Matthew 25:46 and Universalism

eternal punishement

by Matt Slick

"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:46).

The Universalists do not believe in eternal punishment.  Universalists teach that all will eventually be saved through the atonement of Jesus.  Therefore, when the Bible speaks of eternal punishment and hellfire, etc., the universalist interprets it to mean an inner sorrow due to loss of reward and/or they maintain that the word "eternal" does not mean "without end."

In Greek, the word "eternal" is the word "," or aionion.  This word occurs in two places in Matt. 25:46:  Let's look at it again in a Greek Interlinear form:

The exact same word "," aionion, is used to describe the duration of punishment as well as of the life of the righteous - those who are saved.  The same word describes both conditions.  If it means one thing in the first part of this sentence, then it means the same thing in the second part since they are both in the same context and both are describing time-duration of the states of the unsaved and the saved.  If the punishment is eternal, then so is the life. Likewise, if, as the universalist says, the punishment is not eternal, then neither is the life.  You can't pick and choose how the word is applied in this verse to suit your own theology.

But the Universalists do just that.  They want to have Jesus say that eternal life is forever, but eternal punishment is not -- even though Jesus used the same word, in the same breath, to describe them both.  It just doesn't fit their preconceived ideas.

Let's translate it the universalist way...

The Universalists are fond of translating Bible verses and transliterating a particular word.  So, I will use their style in the following translation:

And these will go away into aionion punishment,
but the righteous into aionion life.1

Or, to take a little liberty, it could be translated as,

And these will go away into non aionion punishment,
but the righteous into aionion life.

I inserted the word "non" here to reflect what the Universalists intend the word aionion to mean when describing punishment -- but not life.  Notice it isn't there when describing life because the Universalist believes that the life of the righteous is without end:  eternal.  This is the kind of thing the universalist must do in order to justify his position.  It is clearly false and demonstrates an intrusion into the text of a theological perspective.  This is something Jehovah's Witnesses do when they "translated" the Bible.  They changed words to make them agree with their theology.

Nevertheless, another translation according to universalist presuppositions might be:

"And these will go away into non-eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

But, the Universalists state that aionion is an age, a period of time that can have a finish.  They would then answer this objection and say that punishment is for a time and so is life, but that both of these are for an aionion period and after each period is another.  In the case of the aionion punishment, it would end, and then after that, they would have eternal life.  Likewise, those possessing eternal life already in the aionion "age" will continue to have it in the next age.  The only problem is that that isn't what the text is saying.  Jesus isn't setting up a time duration argument.  He is telling us that there is eternal life and eternal death.

The Universalists have constructed a multi-age scenario to fit their perspective.  In so doing, they have allowed for the occurrence of salvation after death, another teaching that is unbiblical.  Heb. 9:27 says, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," (NASB).  The judgment comes from God and is upon the sinner.  The universalist would have some sort of a judgment that leads to punishment that ends and then there is eternal salvation in the afterlife.  In so teaching, they have ignored the translations of countless scholars and adopted those interpretations that agree with them in order to suit their theological bias.  This is something they do very frequently, and with a vengeance, since they often turn a harsh tone towards those who do not agree with them.

I hope you can see the inconsistency of translating and interpreting Matt. 25:46 any other way than stating that the punishment is eternal as is the life of the righteous.

  • 1. As a comment, with this type of translation, it is easy to confuse what the text is really saying because the reader is not familiar with the Greek word aionion.  The Universalists often do this:  partially translate a verse leaving a transliterated Greek word or two in place of English words. They can then tell you what the word "really means."  This can be misleading.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.