Is Death the Only Punishment for Unbelievers? -- By: J. R. Mantey

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 112:448 (Oct 1955)
Article: Is Death the Only Punishment for Unbelievers?
Author: J. R. Mantey


Is Death the Only Punishment for Unbelievers?

J. R. Mantey

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Mantey is Professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois, and co-author of one of the standard New Testament Greek grammars.]

The claim is made by a few people—chiefly of one sect which contains less than one per cent of Christendom—that there is no immortality for unbelievers, that their souls perish at the same time that their bodies die. This is a premise assumed and rigidly adhered to in spite of the fact that Scripture teaches punishment for the unsaved.

It is true that there are a few verses in the New Testament where death is used in a figurative sense. In these passages death connotes being without the favor and mercy of God, not an end of existence. John wrote that the believer passed from death into life at the time when he accepted Christ (John 5:24). He also stated that the one who does not practice love abides in death (1 John 3:14). And Paul, apparently, had a similar idea in mind when he wrote “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). At any rate, where the state of the lost is dealt with in detail in the New Testament, punishment after death is specifically mentioned.

Most of us shrink from readily accepting what is taught in the Bible as to the unchangeable destiny and fate of the unredeemed. Especially would we prefer that God’s mercy should be extended to them some time in eternity. Since God is motivated by love, will he withhold his forgiveness forever?

However, if the fate of the unsaved is not eternal, we have no statement in the Bible to that effect. But there are

many statements to the contrary. Let us read a few of them: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46).

In Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation (Matt 25:46) the Greek word kolasin which is regularly defined punishment in Greek lexicons is translated “cutting off,” in spite of the fact that not one shred of lexical evidence exists anywhere for such a translation. We have found this word in first century Greek writings in 107 different contexts and in every one of them ...

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