The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
ON ETERNAL PUNISHMENT,
ACCORDING TO THE RABBIS AND THE NEW TESTAMENT
(See Book V. ch. 6.)
THE Parables of the 'Ten Virgins' and of the 'Unfaithful
Servant' close with a Discourse on 'the Last Things,' the final Judgment, and
the fate of those Christ's Right Hand and at His Left (St. Matt. xxv. 31-46).
This final Judgment by our Lord forms a fundamental article in the Creed of the
Church. It is the Christ Who comes, accompanied by the Angelic Host, and sits
down on the throne of His Glory, when all nations are gathered before Him. Then
the final separation is made, and joy or sorrow awarded in accordance with the
past of each man's history. And that past, as in relationship to the Christ -
whether it have been 'with' Him or 'not with' Him, which latter is now shown to
be equivalent to an 'against' Him. And while, in the deep sense of a love to
Christ which is utterly self-forgetful in its service and utterly humble in its
realisation to Him to Whom no real service can be done by man, to their blessed
surprise, those on 'the Right' find work and acknowledgement where they had
never thought of its possibility, every ministry of their life, however small,
is now owned of Him as rendered to Himself - partly, because the new direction,
from which all such ministry sprang, was of 'Christ in' them, and partly,
because of the identification of Christ with His people. On the other hand, as
the lowest service of him who has the new inner direction if Christward, so
does ignorance, or else ignoration, of Christ ('When saw we Thee. . . .?')
issue in neglect of service and labour of love, and neglect of service proceed
from neglect and rejection of Christ. And so is life either 'to' Christ or 'not
to' Christ, and necessarily ends in 'the Kingdom prepared from the foundation
of the world' or in 'the eternal fire which is prepared for the Devil and his
Thus far the meaning of the Lord's Words, which could only be
impaired by any attempt at commentation. But they also raise questions of the
deepest importance, in which not only the head, but perhaps much more the
heart, is interested, as regards the precise meaning of the term 'everlasting'
and 'eternal' in this and other connections, so far as those on the Left Hand
of Christ are concerned. The subject has of late attracted renewed attention.
The doctrine of the Eternity of Punishments, with the proper explanations and
limitations given to it in the teaching of the Church, has been set forth by
Dr. Pusey in his Treatise: 'What is of Faith as to Everlasting
Punishment?' Before adverting, however briefly, to the New Testament teaching,
it seems desirable with some fulness to set forth the Jewish views on
this subject. For the views held at the time of Christ, whatever they were must
have been those which the hearers of Christ entertained; and whatever views,
Christ did not at least directly, contradict or, so far as we can infer, intend
to correct them.1
And here we have happily sufficient materials for a history of Jewish opinions
at different periods on the Eternity Punishment; and it seems the more
desirable carefully to set it forth, as statements both inaccurate and
incomplete have been put forward on the subject.
course, we mean their general direction, not the details.
Leaving aside the teaching of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphic
Writing (to which Dr. Pusey has sufficiently referred), the first Rabbinic
utterances come to us from the time immediately before that of Christ, from the
Schools of Shammai and Hillel (Rosh haSh. 16 b last four lines, and 17 a).2
The former arranged all mankind into three classes: the perfectly righteous,
who are 'immediately written and sealed to eternal life;' the perfectly wicked,
who are 'immediately written and sealed to Gehenna;' and an intermediate class.
'who go down to Gehinnom, and moan, and come up again,' according to Zech.
xiii. 9, and which seemed also indicated in certain words in the Song of Hannah
(1 Sam. ii. 6). The careful reader will notice that this statement implies
belief in Eternal Punishment on the part of the School of Shammai. For (1) The
perfectly wicked are spoken of as 'written and sealed unto Gehenna;' (2) The
school of Shammai expressly quotes, in support of what it teaches about these
wicked, Dan xii. 2, a passage which undoubtedly refers to the final judgment
after the Resurrection; (3) The perfectly wicked, so punished, are expressly
distinguished from the third, or intermediate class, who merely 'go down to
Gehinnom,' but are not 'written and sealed,' and 'come up again.'
view of the strange renderings and interpretations given of Rosh haSh. 16 b,
17 a, I must call special attention to this locus classicus.
Substantially the same, as regards Eternity of Punishment, is
the view of the School of Hillel (u. s. 17 a). In regard to sinners of
Israel and of the Gentiles it teaches, indeed, that they are tormented in Gehenna
for twelve months, after which their bodies and souls are burnt up and
scattered as dust under the feet of the righteous; but it significantly excepts
from this number certain classes of transgressors 'who go down to Gehinnom and
are punished there to ages of ages.' That the Niphal form of the verb used,
Nynwdyn; must mean 'punished' and not 'judged,' appears, not only from the
context, but from the use of the same word and form in the same tractate (Rosh
haSh. 12 a, lines 7 &c. from top), when it is said of the generation
of the Flood that 'they were punished' surely not 'judged' - by 'hot water.'
However, therefore the School of Hillel might accentuate the mercy of God, or
limit the number of those who would suffer Eternal Punishment, it did teach Eternal
Punishment in the case of some. And this is the point in question.
But, since the Schools of Shammai and Hillel represented the
theological teaching in the time of Christ and His Apostles, it follows, that
the doctrine of Eternal Punishment was that held in the days of our Lord,
however it may afterwards have been modified. Here, so far as this book is
concerned, we might rest the case. But for completeness' sake it will be better
to follow the historical development of Jewish theological teaching, at least a
The doctrine of the Eternity of Punishments seems to have been
held by the Synagogue throughout the whole first century of our era. This will
appear from the sayings of the Teachers who flourished during its course. The
Jewish Parable of the fate of those who had not kept their festive garments in
readiness or appeared in such as were not clean (Shabb. 152 b, 153 a)
has been already quoted in our exposition of the Parables of the Man without
the Wedding-garment and of the Ten Virgins. But we have more than this. We are
told (Ber. 28 b) that, when that great Rabbinic authority of the first
century, Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai - 'the light of Israel, the right hand
pillar, the mighty hammer' - lay a dying and wept, he accounted for his tears
by fear as to his fate in judgment, illustrating the danger by the contrast of
punishment by an earthly king 'whose bonds are not eternal bonds nor his death
eternal death,' while as regarded God and His judgment: 'if He is angry with
me, His Wrath is an Eternal Wrath, if He binds me in fetters, His fetters are
Eternal fetters, and if He kills me, His death is an Eternal Death.' In the
same direction is this saying of another great Rabbi of the first century,
Elieser (Shabb, 152 b, about the middle), to the effect that 'the souls
of the righteous are hidden under the throne of glory,' while those of the
wicked were to be bound and in unrest (twklwhw twmmwz), one Angel hurling them to
another from one end of the world to the other - of which latter strange idea
he saw confirmation in 1 Sam. xxv. 29. To the fate of the righteous applied,
among other beautiful passages, Is. lvii. 2, to that of the wicked Is. lvii.
21. Evidently, the views of the Rabbis of the first century were in strict
accordance with those Shammai and Hillel.
In the second century of our era, we mark a decided difference
in Rabbinic opinion. Although it was said that, after the death of Rabbi Meir,
the ascent of smoke from the grave of his apostate teacher had indicated that
the Rabbi's prayers for the deliverance of his matter from Gehenna had been
answered (Chag. 15 b), most of the eminent teachers of that period
propounded the idea, that in the last day the sheath would be removed which now
covered the sun, when its fiery heat would burn up the wicked (Ber. R. 6). Nay,
one Rabbi maintained that there was no hell at all, but that that day would
consume the wicked, and yet another, that even this was not so, but that the
wicked would be consumed by a sort of internal conflagration.
In the third century of our era we have once more a reaction,
and a return to the former views. Thus (Kethub. 104 a, about the middle)
Rabbi Eleasar speaks of the three bands of Angels, which successively go forth
to meet the righteousness, each with a welcome of their own, and of the three
bands of Angels of sorrow, which similarly receive the wicked in their death -
and this, in terms which leave no doubt as to the expected fate of the wicked.
And here Rabbi Jos� informs us (Tor. Ber. vi. 15), that 'the fire of Gehenna
which was created on the second day is not extinguished for ever.' With this
view accord the seven designations which according to Rabbi Joshua ben Levi,
attach to Gehenna (Erub. 19 a, line 11, &c., from bottom - but the
whole page bears on the subject). This doctrine was only modified, when Ben
Lakish maintained, that the fire of Gehenna did not hurt sinners from among the
Jews (Kethub. u. s.). Nor does even this other saying of his (Nedar. 8 b,
last four lines) necessarily imply that he denied the eternity of punishment:
'There is no Gehinnom in the world to come' - since it is qualified by the
expectation that the wicked would be punished (Nynwdyn), not annihilated, by
the heat of the sun, which would be felt as healing by the righteous. Lastly, if
not universal beatification, yet a kind of universal moral restoration seems
implies in the teaching of Rabbi Jehudah to the effect that in the sœculum
futurum God would destroy the Yetser haRa.
Tempting as the subject is, we must here break off this historical review, for want to space, not of material. Dr. Pusey has shown that the
Targumim also teach the doctrine of Eternal Punishment - though their date is
matter of discussion - and to the passage quoted by him in evidence others
might be added. And if on the other side the saying of Rabbi Akiba should be
quoted (Eduy. ii. 10) to the effect that the judgment of the wicked in Gehenna
was one of the five things that lasted for twelve months, it must be remembered
that, even if this be taken seriously (for it is really only a jeu d' esprit),
it does not necessarily imply more than the teaching of Hillel concerning that
intermediate class of sinners who were in Gehenna for a year - while there was
another class the duration of whose punishment would be for ages of ages. Even
more palpably inapt is the quotation from Baba Mez. 58 b (lines 5,
&c., from the bottom). For, if that passage declares that all are destined
to come up again from Gehenna, it expressly excepts from this these
three classes of persons: adulterers, those who put their fellow-men publicly
to shame, and those who apply an evil name to their neighbors.
But there can at least be no question, that the passage which
has been quoted at the outset of these remarks (Rosh haSh. 16 b, 17 a),
proves beyond the possibility of gainsaying that both the Great Schools, in
which Rabbinic teaching at the time of Christ was divided, held the doctrine of
Eternal Punishments. This, of course, entirely apart from the question who -
how many, or rather, how few - were to suffer this terrible fate. And here the
cautions and limitations, with which Dr. Pusey has shown that the Church has
surrounded her teaching, cannot be too often or earnestly repeated. It does,
indeed, seem painfully strange that, if the meaning of it be all realised, some
should seem so anxious to contend for the extension to so many of a misery from
which our thoughts shrink in awe. Yet of this we are well assured, that the
Judge of all the Earth will judge, not only righteously, but mercifully. He
alone knows all the secrets of heart and life, and He alone can apportion to
each the due need. And in this assured conviction may the mind trustfully rest
as regards those who have been dear to us.
But if on such grounds we shrink from narrow and harsh
dogmatism, there are certain questions which we cannot quite evade, even
although we may answer them generally rather than specifically. We put aside,
as an unhealthy and threatening sign of certain religious movements, the
theory, lately broached, of a so-called 'Conditional Immortality.' So far as
the readings of the present writer extends, it is based on bad philosophy and
even worse exegesis. But the question itself, to which this 'rough-and-ready'
kind of answer has been attempted, is one of the most serious. In our view, an
impartial study of the Words of the Lord, recorded in the Gospels - as
repeatedly indicated in the text of these volumes - leads to the impression
that His teaching in regard to reward and punishment should be taken in the
ordinary and obvious sense, and not in that suggested by some. And this is
confirmed by what is now quite clear to us, that the Jews, to whom He spoke,
believed in Eternal Punishment, however few they might consign to it. And yet
we feel that this line of argument is not quite convincing. For might nor our
Lord, as in regard to the period of His Second Coming, in this also have
intended to leave His hearers in incertitude? And, indeed, is it really
necessary to be quite sure of this aspect of eternity?
And here the question arises about the precise meaning of the
words which Christ used. It is, indeed, maintained that the terms aiwnioV and kindred expression always
refer to eternity in the strict sense. But of this I cannot express myself
convinced (see ad voc. Schleusner, Lex., who, however, goes a little too
far; Wahl, Clavis N.T.; and Grimm, Clavis N.T.), although the
balance of evidence is in favour of such meaning. But it is at least
conceivable that the expressions might refer to the end of all time, and the
merging of the 'mediatorial regency' (1 Cor. xv. 24) in the absolute kingship
In further thinking on this most solemn subject, it seems to
the present writer that exaggerations have been made in the argument. It has
been said that, the hypothesis of annihilation being set aside, we are practically
shut up to what is called Universalism. And again, that
Universalism implies, not only the final restoration of all the wicked, but
even of Satan and his angels. And further, it has been argued that the
metaphysical difficulties of the question ultimately resolve themselves into
this: why the God of all foreknowledge had created beings - be they men or
fallen angels - who, as He foreknew, would ultimately sin? Now this argument
has evidently no force as against absolute Universalism. But even otherwise, it
is rather specious than convincing. For we only possess data for reasoning
in regard to the sphere which falls within our cognition, which the absolutely
Divine - the pre-human and the pre-created - does not, except so far as it has
been the subject of Revelation. This limitation excludes from the sphere of our
possible comprehension all questions connected with the Divine foreknowledge and
its compatibility with that which we know to be the fundamental law of created
intelligences, and the very condition of their moral being: personal freedom
and choice. To quarrel with this limitation of our sphere of reasoning, were to
rebel against the conditions of human existence. But if so, then the question
of Divine foreknowledge must not be raised at all, and the question of the fall
of angels and of the sin of man must be left on the (to us) alone intelligible
basis: that of personal choice and absolute moral freedom.
Again - it seems least an exaggeration to put the alternatives
thus: absolute eternity of punishment - and, with it, of the state of rebellion
which it implies, since it is unthinkable that rebellion should absolutely
cease, and yet punishment continue; annihilation; or else universal
restoration. Something else is at least thinkable, that may not lie within
these hard and fast lines of demarcation. It is at least conceivable that there
may be a quartum quid - that there may be a purification or
transformation (sit venia verbis) of all who are capable of such - or,
if it is preferred, an unfolding of the germ of grace, present before death,
invisible though it may have been to other men, and that in the end of what we
call time or 'dispensation,' only that which is morally incapable of
transformation - be it men or devils - shall be cast into the lake of fire and
brimstone (Rev. xx. 10, 14, 15; xxi. 8). And here, if, perhaps just, exception
is taken to the terms 'purification' or 'transformation' (perhaps spiritual
development), I would refer in explanation to what Dr. Pusey has so beautifully
written - although my reference is only to this point, not to others on which he
touches (Pusey, What is of Faith, &c., pp. 116-122). And, in connection
with this, we note that there is quite a series of Scripture-statements, which
teach alike the final reign of God ('that God may be all in all'), and the
final putting of all things under Christ - and all this in connection with
blessed fact that Christ has 'tasted death for every man,' 'that the world
through Him might be saved,' and, in consequence, to 'draw all' unto Himself,
comp. Col. i. 19, 20 (comp. St. John iii. 17 ; xii. 32; Rom. v. 18-24; 1 Cor.
xv. 20-28; Eph. i. 10; Col. i. 19, 20; 1 Tim. ii. 4, 6; iv. 10; Heb. ii. 9; 1
John ii. 2; iv. 14 - all which passages must, however, be studied in their
Thus far it has been the sole aim of the present writer to set
before the reader, so far as he can, all the elements to be taken into
consideration. He has pronounced no definite conclusion, and he neither wishes
nor purposes to do so. This only he will repeat, that to his mind the Words of
our Lord, as recorded in the Gospels, convey this impression, that there is an
eternity of punishment; and further, that this was the accepted belief of the
Jewish schools in the time of Christ. But of these things does he feel fully
assured: that we may absolutely trust in the loving-kindness of our God; that
the word of Christ is for all and of infinite value, and that its outcome must
correspond to its character; and lastly, for practical purposes, that in regard
to those who have departed (whether or not we know of grace in them) our views
and our hopes should be the widest (consistent with Scripture teaching), and
that as regards ourselves, personally and individually, our views as to the
need of absolute and immediate faith in Christ as the Saviour, of holiness of
life, and of service of the Lord Jesus, should be the closest and most rigidly
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND CORRECTIONS
To The Second Volume.
Page 15d: The Targum
is quoted from the Venice edition.
Page 16g: However, the
word has also been translated in the wider sense of 'garment.' But see Rosh
haSh., and compare also what is said about the Tephillin, which cannot
be otherwise interpreted than in the text.
Page 21a: But the
passage is a somewhat difficult one, and it has received different
interpretations. See Levy as in note 1, and Lightfoot ad loc.
Line 10, read: 'by a vow from anything by which he might be profited (or rather
have enjoyment) form his son.' And so as regards note 2, various
interpretations and comments are given. But the principle that a vow would
exclude parents from being 'profited' is clearly established in Ned. ix. 1.
Page 116a: Simon b.
Shetach compares him to a son who sins against his father, and yet he does what
the child pleases, so Chony, although he was sinning against God, yet He
answered that very prayer.
Page 162cde: Of
course, these were only the extreme inferences from their principles, and not
Page 156, note 1: On the Octave
of the Feast probably Ps. xii. was chanted (see Sopher. xix. beg.).
Page 182d: One of the
prohibitions there would be exactly parallel to the making of clay.
Page 290, note 2, end: I refer
here especially to Bemid. R. 2. It would be difficult to find anything more
realistically extravagant in its exaltation of Israel over all the nations (delete
28). The note sets forth the general impression left on the mind, and is, of
course, not intended as a citation.
Page 297d: The
reference is to one who hesitates to forgive injury to his name when asked to
do so by the offender. At the same time I gladly admit how beautifully Rabbinism speaks about mercy and forgiveness. In this respect also are the
Gospels historically true, since the teaching of Christ here sprang from, and
was kindred to the highest teaching of the Rabbis. But, to my mind, it is just
where Rabbinism comes nearest to Christ that the essential difference most
appears. And from even the highest Rabbinic sayings to the forgiveness of
Christ in its freeness, absoluteness, internalness, and universality (to Jew and
Gentile) there is an immeasurable distance.
Page 388, note 1: In Vayy. R. 3,
there is another beautiful story of a poor man who offered every day half his
living, and whose sacrifice was presented before that of King Agrippa.
Page 409d: As regards
the view given of Jer. Ber. 9 a, I refer to Levy, Neuhebr.
W�rterb. II., p. 10 a.
Page 411h: Comp. also
Vayy. R. 1.
Page 431a: It was
described as more beautiful than the waves of the sea.
Page 437a: The
quotation of the Midrash on Cant. is again form the unmutilated citation in R. Martini,
Pugio Fidei (ed. Carpz), pp. 782, 783.
Page note 1: The citations refer
to the Jerusalem from heaven. For the rest see Weber, Altsynag. Theol.,
p. 386. but probably the last clause had best be omitted.
Page 479, line 9: 'What is the Pascha,'
&c.; rather: 'What is "on the Pesach?" On the 14 Nisan' - in the
original: BaPesach, i.e. the beginning of the Passover.
Page 556, line 7: for 'on public
Feast-days' read 'at the great public Feasts.'
Page 609: The reference d
applies to the end of the sentence. On the thirteen Veils comp. Maimonides
(Kel. haMiqd. vii. 17).