EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT - Daniel 12:2
I have claimed that there are no verses in the Old Testament that support everlasting or eternal punishment and yet here is what Daniel 12:2 says.
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
This verse is almost a mirror of Matthew 25:46 which is probably the number one verse in the Bible that people will quote to prove that my premise on hell and eternal punishment is totally wrong. Matthew 25:46 reads as follows.
“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment:
but the righteous into life eternal”
It certainly appears and it would be very easy to conclude that my claim is wrong but if we go back to the Hebrew words underlying the English translation, we will discover that in both cases, the Hebrew word translated as “everlasting” is olam. We have shown in a previous segment that olam doesn”t mean eternal, everlasting or never ending. If it did, Jonah would still be in the belly of the whale and never get out, slaves would remain slaves even after they die and be slaves for all of eternity, the Levitical and Aaronic priesthoods would be functioning and function forever, animal sacrifices would be occurring and would go on forever, Jerusalem would be burning forever and Solomon’s Temple would still be standing and the Jewish people would worship their God in that Temple forever. These are just some of the things that are, according to the King James Bible, forever but obviously aren’t.
Thanks to the marvellous work of Jeff Benner, we have already learned that olam, actually means beyond the horizon or out of sight. In essence it means beyond my world or beyond my understanding and something that is olam is therefore indescribable. The King James Bible translates olam as forever or everlasting or eternal but when a biblical character like King David says that God is olam, he isn’t saying that God is eternal (though God is) but instead David is saying that God is beyond his understanding or beyond description and when olam is repeated or the Hebrew phrase va’ad is added to it, it is the Hebraic method of emphasizing or exaggerating this view. God isn’t simply beyond our understanding, God is beyond beyond our understanding. God is indescribably indescribable. Jewish kabbalists actually have a term for this indescribable God. God is ultimately referred to as “Ayn Sof.” God is “no thing” which doesn’t mean God is nothing but means that God is that which cannot be defined which is basically what the Hebrew word, olam, is telling us if we go back to the original meaning of the word.
We have pointed out that olam could be used in the context of time so a period of time described as olam would be of an indefinite and indeterminable length. Very likely it would be long but not necessarily as proven by the use of olam in Jonah 2:6. Olam could also be used in the context of quality or character. Something could be indescribably beautiful or indescribably powerful. Daniel 12:2 is in a very controversial section of the Bible (Daniel 9 to 12) that is interpreted in a variety of ways within Christianity. Whether you would interpret olam in terms of time or quality in Daniel 12:2 may very well depend on how you interpret the rest of Daniel, particularly chapters 9 to 12. I have no problem admitting that whether olam is “time oriented” and talking about an indefinite but possibly long period of time or whether it is “character oriented” and talking about a quality of life and/or shame and contempt isn’t all that clear to me. If I were forced to choose, I would lean toward quality or character and that is definitely based on my understanding of the rest of Daniel. That is a discussion we must set aside for a rainy day in the future.
Regardless of which view you take, based upon what I have presented regarding the Hebrew word, olam, I do not believe that you can dogmatically inject into this verse anything to do with life or shame and contempt from an eternal or everlasting point of view.
Remember that one of the reasons Daniel 12:2 is so problematic and difficult is because nowhere in the Old Testament in the King James Bible will you read the phrase “eternal life” and this is the ONLY verse in the Old Testament where you will read the phrase “everlasting life.” We don’t have any verses prior to this one in the Old Testament that either mention “everlasting life or everlasting punishment,” let alone define either one.
A rabbit trail that we could go off on and get very distracted is why this phrase would suddenly show up in the book of Daniel after 3400 to 3800 years of biblical history. Though we cannot get into it in this series, let me simply suggest that our theology and beliefs are often impacted by the culture and people that we may find ourselves immersed in for whatever reason and there is no question that Jewish theology was impacted by the time the Jews spent exiled in Babylon. There are a number of other areas that clearly show outside influences impacting Judaism including something as basic as the Jews having a month on their calendar called Tammuz.
Allow me to point out something that I think is interesting about Daniel 12:2 that rarely, if ever, seems to be considered. It concerns Christian eschatology which is the branch of biblical studies or theology that involves “beliefs concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically: any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment.”
We could spend days, weeks, months and years discussing the myriad of views that exist within Christianity when it comes to all the various components of eschatology. Needless to say we aren’t going to do that. I am going to zero in on just one general belief that is common within fundamental Christianity. Many fundamental Christians believe that at some point all or at least most of humanity will be resurrected to appear before God to be judged and the result of that judgment will be that all of the “unsaved” as defined by fundamental Christianity will be cast into eternal flames to be punished forever. There is even a name for this event, the Great White Throne Judgment, based on Revelation 20:11. Again generally speaking, this judgment is going to take place at the end of what is called the millennium, a 1000 year period that takes place after Jesus literally returns to earth. This same millennium was preceded by a period of time that again has a name, the Great Tribulation. This is a time of tribulation unlike anything the world has ever seen, where literally millions and millions and perhaps billions of people die. Jesus comes back “at the proverbial last minute” and in essence saves Israel from total annihilation and perhaps even saves all of humanity from self-destruction.
Why did I go through that explanation? Allow me to quote not only Daniel 12:2 but 12:1 as well.
“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
If we take the words of Daniel 12:1-2 literally as they appear, it seems that this resurrection in which some awake to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt, takes place at the time of the Great Tribulation or as the book of Daniel puts it, “at a time of trouble such as never was.” This is 1000 years too soon based on what is commonly taught within fundamental Christianity. It also seems to very limited in scope in that this resurrection since it appears to be limited to the nation of Israel, Daniel’s people. If this resurrection or awakening in Daniel 12:2 has nothing to do with the “Great White Throne” judgment and applies to “thy people” meaning Daniel’s people, what might it refer to? Again, without getting into much detail, let me suggest this possibility.
The book of Daniel and the gospel of Matthew seem to mirror each other to some degree. In Matthew 27:51-53 we read about a very strange happening that apparently occurred at the time of Jesus’ death.
“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
I understand that there is no mention in Matthew about the type of resurrection. If you see Daniel’s resurrection related to eternal life and punishment, then Matthew’s resurrection wouldn’t seem to match or make sense, especially in light of the use of the word saints. If Daniel’s resurrection, however, has nothing to do with “eternal matters” but in fact, has to do with quality and character, this could lead to some very interesting discussions and those discussions I believe could center around the 40 or so years of Jewish history from about 33 A.D. to 73 A.D. culminating in the destruction of the Temple and the devastation experienced by the Jewish people in this war with Rome. I realize that in some ways it isn’t “kosher” to throw something out on the table and then walk away from it without discussing and explaining it but if we got into an eschatological discussion regarding events in Daniel 9 to 12, we could be here for an “olam,” a long, long time - but not forever.. So, we are going to move on.
To conclude this segment, I realize the debate about Daniel 12:2 could boil down to nothing more than one of those old “he said, she said” types of arguments which generally gets us nowhere. It all depends on what you do with the word olam unless of course you are part of the King James only group who believe that the English translation of the King James Bible is inspired, inerrant and infallible. If so, I doubt we have much to talk about.
However, as you have seen, we aren’t basing our beliefs on one verse or even on the definition of one word, that being olam in this case. We don’t have to jump through hoops to try and explain why some verses that contain olam mean eternal or everlasting and others can’t possibly mean that. I am very content to put all of our “evidence” regarding what the Old Testament teaches up against the English translation of this one verse and then step back and let you decide for yourself.
Blessings, shalom, namaste