Friday, September 9, 2011

Word Study: "Phthora" (Destruction) in Galatians 6:8

“The Epistle ends on a similar note. ‘The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from the nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life’ (Galatians 6:8)” (“Galatians 6:8,” from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011).

The last two posts have concentrated on Joshua 7 and Fudge’s annihilationist presupposition. Fudge posits that Joshua 7:25 refers to the deaths of Achan and his family as annihilation, when the text only speaks of cremation. To argue the concept of annihilation involves a discussion of the mortality of the soul (for the traditionalist, immortality), which then involves the metaphysical and spiritual. Achan and his family’s deaths are presented to us biblically on a physical, mortal level. The discussion of the soul is never given thought here. And, if we assume hypothetically that Fudge is right, his view is further defeated by the words of the writers in Hebrews 10:28-29, which stresses that in contrast to death as prescribed in the Mosaic Law, there is a “much severer punishment” prescribed for those who insult the Spirit of grace and trample over the blood of Christ. If the first death is annihilation, the second death cannot be the same as the first.

Today’s post will cover the word “destruction” as Fudge traces the word in both the Old and New Testaments. Fudge provides a word study of “destruction”:

In ordinary Greek this word spoke of ‘ruin, destruction, dissolution, deterioration, corruption’ according to Arndt and Gingrich. Paul uses it of perishable food (Col. 2:22) and the decaying world (Rom. 8:21). Peter applies it to animals destined to be killed (2 Pet. 2:12, NIV, ‘destroyed’). Arndt and Gingrich cite non-biblical sources where the word refers to an abortion or a miscarriage; it had the same meaning in Christian literature of the second century. ‘You shall not murder a child by abortion’ is the injunction of both Barnabas (19:5) and the Didache (2:2). ‘Abortion’ is phthora, the word Paul uses here” (Fudge, The Fire That Consumes).

The word was used in the second century to mean abortion; but again, this doesn’t do away with the idea that abortion is a physical crime. To abort a baby is to kill that baby. But, once again, this refers to nothing more than cremation does (the act of Joshua 7:25). Abortion involves the killing of the flesh, not the killing of the soul. Abortion is a physical issue, annihilation a metaphysical one. The word phthora can also refer to spoiled food, as well as the killing of animals and the decaying of this present world. The word does refer to all of these things, but the word must have different connotations when applied to these things. The decay of food is not the same as decaying of the world or the killing of animals. This is a point I have made: that Fudge cannot distinguish the different meanings when the same word is used to refer to these three different contexts.

This is where Fudge’s words take an interesting turn:

“Metaphorically, the word could be used in a moral sense as in the ‘depravity’ of wicked men (2 Pet. 2:12). The verb (phtheiro) meant to ‘corrupt’ or to ‘ruin’ and can speak of destroying a house (1 Cor. 3:17), seducing a virgin (2 Cor. 11:3) ruining a man financially (2 Cor. 7:2), or corrupting someone’s morals (1 Cor. 15:33; Eph. 4:22; Rev. 19:2). The building is extinct as a building, the maiden’s virginity is forever gone, the man’s financial security is annihilated, and the good character that once existed now exists no more” (Fudge, The Fire That Consumes).

As Fudge says above, the verb for corruption, phtheiro, can be used to refer to the destruction of buildings, the destruction of a woman’s virginity, the destruction of someone’s reputation, and the corruption of good morals. However, does destruction in each of these contexts look the same? Can we say with certainty that the destruction of a house looks exactly like the destruction of someone’s reputation? No. While it is true that the end is the same (that is, that the house is no more and the reputation is no more), the end destruction occurs in different ways. The house is no longer, but there is still debris (traces of the elements that built the home). With the reputation, the destruction of the man’s reputation does not mean that he can never get it back. It simply means that, at the time, the good reputation he had is gone (for the time being).The one exception to the above list is the woman losing her virginity: that is something that, once she loses it, she cannot reclaim it again. Still though, it is metaphorical (she is not physically destroyed by the destruction of it).

Does destruction mean the same thing when we look at these various contexts in which the word is used? Of course not. Here at The Center for Theological Studies, I was once approached by an annihilationist commenter (someone who wanted to backup Mr. Edward Fudge in this series) and told, “Of course, every conditionalist (conditional immortalist) knows that the word ‘destroy’ has different meanings in different contexts.” He seemed to believe that I was wrong for critiquing the annihilationist on the view that destroy means “annihilate” in every context. However, this is where I will demonstrate what I have said about Fudge in posts past. Here is where I will show the readership the problem with Fudge’s word studies. In his study of the word “destruction” (Grk. phthora), Fudge will plaster the same meaning on the word for all contexts:

“According to many traditionalists, these words cannot have their normal meaning when applied to final punishment because biblical figures of ashes under foot and rising smoke do not signify literal, chemical annihilation. Having ruled out this supposed literal sense of ‘destroy,’ ‘ruin,’ and ‘perish,’ traditionalists conclude that these very words that, on their face, clearly speak of loss of life, must mean eternal conscious torment instead” (Fudge, The Fire That Consumes).

Why is it that traditionalists reinterpret the notion of destruction to refer to eternal, conscious torment? They do so (at least I can say I do) because they are convicted by the biblical text; they are convicted by passages of Scripture such as Revelation 14:9-11 and Mark 9:42-48. Traditionalists are convinced that, if the Bible teaches that the torment of the wicked will be forever and ever, and that the wicked will have no rest for all eternity, then the wicked must feel the torment (and thus, will experience eternal, conscious torment). The question to ask is, “Does the text ever argue temporary torment?” Fudge can turn the tables on the traditionalist...but does his own presupposition hold to the truth of the Scriptures?

The only response provided by Edward Fudge is that the Bible does not explicitly discuss the immortality of the wicked...therefore, the wicked cannot live eternally in torment. But passages like Revelation 14:9-11 show that the torment and unrest are eternal. Does Revelation 14:9-11 not imply eternal, conscious torment? What in the biblical text implies temporary torment and subsequent annihilation?

Does the destruction of a house equal annihilation? No. Is it true that the destruction of a house, or food, or the ruin of a person’s reputation accurately portray literal annihilation? No. As I’ve said throughout this series, the question we have to ask is, “Does ‘destroy’ mean the same thing in these contexts?” The answer is a resounding “No.” God bless.

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