Rethinking The New Testament Concept Of Perishing -- By: Robert N. Wilkin

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 23:45 (Autumn 2010)
Article: Rethinking The New Testament Concept Of Perishing
Author: Robert N. Wilkin

Rethinking The New Testament Concept Of Perishing

Robert N. Wilkin


I. Introduction

What did Peter mean when he wrote, “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9)?

What did the Lord Jesus mean when He said, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3)?

In the NT the concept of perishing is often tied to a failure to repent. That is, repentance is required to avoid perishing, whatever that is.

We will first consider the popular understanding of perishing in the NT. Then we will see that the popular understanding does not correspond to the data. The NT uses of apollumi show that it mainly refers to physical death and destruction, not to eternal condemnation. Then we consider the practical ramifications of a proper understanding of apollumi in the NT.

II. The Popular Impression: Apollumi Refers To Eternal Condemnation Most Of The Time

Scholars as well as laypeople believe that perishing in the NT most often refers to eternal condemnation. Thus there really is no question about what Peter means in 2 Pet 3:9. Unless people repent, they will end up in the lake of fire forever. Likewise in Luke 13:3 the Lord was obviously saying that unless his Jewish listeners repented, they would all likewise be eternally condemned.

Commenting on 2 Pet 3:9, Green writes, “God does not want any man to perish: he wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).”1

Similarly, Kelly assumes the understanding of perishing in 2 Pet 3:9 when he writes:

The truth that God desires the repentance and conversion of all men was perceived by the post-exilic prophets and later Judaism (e.g. [sic] Ezek. 18:23; 33:11: for rabbinical material, see SB III, 774f.);…in the NT it is set out or implied in John 3:16f.; Rom. 11:32; 1 Tim. 2:4…[Peter] enables the Church to understand its mission as being, in this span between the resurrection and the Second Coming, to proclaim the divine love and lead men to repentance and faith.

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