John 3:16: A Keystone Verse of Conditional Immortality

It has been well said that John 3:16 could be called, “The Gospel in a Nutshell,” “The Golden Text of the Bible,” “The ‘Good News’ in Brief” and other such descriptive phrases. These kinds of statements are true and can be taken at face value, deservedly so. Titles such as these are justified by the verse’s total summation of God’s final plan for his human creatures. So complete is this summation, as has been stated often, that if all the rest of the Bible were totally destroyed, and only this particular verse left intact, right there is enough salvation for the entire world, and adequate information on the final destiny of all humanity.

This passage could also be known by another name: “A Keystone Verse of Conditional Immortality.” This name is justified by a simple but thorough examination of the verse itself. It is demonstrably clear that those who accept Christ as Messiah and conduct their lives accordingly, will be given eternal life and will not suffer the “perishing” of the “second death” of other Scripture references (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 12-15; 21:8). And what of those who do not accept this offer? They are also specifically addressed in this verse, not by name but by direct comparison, and in just as complete and deep a manner as the accepters are, though most readers apparently fail to observe this fact. The message is clear that those who accept the poured-out love from God through his Son, and who live accordingly, will have eternal life. Those who do the opposite will get the opposite: no eternal life. So, though John 3:16 is not normally used as a proof text for conditional immortality, it can be, and should be.

Some critics might say that the verse does not specifically name the unbelievers as non-recipients of eternal life, and that one cannot debate from silence to present a valid, legal argument, for or against any issue. True enough, one cannot argue from absolute silence on a matter, or on something that is not clearly stated, unless by direct comparison of the wording, one can detect a clear meaning for one of only two possibilities (in this case, the two are “with” or “without” eternal life). So then, if one of the two possibilities is very specifically defined (believers do not perish, but receive eternal life), then the non-believers are excluded from that possibility by not being named in what is more than an inference or a supposition, but is an obvious, logical deduction.

The word “eternal” αἰώνιος (aiōnios), as used here, carries a primary, and almost singular, meaning of “everlasting.” That is, once a given thing is announced and put in place, it will never change but will “last forever,” forever in that state. Those who believe and accept the death of Christ in their place, will have future lives that will last forever, while those who do not believe and do not accept, will “perish,” and have no future lives, and that will also be final and last forever. The word used for “perish” is the term ἀπόλλυμι (appollumi), and like the other John 3:16 terms, bears distinctive and unequivocal meaning. The Strongest Strong’s says that ἀπόλλυμι denotes “destroy,” “to kill” (by taking a life), “cause to lose” (especially a life), and “to die or perish.” So it is clear that a cessation of living is what is meant, not a continuation of it somehow through a detachable spirit-self, referred to as an “immortal soul” that leaves the body and lives on though the body dies.

The two possible final dispositions and destinations for human beings are both delineated with precision and exactness by logical connection and deduction. This is done through what could be called “oppositional equivalency.” Life is the opposite of death. If one receives living forever (being given eternal life) for accepting the grace of God through repentance and salvation, then it follows that one should receive being dead forever (being given eternal death, or perhaps better stated, being dead for eternity) for not accepting the grace of God through repentance and salvation.

In this logical sequence, life and death in the Bible are mutually exclusive but mutually suitable. There is perfect alignment of these resulting conditions as they are 180 degrees apart, just as the causes of their being are. Nothing could be fairer or more honest. Such could be expected of a Holy God. All sin must be done away with, utterly consumed, absolutely destroyed, including Satan and his cohorts, and that will be in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10-15; 21:8) following judgment day. This destruction will be final and permanently so. The two outcomes of accepting or rejecting Christ are equal in application and duration: Both are eternal (once pronounced at judgment), with persons sentenced to life forever or to death forever. The reward or punishment is pronounced as final and will never change: It is an eternal condition. But, many onlookers confuse the word “punishment” with “punishing.” The latter term is not in God’s plan for eternity, but the first one is. Once the “second death” punishment for sin is pronounced and carried out, that will never change and becomes eternally fixed and set. Of course, the “second death” is now required because the resurrection from the “first death” brings life back into all bodies, and those who are given eternal life will, of necessity, live on (and keep this new life forever) and those who are not given eternal life will have to die the second and final time in the fire of final destruction (Rev. 20:10, 14-15; 21:8). The wages of sin must be paid, or God is a liar (Rom. 6:23). Since accepting the death of Christ on the cross pays the penalty for believers (the absolute atonement; the “At-one-ment”) their debt is settled and they do not have to die a second time. However, since unbelievers do not accept the death of Christ as payment, their debt still exists and each person so found indebted will have to pay his or her own debt, which is the personal, second death of Rom 6:23. That same reference, once more, grants the opposite to those who accept and follow Christ, life for eternity.

While it is true that time, place and circumstances are not totally filled in by John 3:16 (as that is done by other Scriptures such as 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 2:8-12), there is no doubt that all believers/accepters will have eternal life; all non-believers/rejecters will not. Both will have an “everlasting” fate once instituted at judgment following the resurrection. One group (believers) will have a sentence of life placed upon them that will last forever afterwards. The other group (non-believers) will have a sentence of death placed upon them that will last forever afterwards. These two results are permanent and therefore will remain forever just that way, or, “be everlasting” in result.

If some of the foregoing seems a bit repetitious, it none-the-less serves to underscore the importance of having a clear understanding of John 3:16 and other supporting Scriptures. The biblical information on immortality and eternal life has been over-read, over-quoted, under-explored and woefully misunderstood.

It seems that every denomination or sect even remotely connected to Christianity claims to “know” the truth on these matters. Many of these groups can all quote passages such as John 3:16, but cannot give substantive answers as to fuller meanings of them. Quoting surface Scriptures is an act of opinion as to what is meant. But, studying Scripture deeply (as advised in 2 Tim. 2:15), creates opinion solidified and informed by fact, which renders not an opinion only, but truth. A given verse may seem to say a particular thing, but translator biases, preconceived notions brought to bear by readers, the musings and imaginations of secular theorists, inadequate study of original or source documents by scholars and ignorance of root word meanings in the Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic languages, all contribute to misinterpretations, and can actually render diametrically opposed meanings as to what is actually recorded.

Another source of confusion arises through the popular and highly esteemed writings of non-Biblical authors. Homer, Virgil, Socrates, Plato, Dante and the whole of Greek and Roman myths concerning the gods and religious themes have not helped, but have added a layer of fictional veneer that greatly disguises any truth beneath. While these, and other authors like them, have great standing in the at-large literary canon, just being literary-canon-included does not make them first-rank theologians. Since by definition, most of literature is fictional, one would not expect from such writers a clear separation of fact from fiction, but rather a weaving together of the two to give the writing cache and a sense of realism. According to literary experts, good fiction must be believable, so writers join the two in an unholy alliance that can lead to serious distortion of Biblical concepts. (Think Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” or Dante’s “Inferno,” for example, or the entire genre of so-called, “historical” novels.) Less inquiring minds do not make the attempt at separation of fact from fiction, and wholesale error can thus creep in to be promulgated as deep, truthful insight, as is precisely the case with “immortality of the soul” via Socrates, Plato, many others, and later, Greek Christians in general.

If turned loose by practical preaching and emphasized in daily living, John 3:16 can solve once and for all the question of who has eternal life in their futures following the resurrection, and who does not. It cannot be made plainer that eternal life is conditional and based solely upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The rejection of him is eternal death with the same definitions used for eternal life. Life and death, for believer and unbeliever respectively, will be just what it says: lasting for all eternity in both cases, one as life, the other as death. John 3:16 is not often (if ever) used to present conditional immortality, but once more, it should be. After all, it is a “keystone verse” to that understanding.

To more completely comprehend this miniature summation of the great and grand gospel truth in John 3:16, one needs but to search more deeply into what is actually contained there: Those who accept the invitation to “believe” in the offering of the sinless life of Christ for the sins of the world, and who accept that for themselves on an individual basis will be given life for eternity; rejecters will not be so gifted. God so loved the lost world of humanity that he gave his Son as the perfect sin offering through his death on the cross. Sins have to be paid for in some manner. Those who say that “sin does not pay,” are perhaps unfamiliar with Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” Sin does pay, but look at what it pays! Sin brings death. The word translated “death” used here θάνατος (thanatos) has a primary meaning (in its simplest terms), as the cessation of life, consciousness, and any awareness of being. There is no way to stretch the meaning of this discrete noun to include any sort of “aliveness,” by whatever name it may be called, including that of an “immortal soul” that does not die, though it is said the body does. Death here is death: “dead” is “dead absolutely” (Ps. 115:17; Eccl. 9:5-6, 10). That is precisely the debt Christ paid on the cross: His life (a perfect, sinless one) for the sins of the world. His one death met the Romans 6:23 requirement, and atoned for all sins as the perfect sin offering, as no other death could. That debt is now fully paid for all who will accept the eternal life it affords.

Consider again the word “perish” as that which John 3:16 assigns to non-believers. The Greek word used here is ἀπόλλυμι, which has already been discussed at the beginning of this treatise, but bears some reiteration just now for emphasis. Ἀπόλλυμι has a primary meaning of cessation of all life, and when the variations and secondary meanings are taken into account, it means “to destroy utterly,” or “fully,” “to cause to perish,” “to come to an end,” and “to be finally ruined and destroyed.” Nowhere does this term allow for a partial dying of an individual with some person-portion still living on that cannot die. Ἀπόλλυμι is actually a stronger form of the term ὄλλυμι (ollumi), which itself means “to end life,” “bring to naught,” “cause to perish” and “put to death.” Multiple Scriptures use this very strong word unabashedly (Matt. 10:28; 21:41; 22:7; Luke 13:3-5; 17:27-30; John 10:28; Rom. 2:12-13; 2 Cor. 2:15-16; 4:3; 2 Peter 3:9).

The overall approach to Scriptural interpretation should be one of taking its words at face value in their simplest, elemental forms and meanings in their original languages, not meanings assigned to them to make them fit into an already-conceived doctrine. This latter process becomes an idea, however far-fetched, hunting for a proof-text. It is the act of first believing something and afterwards finding (bending or forcing) a Scriptural source of accommodation. This then, becomes not the logical result of “seeing it and then believing it,” but is the illogical result of “believing it and then seeing it,” no matter how wrong this latter “believing/seeing” may be. This process is one of wanting to believe something, coming to believe that something and then finding support for that something, even if it isn’t there!

It would seem that very unambiguous Bible verses such as John 3:15 (companion verse to John 3:16) and John 3:36 would lay to rest any issues concerning who will eventually gain “eternal” life, and who will eventually receive “eternal” death. However, persons with preconceived notions held tenaciously are not looking for alternatives to what they already believe, but rather, are searching for further support for those conceptions.

The twisting of words to garner desired meanings smacks of the erroneous effort in the literary world a few decades ago called “deconstructionism.” This concept taught that words have meanings only to the person who hears or reads them. It does not matter what the speaker or the writer intended, the meaning is outside his or her purview. The obvious fallacy here is that the author/speaker had a meaning in mind and chose words to deliver that, so there was an original meaning intended, even if not communicated perfectly, or if miscomprehended. If meaning is in the receiver only, trying to communicate anything to another person is a lost cause from the start because any meaning can be transduced and manufactured on the reception end: “I know what he said, but I know what he meant.” Perhaps what “he” said is exactly what “he” meant! The meaning intended is the genuine message, not what may be wrung out of it, wrought upon it, or written into it. Original intent using original meanings cannot be ignored or truth suffers.

So, trying to take a word like “death” (in its primary and elemental meaning, remember), and make it mean that only a part of a human being dies at “death” because there is an immortal part that does not, flies into the face of the original, elemental and assigned definition. And when the “second death” terminology is added, confusion should be cleared up as to what the eternal punishment of all sin, unrepentant sinners and Satan with his troop, is to be. Popular would-be-theologians may be sincere, but they can be sincerely wrong. “What does the Bible say?” is the question to be asked.

Dr. R.F. Weymouth, the eminent Greek scholar and Bible translator, had this to say about “everlasting torment” for the wicked from a just God: “My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses signifying “destroy,” or “destruction,” are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this.” 1 John 5:12 slams the door on all such bogus notions as Dr. Weymouth is pointing out by undergirding John 3:16 with these words, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.” Period. John 3:16 as a Keystone Verse supporting the arch of conditional immortality is in place, and holds.

A Selected Bibliography

  1. Atkinson, Basil F.C. Life and Immortality: An Examination of the   Nature and Meaning of Life and Death as They Are Revealed in the Scriptures. Taunton, England, UK: The Phoenix Press (published privately). No date (1920s?). Print.
  2. Crouse, Moses C. Modern Discussions of Man’s Immortality. Boston: Advent Christian Publication Society, Inc. 1950. Print.
  3. Dickenson, Curtis. Man and His Destiny. Lubbock, Texas: privately published. No date (1960s?). Print.
  4. Froom, Le Roy Edwin. The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers. The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man. Washington, DC. 1966. Print.
  5. KJV Reference Bible. Holman Bible Publishers: Nashville. 1996. Print.
  6. Strong, James (Rev. John R. Kolenberger III and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Zondervon: Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2001. Print.
  7. Wenham, John. “The Case for Conditional Immortality” (in Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed. Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell. Grand Rapids: Baker. 1992. Print).
  8. Weymouth, Richard F (as cited in Dickenson, above).

By Dr. Bob Hughes

(Dr. Bob Hughes is pastor of Pembroke Advent Christian Church in Pembroke, Ga.)


Hypocrisy On a Grand Scale

Inclusivity Means Accepting Everyone’s Views – Even Israel Folau’s

Karl du Fresne
Dominion Post

Something’s not quite right here. The 21st-century buzzwords are diversity and inclusivity, but they seem to be applied very selectively.

It seems we’re in favour of diversity and inclusivity if we’re talking about race, colour, gender and sexual identity, the latter two of which keep spinning off into ever-new permutations. But puzzlingly, we’re only partially tolerant when it comes to religious belief.

We are encouraged to be tolerant toward Islam, especially since the Christchurch atrocities, and so we should be. The right to practise one’s religion, at least unless it interferes with the rights of others, is one we should all unquestioningly support.  This applies even when secular society disapproves of some of those religions, or scratches its collective head in bemusement at their practices and beliefs.

But if freedom of religion is one cornerstone of a free society, so is freedom of expression, which includes the right to subject religion, along with every other institution of society, to critical scrutiny and even ridicule.

Virtually all religions – whether we’re talking Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, the Destiny Church or the Exclusive Brethren – possess what, to non-believers, are quirks, absurdities, hypocrisies and cruelties that render them ripe for mockery and condemnation.  For decades, comedians and satirists have taken joyous, blasphemous advantage of this freedom. How people laughed, for example, at Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, with its wickedly subversive song Every Sperm is Sacred – a dig at Catholic teaching on birth control.

If it offended devout Catholics – well, tough. Freedom to ridicule is the flipside of freedom to worship.
  Mainstream Christianity is still considered fair game by comedians and satirists, and no-one bats an eyelid. But somehow, Islam seems to be off-limits. Even a cool, reasoned criticism of Islam is likely to excite accusations of Islamophobia.

The champions of diversity don’t seem to grasp that you can abhor the grotesque excesses carried out by Islamic fanatics while simultaneously defending the right of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims, such as those in Christchurch, to practise their religion.

Freedom to ridicule is the flipside of freedom to worship, and the Monty Python team took full advantage of that freedom.  There’s no contradiction here. It’s only when criticism of religion escalates into incitement to hostility or violence that it becomes unacceptable.

Neither do the defenders of Islam seem to realise that, by denouncing all criticism of Islam as Islamophobic, they give the impression of condoning a religion that, in its extreme forms, thinks it’s OK to stone homosexuals, apostates and adulterers to death.

All of which leads us neatly to Israel Folau, who condemned atheists, drunks, homosexuals and fornicators with equal vehemence, but seems to have been pilloried solely for his statement that gays will go to Hell.

The first point to be made about the Folau hysteria is that it was avoidable by the simple expedient of ignoring him. The people who have so energetically dispersed Folau’s message are those who insist he should have kept his supposedly hateful opinions to himself.  I’ve been searching for the logic there, but so far it eludes me.  Equally perplexing is that, while Folau’s detractors would scoff at the very idea that such a place as Hell exists, they apparently took his Instagram post seriously enough to whip themselves into a frenzy of outrage. 

They could have smiled indulgently and let Folau’s post go unremarked, but that would have been too hard for the social media trolls who swarm around in cyberspace looking for things to get furious about.  It would also have meant passing up a chance to mount an attack on conservative Christianity, when obviously the opportunity was just too good to ignore.

So much for diversity and inclusivity, then. The attacks on Folau by people who profess to embrace difference are as fine a combination of sanctimony and vindictiveness as you’re ever likely to see. And it goes beyond mere criticism, because the purpose is to punish him.

If we truly believed in diversity and inclusiveness, we would accept Folau as part of humanity’s rich and varied tapestry, even if we don’t agree with him. Media bores like Peter FitzSimons, who has built a career out of being the tough Wallaby forward who was really, all along, a sensitive liberal, would have to find something else to moralise about.

We would also acknowledge that Folau wasn’t trying to incite hatred against anyone. He was acting according to his Christian conscience, which calls him to save sinners.  What’s more, his views are shared by many Pasifika people, and not long ago would have been considered unremarkable in mainstream society.

They are taken, after all, from the New Testament, which forms much of the basis of Western civilisation’s moral and judicial framework. Perhaps that’s the real target here, and the Folau furore just an appetiser.

The Dominion Post


the wellspring of life

daylight forest glossy lake

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on


Psalm 36:5-9

Psalm 36:5 Yahveh, your covenant faithfulness reaches to the sky, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Psalm 36:6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your judgments like the deepest sea. Yahveh, you preserve people and animals.

Psalm 36:7 How priceless your covenant faithfulness is, God! Children of Adam take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36:8 They are filled from the abundance of your house. You let them drink from your refreshing stream,

Psalm 36:9 because the wellspring of life is with you. By means of your light we see light.

the wellspring of life

The amazing mystery this section celebrates is our dependence upon God for the preservation of our lives. Notice the resources of God that we can count on when we are in danger:

  • his covenant faithfulness
  • his faithfulness
  • his righteousness
  • his judgments
  • his house
  • his wings
  • his refreshing stream
  • his light

Our God is a wellspring of life, taller than the highest mountains, deeper than the deepest sea. Both people and animals benefit from his preserving love. It is only right that we come to him for help when our lives are in danger.

Lord, here we are again— drawn to you like the thirsty to water. Only you can give us the life we need.


In the End We Will Conquer

Inescapable Incrementalism


Recent years have seen the rise of a pro-life abolitionism, and there are aspects of this that have been quite good. We could all use a little more impatience with some of our pro-life politicos, too many of whom have been like the constables in Penzance. “We go, we go, we go!” “Yes, but you don’t go.”

At the same time, the demand for the immediate abolition of all human abortion has sometimes taken a form that has confused a situation that was already confused enough. There are two things we require—the first is that we keep the mission clear, and second, that we keep the demands simultaneously realistic and inexorable. More about what that means shortly.


So what is the goal? What is it that we must keep clear? In all that follows, keep in mind what the long game has to be. For anyone with consistent, biblically-based pro-life convictions, the only satisfactory outcome is the abolition of all human abortion—first, in the law, and second, with regard to the actual practice of it, as much as can be restrained by enforcement in a fallen and imperfect world. That is the mission.
So what do I mean by realistic and inexorable?


Let us take Israel’s conquest of Canaan as a historical event that illustrates the nature of the challenge and difficulty.
In the first place, the assignment given to Israel was clear. The iniquity of the Amorites was now full (Gen. 15:16), and so God ordered total war against the seven nations of Canaan. Israel was not to stop her warfare until these nations had been eradicated and removed from the land.
“When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou” (Deut. 7:1).
At the same time, even while Joshua was at their head, and Israel was still fighting faithfully (as opposed to fighting in fits and starts), the conquest was not to be instantaneous. God’s declared intention was for them to displace the Canaanites “little by little.”
“And the Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee” (Deut. 7:22).
So what problems might arise from this “little by little” business? Obviously the problem with such gradualism is always the threat of mission drift and compromise. This temptation will be present even when the gradualism is assigned and required by God. In other words, because God had said that it was to be done “little by little” lest the wild beasts grow too numerous, it therefore became possible for Israelite men to claim they were going slowly “because of the wild beasts” when they were actually going slowly because they had not grasped the lessons of Baal-Peor.
“Your eyes have seen what the Lord did because of Baal-peor: for all the men that followed Baal-peor, the Lord thy God hath destroyed them from among you” (Deut. 4:3).
In other words, when God’s Word tells us to go slowly and deliberately, this provides us with a built-in excuse for slow-walking the whole thing in the wrong way. When others see what we are doing, and see through the excuses, this creates the temptation for them to say that all gradualism is simply a lame excuse for compromise.   


We are living in a world filled with sin, and not just the sin of abortion. We are finite, and our resources are limited. It is as though there has been an enormous spiritual battle, and we are manning the field hospital—and with limited supplies, limited knowledge, and limited staff. If we start treating patients on the south end of the field hospital, then patients on the north end are going to die before we get there. And we can’t fix this problem by starting on the north end.
“You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man. And if you do this good, you can’t at the same time do that; and if you do it to these men, you can’t also do it to those” (C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist, The Weight of Glory, p. 75).
In addition, as we labor for the gospel in a world where we “can’t do everything,” we have to reckon with the fact—as Dr. Dimble did in That Hideous Strength—that we might have a “whole Belbury” tucked away inside us, waiting for the right moment to betray us. One of the ways this happens is that we become impatient with the apparently ineffectual efforts of previous pro-lifers, and we move from considering the possibility that some of it is the result of compromised thinking, which is true enough, to the assertion that all of it has to be compromised, which is as false as it gets. 


Because of our finitude, this means that whatever we do, however we approach the problem of abortion, we will have to be incrementalists one way or the other. Here are some of the different configurations that such incrementalism can take. If we consider these carefully, we will see that all of us are incrementalists. This is an inescapable concepts. It is not whether we are incrementalists, but rather which kind of incrementalists we will be.
Incrementalism has compromised, fatally, if it ever says (or thinks), “And if you grant us this restriction, then after that, it is all right with us if you kill the baby.” It is not really incrementalism, but rather surrender of the principle.
So here are some different forms of incrementalism. And depending on the situation and circumstance, I am in favor of them all.
Pre-requisite incrementalism: In order for any law to be respected enough to be enforceable, the morality that undergirds the law must be held in honor by the people generally. This is why the Christian faith, inimical to the gladiatorial games from the start, did not result in the final cessation of the games until 404 A.D. And this also explains why the apostle Paul was not “compromising” when he wrote a letter to the Roman church without a single reference to those games being held in their city. What he was doing—preaching the gospel, planting churches, etc.—was eventually going to end the games. But to get up a petition to end the games without doing this first would have been tilting at windmills. His strategy for eliminating slavery was similar, and a bit more obvious.
Now in our circumstance, one reply to this might be that American has tens of thousands of churches, and millions of professing, evangelical Christians. What are we waiting for? What is the missing pre-requisite here? The answer is that what is missing from our churches is theological instruction that instructs a spiritual church how to have an earthly impact without becoming carnal. In short, what is missing is the theology of the magisterial Reformers.
Strategic incrementalism: let us say that Dwight Eisenhower delayed D-Day by a few days because of weather concerns. It would be inappropriate to accuse him of going “soft on the Nazis” because of this. His reply would be that he wanted to inflict as much damage as he could on the Nazis, and he thought the weather a few days out would help him in that effort.
In a similar way, suppose a state-level pro-life group delayed the introduction of a pro-life bill until after the gubernatorial election, because they believed that the challenger would be more likely to sign it if it passed, and that his opponent would be able to effectively use the prospect of such a bill as a means of preventing a pro-life governor from being elected at all. Such a delay would be an example of strategic incrementalism. While you delay the introduction of your bill, babies are dying. And that is true—they are.
Please note that it is not necessary for this calculation to be accurate in order answer a charge of complicity in the abortion carnage. Eisenhower might have been wrong about the weather, but he really was fighting Nazis nonetheless.   
Local political incrementalism: When pro-life activists introduce a bill in this state legislature (as opposed to that one), they are not saying that it is all right to kill babies in the state where they did not introduce a bill. This goes back to our finitude. We cannot do everything, and we cannot be everywhere at once.
Now if abolitionists introduce a “pure” bill in a state legislature, one that outlaws absolutely all human abortion within that state’s boundaries, with penalties to match, and that measure fails, and they come back again in the next legislative session with an identical bill, how are they being incrementalists? Are they not simply “immediatists” who lost?
So long as there is an ongoing political union between states that protect life and states that do not, this strategy is necessarily a form of incrementalism. If you have followed my argument, there is nothing wrong with that, but it is a form of incrementalism. The only geographical approach that would not be incremental would be if a local political entity protected all human life the way it ought to, and was in a state of perpetual war against all political entities that did not.  
Stage-of-life incrementalism: An example of this would be the heartbeat bill that was just signed in Georgia, for which measure we should praise the Lord. No pro-lifer with brains in his head believes that it is acceptable to kill babies prior to a heart-beat, and no pro-abortionist with brains in his head believes that we are going to stop once we get our heartbeat bills. Of course not.


My argument here is not that faithful Christian abolitionists should become incrementalists. My argument is that they already are. All of us are. There need be no quarrel between us on that point, and to the extent that we spend time and resources quarreling, this just slows down the inexorable advance of the pro-life cause.
Going back to Eisenhower and the weather, there may be real and weighty differences of strategic opinion. This is not to minimize any of that, and it is not to argue for a weird sort of egalitarianism with regard to any and all pro-life strategies. Some are shrewd, some are foolish, and some are ineffective.
That’s as may be, but all are wearing the same uniform.


wrong road

two person walking on pathway between plants

Photo by on


Psalm 36:1-4

Psalm 36:11 An inspired message within my heart concerning the rebellion of the wicked person: Dread of God has no effect on him

Psalm 36:2 because with his smooth opinion of himself, he cannot find and hate his violation.

Psalm 36:3 The words from his mouth are malicious and deceptive; he has stopped acting with insight and doing good.

Psalm 36:4 Even on his bed he makes malicious plans. He sets himself on a road that is not good, and he does not reject evil.

wrong road

Last year when we were hiking the Appalachian Trail, we were joined by a friend. She and another of her friends were just behind us, as we aimed ourselves in the direction of the next shelter on the trail. When my wife and I got to the shelter, we waited a while and one of the two ladies showed up. But we waited a long time and our other friend did not show up. My wife joined our other friend and retraced their steps, but they could not find her.

Our friend had stopped to rest, and when she got back on the trail, had taken it back in the direction in which she had come. By the time she realized her mistake, it was too late to catch up with us.

Today’s text reminded me of that event. It talks about someone caught in rebellion, who only thinks about staying on the path they chose, even though it is the wrong road.

Lord, when we make the wrong choice, give us the wisdom to turn around and get going back in the right direction again.


1superscription: Of David, Yahveh’ s servant.


Swept Away

In this article, Rev. Jefferson Vann discusses a fourth Old Testament word for final punishment that implies literal destruction.

We conditionalists are often accused of using words like “destruction” in a simplistic, non-biblical sense. But in the three previous articles, I have examined the Old Testament Hebrew concepts of חרם (charam),[1] אבד (abad)[2] and שחת (shachat),[3] and showed that they all consistently imply a literal destruction. Matching New Testament references to final punishment were shown to have the same implications. I concluded that the Bible depicts the lost not as doomed to live forever in an uncomfortable place or doomed to “substandard/ruinous life in the hereafter.” They are doomed to die. Eternal life is only for the saved.

Another Old Testament word reflecting the concept of final punishment is ספה (safah) which means “to take, sweep or snatch away.”[4]

Safah is used a number of times in connection with the story of God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

  • After discovering that God planned to destroy the two cities, “Abraham stepped forward and said, ‘Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’”[5]
  • Abraham inquired about the limits of God’s wrath when he asked, “What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people who are in it?”[6]
  • The destroying angels also used the term to describe the punishment of the cities: “At daybreak the angels urged Lot on: ‘Get up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’”[7]
  • After rescuing Lot and his daughters: “As soon as the angels got them outside, one of them said, ‘Run for your lives! Don’t look back and don’t stop anywhere on the plain! Run to the mountains, or you will be swept away!’”[8]

The apostle Peter referred to the same act of destruction when he said that God “reduced the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes and condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is coming to the ungodly.”[9]

The verb τεφρώσας is a form of τεφρόω. Frederick Danker gives only one definition for the term: to reduce to ashes. Louw-Nida defines it as “to destroy by reducing something to ashes.” It is a derivative of the noun τέφρα (ashes), which does not appear in the New Testament. In ancient Greek, τέφρα referred to the ashes of a funeral pyre, and was related to three other nouns: τεφροδοχείο (tefrodocheío, “ash tray; urn”), τεφροδόχος (tefrodóchos, “burial urn”) and τεφροδόχη (tefrodóchi, “ash pan; urn”).[10] But, τέφρα is not the same word that Malachi used to refer to those defeated in battle.[11]

The verb κατέκρινεν is a form of κατακρίνω. This word was used of the specific condemnation of the death penalty Jesus received at his trial, leading to his execution on the cross.[12] The word is used of general condemnation,[13] or of the condemnation of Jesus’ generation for not recognizing him.[14] But the shadow of death is never far from that word in the New Testament. It is used of the fate that the woman caught in adultery almost encountered.[15] It is used of the atonement of Christ on the cross – what it did to sin.[16] Peter says that this condemnation (the death penalty) is “an example of what is coming to the ungodly.” This specific use of κατακρίνω is also reflected in two other New Testament texts. Mark 16:16 says that unbelievers will be κατακριθήσεται. This future passive use of the verb shows that the event of final punishment is in view. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 11:32 says that when believers allow themselves to be disciplined by the Lord, the end result is that we will not be κατακριθῶμεν when the rest of the world is condemned.

The specific means of condemnation Peter mentions is what the CSB version renders “extinction.” This is the noun καταστροφῇ, immediately recognized as the source for our English word “catastrophe.” It combines κατά (over) and στρέφω (turn), so the word “overturn” would be appropriate. Danker gives the words “ruin” and “destruction” as alternatives for translating the noun, and lists 2 Peter 2:6 as an example. He also says the word can imply “harm wrought by useless argumentation,” citing 2 Timothy 2:14 as an example of that meaning. So, the CSB uses “ruin” in that text. But “overturn” or “extinction” would work there too.

The next occurrence of ספה (safah) is in reference to Korah’s rebellion. Moses “warned the community, ‘Get away now from the tents of these wicked men. Don’t touch anything that belongs to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.’”[17] Here again, the imagery speaks of a cataclysmic loss of life and existence. The rebels under Korah were not isolated and tortured for eternity. They were swallowed up by the ground, wiped out of existence.

The CSB almost consistently translates ספה with words or phrases that imply complete destruction:

  • destroy (Deut. 20:19)
  • bring destruction to (1 Chron. 21:12)
  • pile disasters on (Deut. 32:23)[18]
  • perish (1 Sam. 26:10)
  • shave off (hair of head, legs and beard) (Isa. 7:20).
  • take (a person’s) life (Ps. 40:14)
  • be swept away (Gen. 18:23-24; 19:15, 17; Prov. 13:23; Jer. 12:4).

For some reason, the CSB translators chose “caught” for ספה (safah) in Isaiah 13:15. This would be the only translation of the word which does not necessarily imply destruction. But, a look at the entire verse shows that death is the punishment implied.

“Whoever is found will be stabbed, and whoever is caught will die by the sword.” The CSB translators assumed (as do other versions) that this verse is an example of synonymous parallelism, so they rendered ספה as “caught” to match the idea of מצא (found) in the first part of the verse. The closest equivalent use would be David’s prayer that those trying to take (ספה) his life be ashamed and humiliated (Ps. 40:14). In any case, the fate of God’s enemies is clear from the verse: loss of life.

This overview of the Hebrew verb ספה (safah) in the Old Testament shows that it, like the other three words studied, consistently refers to destruction. Safah itself denotes a cataclysmic loss of life. It is used when the biblical authors wanted to describe a judgment event in which human lives were taken or swept away.

Also, just like the other three terms studied, the New Testament is shown to reflect the same idea. This is important because Robert Peterson’s criticism of Basil Atkinson’s linguistic study defending conditionalism was that it relied too heavily on the Old Testament meanings of words.[19] But, even Peterson admitted that Atkinson was “an accomplished linguist.”[20] He went back to the Hebrew words because they formed the linguistic background that readers of the New Testament had. Atkinson’s point was that these Old Testament words (like the four we have surveyed) have already provided theological content, and that content should not be ignored in favor of popular exegesis of a few obscure New Testament passages. This is especially true when we see the same Old Testament concepts reflected in the New Testament.

Three of the Old Testament instances of ספה in the Old Testament[21] are translated in the Greek Septuagint as συναπόλλυμι. This combination of σύν (with) and απόλλυμι (perish, or be destroyed) is found in Hebrews 11:31, which tells us, “By faith Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed.” This passage is significant to the debate about final punishment because it shows that the New Testament authors had not gained some new understanding of the meaning of απόλλυμι. The author of Hebrews continued to use the word to reflect the idea of being swept away in death.[22]

Ἀπόλλυμι itself is used in the Septuagint to translate ספה twice. In both Genesis 18:24 and Proverbs 13:23, the word refers to the taking of human life. This is the predominant use of the word in the New Testament as well.[23]

Ἐξαίρω — meaning “to remove or drive away” — is used once,[24] Paul used that word when he suggested that someone be removed from the congregation at Corinth.[25]

Συνάγω — meaning “to gather together” — is used for ספה in Isaiah 13:15. This reflects the idea of judgment being a great harvest and is used in similar ways in the New Testament as well.[26]

Ἀφανίζω is used for the killing of animals and birds in Jeremiah 12:4. The New Testament uses it for the destructive activity of moths and rust,[27] the fate of scoffers (i.e., they will perish)[28] and the fact that human life is like a vapor that will soon vanish.[29]

Finally, ספה is translated with ἐξολεθρεύω in 1 Chronicles 21:12. The word means “to destroy” or “utterly root out something.” Peter used the word in his sermon at the temple. He warned that “everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be completely cut off from the people.”[30]

When traditionalists go to the Old Testament looking for evidence of the eternal conscious torment theology, they find very little to help them with their objective. But, when we conditionalists go to the Old Testament, expecting it to reflect the fact that the wages of sin is death, we find ample corroborating evidence. The Bible consistently teaches that God’s permanent life is a gift he intends to give only to the redeemed. All others will be swept away in the permanent condemnation of the second death.

By Rev. Jefferson Vann

(Rev. Jefferson Vann is a graduate of Berkshire Christian College, Columbia International University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife Penny have been involved in Advent Christian ministry since 1984, serving as missionaries in the Philippines and New Zealand. Jeff is the author of “An Advent Christian Systematic Theology” and “Another Bible Commentary” and is a contributing editor to “Henceforth …”)


[1] see “Set Apart for Destruction.”

[2] see “Perish the Thought.”

[3] see “Spoiling the Vineyard.”

[4] Holladay lexicon, no. 5939.

[5] Genesis 18:23, CSB. Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this article are to the Christian Standard Bible.

[6] Genesis 18:24.

[7] Genesis 19:15.

[8] Genesis 19:17.

[9] 2 Peter 2:6.

[10] “τέφρα.” Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary.

[11] Malachi predicts that the Israelites “‘will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,’ says the Lord of Armies” (4:3). The word for “ashes” here is σποδός, which is a more general term for ashes.

[12] Matthew 20:18; 27:3; Mark 10:33; 14:64.

[13] Romans 2:1; 8:34; 14:23; Hebrews 11:7.

[14] Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31-32.

[15] John 8:10-11.

[16] Romans 8:3.

[17] Numbers 16:26.

[18] This form is actually a rare hifil pattern, signifying to gather together or pile up something.

[19] Robert Peterson, “Basil Atkinson: A Key Figure for Twentieth-Century Evangelical Annihilationism” Churchman 111/3, 198-217.

[20] Peterson, 199. For an excellent general rebuttal of Peterson’s arguments against conditionalism, see Glenn Peoples, “Fallacies in The Annihilationism Debate: A Critique of Robert Peterson And Other Traditionalist Scholarship” JETS, 50/2 (June 2007): 329–47.

[21] Genesis 18:23; 19:15; Numbers 16:26.

[22] For more on the meaning of απόλλυμι see “The meaning of appollumi (ἀπόλλυμι)” by Tarnya Burge; “The meaning of appollumi in the synoptic gospels” by Glenn Peoples; “Perish the Thought.”

[23] see Matthew 2:13; 12:14; 27:20; Mark 1:24; 3:6; 9:22; Luke 20:16.

[24] Psalm 40:14 (39:15 LXX).

[25] 1 Corinthians 5:2.

[26] Matthew 3:12; 13:30; Luke 3:17.

[27] Matthew 6:19.

[28] Acts 13:41.

[29] James 4:14.

[30] Acts 3:23.



Practitioners Sounding Alarm 

Developments in Europe

Christian Info

The law decriminalizing euthanasia in Belgium was passed in May 2002. This law was intended to create a framework allowing a patient to make a request for euthanasia and a doctor to access it under certain conditions, without the doctor is in a position to commit a criminal offense.

Since Belgium has taken this step, the debate on the legalization of euthanasia has been taking place in France and elsewhere in Europe. It has even become a campaign theme in Spain . Yet, with 17 years of hindsight on Belgian practices, many practitioners are sounding the alarm.

The Belgian collective  Euthanasie Stop , made up of 43 people including 35 doctors and medical professors, a lawyer, an honorary magistrate, a palliative care ethicist, a rabbi, an imam and a canon, decided to inform and question. 

“This website presents itself as a space of public expression, open to all those who wish to make a discordant voice heard. “

Among them, the doctor oncologist at the University Hospital Leuven is at the forefront of this bioethical debate. In his book Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Lessons from Belgium , an international panel of experts examines the implications of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide. These experts thoroughly analyze Belgian data and question “one of the most difficult ethical issues of our time, using law, philosophy and medical disciplines”.

In France, the debate is decided between the doctors. If in 2013, an IPSOS survey revealed that 60% of the surveyed physicians were generally in favor of “active” euthanasia (which involves the act of a third party who gives a dying person a lethal substance or provides it), many are not in favor.

Jean Leonetti, author of the 2005 law on patients’ rights and end of life, and co-author of the 2016 law, spoke very clearly about his fears regarding the legalization of euthanasia in France. , for  Le Parisien

“I continue to defend the idea that giving death to a person, even at his request, constitutes a frank rupture of fraternity and solidarity. It is not because people ask for it that we must meet their expectations. “

In 2018, the Unit and Palliative Care Team doctors in the Northern Department testified to the “intentionality of their mission”, which “is never to shorten life but to relieve symptoms.” He then spoke in these terms on Le Figaro Santé .

“As a last resort, if we have not managed to relieve the patient by the usual means, we can set up a sedation so that he is no longer aware of the situation that causes him discomfort … This is exceptional. The intentionality of our care is never to shorten life but to relieve symptoms. It is not the therapies initiated or stopped, but the evolution of the underlying disease that causes the death; this one being inescapable in more or less short term. Since its intention is to lead, directly and intentionally, the death of a patient, euthanasia goes against our palliative culture, our practices. “

“Euthanasia goes against our palliative culture, our practices” A message that could not be more clearly signed by all the practitioners of this unit. The doctors testify that in view of their daily experience in a palliative care unit, the support that they give to the patient but also to their families “allows a work of mourning, exchanges, moments of joy and sharing, which would not have been possible otherwise “.

“Palliative care respects life and sees death as a natural process. The singularity of the experience of patients in this situation and their wishes are deeply respected. “

According to them, the end-of-life debate should focus on “the patients’ right to unreasonable non-obstinacy, to the relief of symptoms of discomfort and to access to palliative care”.

In Belgium, the debates are already positioning themselves well beyond these considerations. As the law was passed many years ago, several cases of abuse emerged in the media.  At the end of 2018, for the first time the indictment chamber of the Ghent Court of Appeal decided to send to the Assize Court three doctors accused of failing to comply with the legal requirements of euthanasia.

In this case the complaint was filed by the sister of the patient, euthanized when she had expressed little desire to die, and had not been on treatment for years for his psychic sufferings. The diagnosis of autism was only made for two months. The doctors will be judged for “poisoning”.

According to the psychiatrist, she did not meet the requirements of the Belgian law on euthanasia Another case will soon be examined by the European Court of Human Rights. Tom Mortier has indeed decided to make known the history of his depressed mother for 20 years. Hospitalized in 2012 as part of her depression, the doctors gave a lethal injection because she was suffering from an “incurable depression”. The phone call informing Tom of the news had been devastating. According to the psychiatrist treating Tom’s mother for more than 20 years, she was in good physical health and did not meet the requirements of the Belgian law on euthanasia.

In July 2018, it was the stories of 3 children living under the protection of their parents and suffering from cancer, euthanized in the hospital, who had deeply shocked opinion. Lord Carlile, co-chair of Living and Dying Well , a parliamentary group opposed to euthanasia, said he was “deeply shocked” by both the deaths of children and the growing number of euthanasia cases.

“The euthanasia of these children is clearly at odds with the European Convention on Human Rights. “

He then declared that the Belgian government was “much too relaxed” about euthanasia, and that it “did not guarantee proper controls and the maintenance of standards”.

In some Belgian palliative care units , nurses and social workers specializing in the treatment of people at the end of life have left these units “disappointed at not being able to offer palliative care to their patients”. Professor Beuselinck believes that palliative care units are becoming “houses of euthanasia, which is the opposite of what they were supposed to be”.

In France, the law still protects patients from abuse. We remember the emblematic case of Dr. Bonnemaison , permanently removed from the order of doctors in 2015 and sentenced to two years in prison suspended, for practicing a lethal injection on a patient. However, he was not convicted of several other suspected cases for lack of evidence.

In Belgium, new legislative proposals that would now extend the law to minors and “insane persons” are under consideration in Parliament. A forum proposed by the Grain de Sel group of the College of Physicians of the French Society of Accompaniment and Palliative Care, questioned at the end of 2018 in a tribune of Figaro, “a law that does not protect the weakest can it be right? “.

“We professionals are witnessing the beautiful things that can be experienced in the last moments, even if they are difficult. “


celebrating his victories

abstract bay boats bright

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Psalm 35:27-28

Psalm 35:27 Let those who treasure my vindication give a ringing cry and be happy; let them continually say, “Yahveh be exalted. He treasures his servant’s well-being.”

Psalm 35:28 And my tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praise all day long.1

celebrating his victories

The king was in trouble, and the Lord rescued him. Now, both he and those who loved him are committed to regularly and continually celebrating the rescue. God gets the victory both for the rescue of his people, and for his righteousness. It can be said of God that he treasures his servant’s well-being. Was he does illuminates who he is.

During times of difficulty we need to keep celebrating past victories. Those in the desert were to celebrate the Passover victory in Egypt. It was to be a reminder that God rescues because God cares.

Lord, thank you for caring about us. We will celebrate your victories continually.


1subscription: For the choir director.


intolerable situations

alone man person sadness

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Psalm 35:22-26

Psalm 35:22 You saw it, Yahveh; do not be silent. Lord, do not be far from me.

Psalm 35:23 Wake up and rise to my defense, to my dispute, my God and my Lord!

Psalm 35:24 Vindicate me, Yahveh my God, in keeping with your righteousness, and do not let them be happy over me.

Psalm 35:25 Do not let them say in their hearts, “Aha! Just what we wanted.” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed him up!”

Psalm 35:26 Let those who rejoice at my misfortune be disgraced and humiliated; let those who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and reproach.

intolerable situations

David speaks out as someone who is suffering from misfortune, humiliation, shame and reproach. Either he can bury himself in his bad luck, and let fear and anxiety destroy what is left of his life – or he can cry out to God. He has chosen to do the latter. His cry is perfectly understandable. These are not the whines of a spoiled brat. They are the prayers of a man who has been treated unfairly, and who trusts in God to make things right.

If you have never been there, just stay tuned. Lots of God’s people get to a point like that. Like the Genesis Joseph – who spent years in prison for doing the right thing – many of God’s people find themselves in intolerable situations. The times of darkness are there for us to cry out for the light.

Lord, I join many today in crying out to you because things are not right. We need your deliverance. Rescue us.


a challenge to dig deeper

big bulldozer clear sky construction

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Psalm 35:17-21

Psalm 35:17 Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue my throat from their ravages; it is abandoned to the young lions.

Psalm 35:18 I will praise you in the great assembly; I will exalt you among many people.

Psalm 35:19 Do not let my deceitful enemies be happy over me; do not let those who hate me without cause wink at me maliciously.

Psalm 35:20 For they do not speak in peaceful ways, but contrive fraudulent schemes against those who live peacefully in the land.

Psalm 35:21 They open their mouths wide against me and say, “Aha, aha! We saw it!”

a challenge to dig deeper

If you compare this translation with others, you might notice a significant difference. I used the word “throat” for נֶפֶשׁ in verse 17. The word can mean either, and it seems to me a better fit to imagine the author saying that his throat is abandoned to the young lions. I have found many such incidents as I translate, where the traditional churchy word is used, but a more secular one is probably intended.

We have many very good translations of the Scriptures in English today. But that does not mean we should stop the process. There is still need for more hard work. I challenge you to dig deeper in the word. There are still more treasures buried there.