forth and look on THE CORPSES of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind.
This is hardly a description of eternal punishment in some spiritual torture chamber. It is very much an earthly scene, the kind we might expect to "go forth" and look upon after a disastrous war. On the other hand, it certainly is representative of the lake of fire, as we shall see. Yet there is no indication from this verse or from Jesus' quotation of it that men will be eternally tortured in gehenna. Torture was not a lawful biblical judgment.
Although some parallel does exist between gehenna (the city dump) and the lake of fire, the valley of Ben-hinnom, or "gehenna," was nothing like a lake. Jesus used the parallel in order to describe two things about the lake of fire: (1) the people would be outside the New Jerusalem; and (2) it would be a place of shame. Beyond this, the theme ends and only resurfaces under a different name and another kind of symbolism.
John did not call it gehenna, because the purpose of the literal gehenna did not adequately describe the fire flowing from God's throne, nor was gehenna a part of the temple symbolism which was John's primary theme throughout the book of Revelation.
The Laver, or the Molten Sea
One must always keep in mind that the book of Revelation was written by a Hebrew. He did not interpret the Old Testament from a Greek or Egyptian perspective. His focus was upon heavenly things, particularly the True Temple in heaven. The religious symbolism of the earthly temple referred only to the heavenly reality and must be viewed in that light. John views all of history as a fulfillment of prophecy displayed in the ceremonies and vessels of the temple.
In view of our present topic, we must study the laver, the place of cleansing and purification for the priests as they washed themselves (baptism), the vessels, and the sacrifices. This "water baptism" set up in the days of Moses, was itself only an earthly manifestation of the heavenly baptism, the baptism of fire.
And so, John points to the temple laver and calls it the lake of fire. In essence, as we shall see, the picture is meant to portray the Refiner's Fire, complete with the cauldron of alloyed mineral and its impurities, as the Refiner begins His work.
The book of Revelation is written from the perspective of a priest who is familiar with all the rites and ceremonies that had been performed in the Temple of Jerusalem before its destruction in 70 A.D. John was apparently a former priest in Jerusalem. Of this we have evidence from a letter of Polycrates (later bishop of Ephesus, where John also ministered). His letter is preserved by Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century.
"For great luminaries sleep in Asia, and they will rise again at the last day of the advent of the Lord . . . And there is also John, who leaned on the Lord's breast, who was a priest wearing the mitre, and martyr and teacher, and he sleeps at Ephesus." (Eccl. Hist., III, xxxi)
A footnote explains that the word "mitre" here is petalon, which is used in the Septuagint of the high priest's diadem, but what it means here has never been discovered. For some strange reason, Eusebius again quotes Polycrates in Vol. V, ch.13, where he uses the term "breastplate," rather than mitre. Whatever the case, it is clear that John wrote from the perspective of a priest and may have been revered as a sort of "high priest" of the Church in Ephesus.
Both the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon used water in their lavers, rather than molten gold. Yet the water was meant to portray molten gold. Gold is the divine nature, and so the laver itself would portray God's refining process. In our fleshly state, we could not survive a baptism of fiery gold, and so water baptism became the substitute and type of the true baptism of fire.
In the days of Solomon's Temple, the laver was called "the molten sea" (1 Kings 7:23). When gold has been refined to its absolutely pure state, molten gold is as clear as crystal. If Solomon would have filled the Temple's laver with pure gold and melted it, it would have looked like "a sea of glass like crystal" (Rev. 4:6). In Revelation 15:2 John described it as "a sea of glass mixed with fire."
What John saw in heaven was the laver, the lake of fire, as pictured in the Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon. The laver was used to wash (baptize) in order to be cleansed, or purified ceremonially. The purpose of the law was to teach righteousness to the inhabitants of the world. The purpose of fire is to purify. So it does not strain our imagination in the least to consider both the laver and the lake of fire to be for the purpose of divine purification, rather than a place where men are tortured forever.
The lake of fire is portrayed in Scripture as the final place where the great Refiner sits to purify the hearts of men and prepare them to dwell in the divine presence in fellowship with God. This is the true purpose of the laver. At present only the true priests of God and of Christ (Rev. 20:6), that is, Christians in this present age, have access to that great laver. Even as the Levitical priests of the Old Testament purified themselves daily at the laver, so also are we baptized to signify that God has purified our hearts. In that final Age, the Lake of Fire shall be applied universally to those in need of purification.
Fire and Brimstone
There are some who argue that the fire must be a literal place of burning and torture, because it is often associated with "brimstone." Revelation 21:8 says,
8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
Does the "brimstone" prove that this is a literal fire that tortures men? Actually, the very opposite is true. Brimstone is sulfur, as any concordance will show. The original Greek word for sulfur, or "brimstone," is theion. Its root is theo, which is the same word usually translated "God." (Note: Theology is the study of God.)
Sulfur, or theion, was considered to be sacred to the ancient Greeks. It was used to consecrate for divine service, to PURIFY, and to cleanse. They used it in religious rites to purify their temples. They would even rub it on their bodies to signify consecration to God. In its verb form the word theou means "to hallow, make divine, or to dedicate to God."
And so, to a Greek reader, a lake of fire and brimstone (sulfur) would signify a lake of divine purification or consecration to God. Consequently, in Virgil's classic Greek epic, The Aeneid, 741-742, 745-747) we read:
"Therefore we souls are trained with punishment
And pay with suffering for old felonies--
Some are hung up helpless to the winds;
The stain of sin is cleansed for others of us
In the trough of a huge whirlpool, or with fire
Burned out of us-each one of us we suffer
The afterworld we deserve."
This "fire and sulfur," taken symbolically by the more educated or by the higher degrees of religion, was only literalized by the uneducated. The priests generally allowed them to be deceived, of course, because they also believed that fear of fire was a good religious motivator.
The early Christian Church of the first few centuries after Christ knew this. This is shown by their writings. Unfortunately, some also believed in "the doctrine of Reserve." That is, they would withhold some teachings from the novices until they were mature Christians. They did this specifically with the teaching on the lake of fire, allowing novices to take their words literally, rather than spiritually, so that they would be better motivated to turn to Christ.
Exactly how much this contributed to the rise of hellfire teaching is hard to say, but it certainly was a factor. They may have justified such a practice in their minds, but with our modern 20/20 hindsight we can see where it led the Church in later years.
The Early Church's Teaching on Fire
The essential view that we will present here was held by most of the early Christian Church as well. In support of this statement, we shall endeavor to present to the reader a few samples from the most influential of the Christian leaders in the first few centuries. Our purpose is to show that our view is not strange or out of step with at least most of the early Church fathers.
1. Clement of Alexandria (150-213 A.D.)
Clement's full Latin name was Titus Flavius Clemens and was related in some way to the Roman Emperors, though it is not known just how. He was born in Athens and later moved to Alexandria, the hub of Greek culture and religion. Being very well educated, he started a Christian school there, with the aim of explaining Christ to the Greek world. He also wrote a book called Miscellanies, in which "the task Clement had set himself was to make a summary of Christian knowledge up to his time" (Donald Attwater, Saints of the East, p. 37).
As we saw in Chapter Two, Clement believed the fire to be an instrument of God leading to conversion. He considered the Greek idea of fire to be far more scriptural than the Egyptian view, which one writer described as follows:
"The Egyptian Hell was particularly impressive and highly refined . . . Confinement and imprisonment played an important role. The tortures were bloody, and punishment by fire was frequent and terrifying. . . . When it came to the topography of Hell, the Egyptian imagination knew no limits. . . Intermediate states or phases in the other-worldly process of purification did not exist." (Jacques de Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, pp. 19, 20)
On the other hand, the Platonic Greek view had some remarkable likenesses to the Hebrew view. The above author attributes Clement's view on purification to Plato, who in turn got it from Virgil and other early Greek poets. However, the view of fire as a lawful cleanser from sin, rather than a means of torture, is well established in the Old Testament as well as the New. Jacques de Goff continues by writing on page 53,
"From the Old Testament, Clement and Origen took the notion that fire is a divine instrument, and from the New Testament the idea of baptism by fire (from the Gospels) and the idea of a purificatory trial after death (from Paul)."
In Clement's own words, he says plainly:
"God does not wreak vengeance, for vengeance is to return evil for evil, and God punishes only with an eye to the good." (Stromata, 7, 26)
Clement headed the Christian school of thought in Alexandria from 190-203 A.D. He had to flee for his life during the persecution of Serverus in 203, and he spent his remaining years teaching in Antioch and Palestine. And so his most brilliant student in Alexandria took his place as head of the school. His name was Origen.
2. Origen of Alexandria (180-253 A.D.)
Like his predecessor, Origen was not the bishop of the city, and yet he was by far the most influential Christian for the next century. He was the first to write a systematic theological commentary on the whole Bible. He took great pains to learn Hebrew, not only that he might better argue the case for Christianity among the Judeans, but also that he might correct some of the mistranslations of the Septuagint Greek version.
Around 230 A.D. he visited Antioch, Caesarea, and Jerusalem, and though he was only a presbyter (not even a priest), he was asked to speak from the pulpit. He accepted. When Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria back home, heard of it, he was filled with envy and rage, demanding that he cease immediately and return to Alexandria. Origen meekly returned, and the incident was forgotten.
A few years later, Origen again went on the same trip and was this time prevailed upon to be ordained a priest, so he could teach from the pulpit. He accepted. When Demetrius heard of it, he was again filled with rage and envy. Origen was excommunicated from Alexandria on the grounds that he had emasculated himself in his youth and was therefore not allowed to preach from the pulpit. (Origen had taken Jesus' words in Matt. 19:12 a bit too literally in his youthful zeal, but had repented of it afterward.) Demetrius quoted Deut. 23:1 to support his case, although he had never raised the issue in the 20 years prior to that time. Yet the bishop of Rome at the time agreed with the verdict, though none of the other Palestinian or Greek churches did. Soon the issue died down and was forgotten for another 150 years.
And so Origen spent the last twenty years of his life in Palestine, where a wealthy patron hired six secretaries to help him write his books. His writings were the most influential in the whole Greek world, though he was relatively unknown in the Latin West. In his book, Against Celsus IV, 13 Origen continues the teaching of Clement by writing:
"The Sacred Scripture does, indeed, call our God "a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29), and says that "rivers of fire go before His face: (Dan. 7:10), and that "He shall come as a refiner's fire and purify the people" (Mal. 3:2,3). As therefore, God is a consuming fire, what is it that is to be consumed by Him? We say it is wickedness, and whatever proceeds from it, such as is figuratively called "wood, hay, and stubble" (1 Cor. 3:12-15) which denote the evil works of man. Our God is a consuming fire in this sense; and He shall come as a refiner's fire to purify rational nature from the alloy of wickedness and other impure matter which has adulterated the intellectual gold and silver; consuming whatever evil is admixed in all the soul."
We dealt with the topic of the Great White Throne Judgment earlier. In his book On Prayer XXIX, 15 Origen further writes:
"They are purged with the "wise fire" or made to pay in prison every debt up to the last farthing . . . to cleanse them from the evils committed in their error . . . Thus they are delivered from all the filth and blood with which they had been so filthied and defiled that they could not even think about being saved from their own perdition . . ."
The teachings of Clement and Origen were NOT unusual. The basic view of the divine Fire restoring sinners was the majority opinion for many centuries in the Greek-speaking Christian Church. Unfortunately, many in the Latin Church of the West did not read the Scriptures in their Greek original, but only had a very inferior Old Latin version which Jerome eventually re-translated as the Latin Vulgate. And so the Latin West did not set the theological tone for the Church until Augustine in 400 A.D.
3. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 A.D.)
St. Gregory was well educated in Alexandria and Athens. Having a call to the ministry, he went to Pontus with St. Basil, where the two compiled a collection of the writings of Origen, called Philokalia, or "Love of the Beautiful." Gregory was a quiet man, a perpetual student, the kind of person who spent his whole life studying, having no desire to make a name for himself. However, the people would not allow this. In 361 Gregory was forcibly seized by the people and compelled to become ordained as a priest. So much for the quiet life.
He then pastored the church at Sasima, a village in Cappadocia. For a few months Gregory was also bishop of Constantinople, where it is said he accomplished more in a few months there than in twenty years in Caesarea. Gregory was one of the four Eastern Doctors of the Church. In addition to that, according to Robert Payne:
"Of all the Fathers of the Church, he was the only one to be granted after his death the title "Theologian," which until this time was reserved for an apostle -- John of Patmos." (The Fathers of the Eastern Church, p. 179)
I include these credentials to show that this was no insignificant, back-woods, self-styled pastor. Nor was he an ambitious, self-aggrandizing leader as many were in his day. Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the most prominent Christian leaders of his day and well loved for the fruit of the Spirit, which he manifested daily and consistently. In fact, this red-haired Cappodocian had quite a sense of humor and was the only one who was known to have ever dared to laugh at his friend Basil, who was very stern and austere, the father of Eastern monasticism. At any rate, Gregory wrote this about the lake of fire:
"These (apostates), if they will, may go our way, which indeed is Christ's; but if not, let them go their own way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only very painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice." (Orat. XXXIX, 19)
Thus, he calls the lake of fire a "baptism" whose purpose is to "consume all vanity and vice." He does say it is "very painful," but then, I often find that laver baptism very painful myself. Yet I submit to it, because I know it is God's method of purification.
4. Gregory of Nyassa (335-394 A.D.)
St. Basil, the dear friend of Gregory of Nazianzus, had a younger brother also named Gregory. He was a bishop of Nyassa in Cappadocia. Robert Payne writes of him:
"The Emperor Theodosius had recognized him as the supreme authority in all matters of theological orthodoxy, and . . . he was treated with extraordinary respect." (Robert Payne, The Fathers of the Eastern Church, p. 164)
Again, the same historian says:
"Of the three Cappadocian Fathers Gregory of Nyassa is the one closest to us, the least proud, the most subtle, the one most committed to the magnificence of man. That strange, simple, happy, unhappy, intelligent, and God-tormented man was possessed by angels . . . He employed all those resources of Greek philosophy to help him in his task . . . In Eastern Christianity his Great Catechism follows immediately after Origen's On First Principles. These were the two seminal works, close-woven, astonishingly lucid, final . . . Athanasius was the hammer, Basil the stern commander, Gregory of Nazianzus the tormented singer, and it was left to Gregory of Nyassa to be the man enchanted with Christ . . . Four hundred years after his death, at the Seventh General Council held in A.D. 787, the assembled princes of the Church granted him a title which exceeded in their eyes all the other titles granted to men: he was called "Father of Fathers." (Ibid., pp. 168, 169)
This was an ironic twist of history, for that same council also pronounced a curse upon all who taught that the fire of God would cleanse, rather than torture men for eternity! One might think that perhaps Gregory was out of step with mainstream Christian thought for believing and teaching the restoration of all mankind, but Funk & Wagnall's New Encyclopedia says of him,
"Gregory's religious position was strictly orthodox" (i.e., mainstream Christianity in his day).
In fact, he was called "the bulwark of the church against heresy," taking part in the Council of Nicea and other later Church Councils. In his book De Anima et Resurrectione, he wrote about the nature of the second death:
"They who live in the flesh ought, by virtuous conversation, to free themselves from fleshly lusts, lest after death, they should again need another death to cleanse away the remains of fleshly vice that cling to them."
In another book, Orat. In 1 Cor. 15:28, he wrote:
"When all the alloy of evil that has been mixed up in the things that are, having been separated by the refining action of the cleansing fire, everything that was created by God shall have become such as it was at the beginning, when as yet it had not admitted evil . . . this is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the Divine Life, penetrating all things shall absolutely destroy Death from among the things that are; sin having been destroyed before him, by means of which, as has been said death held his dominion over men."
These are just a few of the writings of the early Church leaders. It is well known by those who have studied early Church writings, this was the majority view. In fact, it was practically the ONLY VIEW for the first few centuries after Christ and the apostles. The early Church had quite a number of doctrinal disputes, but this issue was NOT EVEN DISPUTED. In fact, it was taught by all the major theologians of the day in the churches that the Apostle Paul founded.
Six Schools of Christian Learning
There were six Christian theological schools of thought known to have existed in the first few centuries. The first and earliest was in Alexandria, where Clement, Origen, and others clearly taught that sinners are purged by the lake of fire. The theological school at Caesaria in Palestine was next. The writings of both Origen and Clement were highly esteemed there, and Origen actually lived there during his most productive years.
The school of Antioch, which had its feet more firmly planted on the ground, disputed with Origen over his allegorical method of interpretation, but they agreed wholeheartedly with his view on the "lake of fire." The same with the school founded at Edessa in the fifth century.
It was only the Latin school (based in Carthage, but which included Rome) that taught the doctrine of endless punishment. Augustine, the "champion" of endless torments, wrote that there were:
". . . indeed VERY MANY (who) . . . do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture." (Enchiridion, 112)
Augustine was the most influential of the Latin Church fathers. He was a teacher of Rhetoric first in Carthage and later in Milan, Italy, where he was converted. He then retired from teaching and moved back to North Africa, where he was soon ordained as a priest and later as the bishop of the town of Hippo.
Before his conversion in 386 A.D. Augustine had been of the sect of the Manichees for nine years. This was to be both an asset and a liability to him in later years. It was an asset in that the Manichees had been fond of quoting Paul's views on predestination, which happened to agree with their eastern philosophy. Augustine was to become virtually the first Christian bishop (that we know of) since the Apostle Paul to teach the doctrine of predestination.
On the other hand, the Manichees had also instilled in Augustine the idea that the end of all things, the goal of history, was a final separation of the kingdom of Light from the kingdom of Darkness. He incorporated this teaching more fully than any before him in his idea that eventually all sinners would be separated from all the righteous, and that they would eternally exist in that sinful state. Most of the Church before him, particularly in the East, had taught that one day evil and darkness would cease to exist, that God may be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). We shall explain this more fully in our next chapters.
Augustine's rigorous views stated that God had predestined a few for salvation but for most to be tormented eternally. His view of predestination was later toned down by the Roman Church, in order to accommodate fully the view of eternal torment without portraying God to be overly unjust. These are topics that we will deal with fully in a later chapter as well.
The Manichean sect was founded around 240 A.D. by a Persian named Mani. It was a cross between Persian, Dualism, Buddhism and Christianity. From Persia they adopted the idea that good and evil were both eternal forces, or kingdoms. They were said to be of equal strength, although each would ebb and flow at various times. At present the light and darkness were mixed, and the goal of history was to separate them by a wall. Yet evil would always exist, they said, because it was eternal and therefore just as powerful as good.
Bishop Archelaus in 277 A.D. wrote a book against the Manicheans called The Acts of the Disputation with Mani the Heretic. He argued against Manicheanism (and thus also against Augustine) by proving that one day all evil-including death itself-would cease to exist (1 Cor. 15:25,26).
Titus, bishop of Bostra, also wrote a book around 364 A.D. entitled, Against Manicheans, where he said,
"The punishments of God are Holy, as they are remedial and salutary in their effect upon transgressors; for they are inflicted, not to preserve them in their wickedness, but to make them cease from their sins. The abyss . . . is indeed the place of punishment, but it is not endless. The anguish of their sufferings compels them to break off from their sins."
Augustine's theological opponents all argued against his views on the grounds that he had gotten his theology from the Manicheans. Some of these charges are true, others are not. It is clear, however, that the nine years he spent as a Manichee oriented him to think more deeply in areas that the Church had not thought of before that time. It depends upon one's point of view as to whether Augustine was justified in his various views. From our perspective, we note only that his City of God ends with the final separation of good and evil, light and darkness, and that both are eternally preserved in their respective places. Augustine would certainly not have come to this conclusion on his own; he really did get it from the Manichees.
One other very influential theologian was Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428). He asked, "Who is so great a fool" as to believe that God would resurrect men merely to destroy them forever with torments? (Fragment IV)
During the Dark Ages, when the doctrine of eternal torment was "orthodox" in Europe, its judicial shadow came with it-burning people at the stake. It was argued that God was going to throw them into an endless torment of fire anyway, so the Church was only initiating it a few insignificant years early. Besides, such "justice" served to instill fear into the hearts of people of going against the Church in any way-not only to avoid the stake, but to avoid the burning hell.
This tactic was certainly effective; no one can argue that point. But if one has opportunity to study the divine justice of Bible Law, it soon becomes apparent that such punishment is of heathen origin, rather that of the Bible. In every nation, the popular belief about divine justice has always served as a model for the justice of man. In the Dark Ages, they thought they were imitating God; in reality, however, they were imitating the heathen who burned their children to Molech in the valley of Ben-hinnom.
In Chapter Four we will show biblically that the Greek and Hebrew words for "eternal" and "everlasting" are mistranslations brought in through the Latin Vulgate around 400 A.D. Then we will deal with the more positive subject of God's great Restoration.