by Alfred Edersheim
Philologos Religious Online Books
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 angels.'
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.
1. Of 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.'
2. In 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 certain distance.
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 Josť 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 of God.
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 connection).
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 fixed.
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 intended literatim.
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. Wrb. 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).