Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter three: What Saith The Scriptures
We are conservative enough to prefer to read the King James version of the English Bible rather than other translations. This is because its phraseology and structure have been wrought into our life and into the texture of the English language. We also know that in very many instances it is not an accurate representation of the original Greek and Hebrew and yet for most practical purposes it is admirable.
We will point out that on a few lines its translation is not clearly given. We are not arguing against its general correctness by asking that such parts should have a more correct rendering.
There are those who think that any suggestions along this path are irreverent and deny the inspiration of the Scriptures. We beg to say, however, that it is the original in Greek and Hebrew that is our inspired standard, and that the English or French or German, etc., are only translations, and are inspired just so far as they express the actual thought of these originals. When scholars see that another word will better translate the thought or word of the original, and such correction is made, they are establishing rather than questioning the plenary inspiration of God's Word. This point needs to be fully appreciated and it will preclude any remark like that of the woman who said that the English Bible was good enough for Paul and it was good enough for her. She either did not know or did not think that Paul did not have the Bible in English, but had it only in the original languages. We sympathize in part with her reverence for God's Word.
Some of the discrepancies in our English Bible are caused by the changes in the usages of words that normally take place in the course of time; and others, by the bias of the translator.
The word "prevent" (1Thess. 4:15) in the English Bible did not mean what it means now; but at the time of the King James version it meant "to precede."
The word "damnation" (1Cor. 11:29) is too strong for the Greek word; it should always be rendered "condemnation." This verse then has a plain meaning. Also, if one against his conscience eat meat offered to idols, he is "damned if he eat" (Rom. 14:23). It should be, he is "condemned." In this case, and in all others, the word should be translated "condemned."
As we take up different words we will more accurately translate the few words that need alteration, which we have found through many years of reading and teaching the Bible in the original languages as well as in English.
F. W. Faber thus writes of the English Bible:
"The uncommon beauty and marvelous English of the Protestant Bible! It lives on the ear like a music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells which convert hardly knows how he can forego. Its felicities often seem to be almost things rather than mere words. It is part of the national mind, and the author of national seriousness. The memory of the dead passes into it. The potent traditions of childhood are stereotyped in its phrases. The power of all the griefs and trials of man is hidden beneath its words. It is the representative of his best moments; and all that there has been about him of soft and gentle and pure and penitent and good, speaks to him forever out of his English Bible. It is his sacred thing, which doubt has never dimmed and controversy never soiled. It has been to him all along as the silent, but, oh, how intelligible voice of his guardian angel; and in the length and breadth of the land there is not a Protestant, with one spark of religiousness about him, whose spiritual biography is not in his Saxon Bible."
Besides a mere literal translation of the Bible there are several important things which have to be taken into consideration in order to the correct understanding and interpretation of the Scripture, some of which are not always given due consideration.
First, the study of the idioms of both the Hebrew and the Greek. A literal translation of a text from another language may give exactly an opposite meaning to an English reader. For instance, in Greek two negatives do not make an affirmative but a stronger negative. In English it is quite the contrary: they make an affirmative.
Many Hebrew idioms of the Old Testament are carried into the New Testament Greek. For example, the active voice of a verb is frequently used in the sense of permission, and where this is not recognized as an idiom, it makes havoc with a true conception of God, attributing all kinds of evil to Him, and is contradictory to thousands of other statements. He is thus incorrectly made the Author of evil. The proper translation of the idiom corrects all this.
There are many expressions also that are used of God speaking after the manner of men. It is not proper to understand them in the letter. It is rather the condescension of the eternal God stooping down to our apprehension. When thus understood, all difficulty disappears.
Again there are many passages of Scripture which speak of things as they seem, rather than as they are. We often do this. We say, "The sun rises and sets," when we know better; but we are simply referring to the apparent and not to the real. In one passage of the Psalms, God is called upon as if He were asleep (Ps. 44:23); while in another we are told that He never slumbers nor sleeps. We know that the first is speaking according to the way it seems and not according to the fact. In oriental speech, this kind of thing is far more frequent than in English.
We quote from the eloquent and quaint John Donne, of the seventeenth century, and modernize a few of his words (he is probably making his own translation of the passages (quoted from the Bible):
"But some of those inordinate passions and perturbations excesses and defects of man, are imputed to God, by the Holy Ghost in the Scripture. For so laziness and drowsiness is imputed to God; (Awake Lord, why sleepest Thou? Ps. 44:23). So corruptibleness, and deterioration, and growing worse by ill company, is imputed to God; God is said to grow froward with the froward, and He learns to go crookedly with them that go crookedly (Ps. 18:26). And prodigality and wastefulness is imputed to God: (Thou sellest Thy people for naught, and dost not increase Thy wealth by their price. Ps. 44:12). So sudden and hasty choler; (Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and ye perish in brief anger, tho His wrath be kindled but a little.) And then, illimited and boundless anger, a vindicative irreconcilableness is imputed to God; (I was but a little displeased (but it is otherwise now) I am very sore displeased. Zech. 1:15).
“So there is devouring wrath; (Wrath that consumes like stubble. Ex. 15:7). So there is wrath multiplied (Plagues renewed and indignation increased. Job 10:17). So God Himself expresses it (I will fight against you in anger and in fury. Jer. 21:5). And so for His inexorableness, His irreconcilableness, (O Lord God of Hosts, how long wilt Thou be angry against the prayer of Thy people? Ps. 80:4)--God's own people praying to their own God, and yet their God irreconcilable to them. Scorn and contempt is imputed to God; which is one of the most enormous, and disproportioned weaknesses in man; that a worm that crawls in the dust, that a grain of dust that is hurried with every blast of wind, should find anything so much inferior to itself as to scorn it, to deride it, to condemn it: yet scorn and derision and contempt is imputed to God (He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Ps. 2:4). And again (I will laugh at your calamity: I will mock when your fear cometh. Prov. 1:26)
“Nay beloved. even inebriation, excess in that kind, drunkenness which the Holy Ghost hath mingled in the expressing of God's proceedings with man; for God does not threaten to make His enemies drunk (and to make others drunk is a circumstance of drunkenness). So Jerusalem being in His displeasure complains (He hath made me drunk with wormwood. Lam. 3:15). And again, (They shall be drunk with their own blood, as with new wine. Isa. 49:26). Not only to express His plentiful mercy to His friends and servants, does God take that metaphor (I will make the soul of the priest drunk; fill it, satiate it). And again, (I will make the weary soul, and the sorrowful soul drunk. Jer. 31:14,25). But not only this (tho in all this God has a hand) not only toward others; but God in His own behalf complains of the scant and penurious sacrificer (Thou hast not made me drunk with Thy sacrifices).
“And yet, tho for the better applying of God to the understanding of man, the Holy Ghost imputes to God these excesses and defects of man (laziness and drowsiness, deterioration, corruptibleness by ill conversation, prodigality and wastefulness, sudden choler, long irreconcilableness, scorn, inebriation and many others) in the Scripture."
All this is only human and oriental figures of speech. Not one of them is true of God, it only appears to be so.
A translator of the Bible ought to be perfectly familiar with all the idioms of the original languages and also of the idioms of the language into which he translates, or he will make terrible confusion. Note the great number of idioms that are pointed out by Dr. Robert Young in the introductory pages of his admirable concordance to the Bible.
Another necessary study that has been too much neglected in the interpretation of Scripture is the study of the figures of speech. We know of a few books that have attempted to perform thoroughly this service for the English language. There is only one book that we know of in English (The Might and Mirth of Literature. A Treatise on Figurative Language, by John Walker Vilant Macbeth; Harper & Bros., New York, 1875), and of only one (Figures of Speech used in the Bible, by E. W. Bullinger, D.D.; Eyre & Spottiswoode, London) that has in any adequate degree done the same for the Bible. Between two and three hundred figures of speech are discust and illustrated. There is certainly room for further work on this important line. The Bible is eminently a figurative book, and its figures are principally oriental. Right interpretation or translation demands the mastery of Bible figures.
Just one illustration: when in Daniel's time the King was addressed, they said, "O King, live forever." No oriental would mean literally "forever," but only a long time. The "forevers" of Scripture all come in the same class, for we will show that they all refer to time or portions of time, and time is to come to an end. (See Chapter on The Ages Presented, and that on Eternity Is Not Time.)
Another fact that needs especial mention is that the Bible is a graded book; not always graded so that the earlier books are less profound than the later. This is in part true, but only in part. Scattered through the Word are truths for the simple minds, which will be understood and appropriated by the beginners. Then also scattered through its pages are truths that are a little more advanced and will afford help to the man and woman of average intelligence. And then all stages of truth are found till the greatest intellects may be satisfied and yet inspired for further discoveries. The Word of God is exactly parallel to nature; nature is still yielding her secrets to the diligent student. Likewise the Word of God has still blessed discoveries awaiting the faith and patience and skill of those who seek, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, to find them.
Beside the graded stratifications of truth that lie all through the Word of God, there is also a marked progress of doctrine. The failure to discern this progress of doctrine in the Word has led to erroneous or imperfect understanding of God's Word. On the subject of the future life, when we come to Israel, we find that the promises held out to the faithful were largely those that pertain to this life, with just enough of the other spiritual promises of the future life to imply its real existence and to awaken desire for further light. This light kept on increasing till life and incorruptibility were brought out into clearness of light in the New Testament.
It goes without saying that any book or passage of Scripture can be understood only by discerning its own special standpoint. It makes much difference who the speaker is. The Bible is fully inspired, but if the speaker is untrue the Bible will record correctly what he says but does not ask you to believe his untruth. The Bible records even what Satan says, but that does not mean that Satan is telling the whole truth. We need an inspired and accurate record of sin and its principles to understand it correctly. It is not proper to open the Bible and quote a text to prove a point without observing who is speaking and what his standpoint is. One might open the book of Job and quote from some of Job's friends. We know that some of the things they said were true and some not. In fact, many things were so erroneous that in the end, when Job was right with God, he had to pray for these same friends.
The book of Ecclesiastes is often quoted in reference to the future life. Its sphere of observation is entirely worldly and belongs to this present life. Twenty-nine times it indicates this fact by using the expression "under the sun." If we look at things from this standpoint it would seem that there was no future life and therefore no difference between the death of a man and a beast. From this standpoint, death means the body in the grave and nothing more and we could say in its words that then "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." This is looking at life only from the standpoint of this present world.
Also that little sentence, "In the place where the tree falleth there it shall be." This is a figurative way of illustrating the law of sowing and reaping. Note the context, where you sow you reap and what you sow you reap. Farther than this principle this text is not referring to human destiny. Even if it did we could accept it. It would then be another way of saying that just in the condition a man leaves this world, in that state he arrives in the next. But neither the tree nor the man, tho they remain there long, will abide there for eternity, for every state has its changes. We shall see that every state is meant for progress and preparation for a final eternity.
We like to think of the book of Ecclesiastes as written by Solomon after his backsliding and worldliness were ended. He tells us that he looked at life and tried it from this worldly standpoint. He tells of his riches and the great experiments he made because of his almost limitless resources. He says that he ran the whole gamut of worldliness and pleasure, endeavoring at the same time to keep his head balanced that he might see what was in it all. He bears testimony that there is nothing in it, and that it is all vanity. He desires his lesson to profit others for he asks, "What can the man do that cometh after the king?" He then concludes his book by telling us that from the worldly, outward standpoint, even if there was nothing beyond this life, it is far better to reverence God and keep His commandments. The book of Ecclesiastes is inspired, but has to be understood from its proper standpoint. It is not proper to quote it in any other way.
The principles here referred to are but some of those that are often either not thought of or ignored, but which are absolutely necessary to a true understanding of God's Word.
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