AT DEATH DO THE WICKED GO TO ‘ETERNAL PUNISHMENT’ OR ‘EVERLASTING CUTTING-OFF’? –-Does Matthew 25:46 support the Watchtower’s view of annihilation?
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE
NEW WORLD TRANSLATION
“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
“And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”
JEHOVAH’S WITNESS ARGUMENT:
From the beginning, Jehovah’s Witnesses have hated the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. They have substituted this doctrine for the concept of everlasting annihilation of the wicked, and they use various Scriptural proof texts that are taken out of context, along with an erroneous translation of the Scriptures, to support their point of view. Such is the case with Matthew 25:46 that reads in the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” While most Bible translators render the Geek word kolasis (κόλασις) as “punishment,” the translators of the Jehovah’s Witness Bible chose to render it “cutting-off” to justify their belief in annihilation. The following is an excerpt from one of their publications stating why they chose to translate this passage differently:
“Matt. 25:46, KJ: ‘These shall go away into everlasting punishment [“lopping off,” Int; Greek, ko´la·sin]: but the righteous into life eternal.” (The Emphatic Diaglott reads “cutting-off” instead of “punishment.” A footnote states: “Kolasin … is derived from kolazoo, which signifies, 1. To cut off; as lopping off branches of trees, to prune. 2. To restrain, to repress. … 3. To chastise, to punish. To cut off an individual from life, or society, or even to restrain, is esteemed as punishment;—hence has arisen this third metaphorical use of the word. The primary signification has been adopted, because it agrees better with the second member of the sentence, thus preserving the force and beauty of the antithesis. The righteous go to life, the wicked to the cutting off from life, or death. See 2 Thess. 1.9.’)” —Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989,p.171
Those who plan to talk with Jehovah’s Witnesses on a regular basis may want to become familiar with the arsenal they can expect to encounter in spiritual combat with the average Witness who comes to his or her door. Jehovah’s Witnesses will usually be equipped with a New World Translation of the Scriptures (the Jehovah’s Witness Bible), a Reasoning from the Scriptures book (The Watchtower Society’s publication quoted above that is used to defend the unique doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses), and a Kingdom Interlinear or Emphatic Diaglott which are two Greek/English Interlinears that are published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Each Interlinear presents the Greek text and the English translation for each word underneath the Greek text in the left column, and a complete English translation in the right column. The Emphatic Diaglott, quoted in the Watchtower’s Reasoning book (above) was translated by Benjamin Wilson who held beliefs similar to the Christadelphians. Christadelphians believe much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses in that they deny hell and the immortality of the soul. Later, the rights to the Emphatic Diaglott Interlinear were purchased by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and published in 1942. There are various concerns that arise with the translation of the verse at hand: Translational, Hermeneutical, Linguistic, and Logical.
Translational: The Greek word kolasis (κόλασις) used in this passage is derived from kolazō (κολάζω) which means “to curtail, prune, dock… to check, restrain, punish”—Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 497. Although the Watchtower Society is correct in noting that kolazō can mean “to prune,” it is most commonly rendered “to punish” or “punishment” in Scripture. Even the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation Bible correctly renders kolazō as “to punish” at Acts 4:21. Yet, it goes against its own rendering of this word in one passage to translate its derivate word kolasis (κόλασις) as “cutting-off” in Matthew 25:46, justifying this rendering by stretching the “pruning” concept to “cutting-off.” This is clearly unsupported in the Greek text as W.E. Vine notes: “Kolasis (κόλασις, 2851), akin to kolazō (PUNISH, No. 1), ‘punishment’ used in Matt. 25:46, ‘(eternal) punishment.’” ”—Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 498. But even if one were to grant such an erroneous translation, to deduce from this that a cessation of existence occurs is to impose something into the text that is simply not there.
Hermeneutical: This is the study of how one interpretation of a Biblical passage compares with the rest of Scripture. How does the translation of “punishment” versus “cutting-off” compare with the rest of God’s Word? At Luke 16:22-28 Jesus tells a story of a poor man named, Lazarus who was comforted after his death while the rich man who failed to care for Lazarus’ needs ended up in a conscious torment in “Hades.” This and many other passages speak of Hades and Hell (Gehenna) being a place where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 22:3; 24:51; 25:30). If one takes the meaning of these Scriptures literally, one would be required to accept the existence of a conscious afterlife of torment for those who reject Jesus Christ and his payment for sin. Yet, when presented with these passages, Jehovah’s Witness customarily respond with a metaphorical, non-literal interpretation based upon the Watchtower’s Society’s literature. Note the following explanation regarding Luke 16 presented from the Society’s Live Forever publication:
“The rich man in the illustration stood for the self-important religious leaders who rejected Jesus and later killed him. Lazarus pictured the common people who accepted God’s Son. The death of the rich man and of Lazarus represented a change in their condition. This change took place when Jesus fed the neglected Lazarus-like people spiritually, so that they thus came into the favor of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God. At the same time, the false religious leaders “died” with respect to having God’s favor. Being cast off, they suffered torments when Christ’s followers exposed their evil works.”—You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth, 1982, pp. 88-89
Instead of accepting the simple truth of Scripture, the Watchtower Society is force to impose a twisted meaning onto the text of Scripture to validate their unbiblical belief of annihilation for the wicked and conditional immortality for the righteous.
Linguistic: In the passage of Matthew 25:46, the eternal nature of life for the righteous is contrasted with the eternal nature of punishment for the wicked. Just a few verses prior to verse 46, we read in the New World Translation at verse 41 that the “goats” who reject Christ will be thrown “into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” When the Watchtower Society states: “The everlasting “cutting-off (ko´la·sis) of the ‘goats’ is the opposite of the ‘everlasting life’ with which the ‘sheep’ are rewarded.”—Our Incoming World Government ~God’s Kingdom p.171, one has to wonder how they can justify such reasoning given the context of “everlasting fire” being stated in the text of verse 41. This leads us to our next point below:
Logically: By definition the everlasting conscious bliss of the righteous in heaven or paradise earth is NOT the opposite of the unconscious annihilation of the unrighteous. The opposite of conscious bliss is conscious torment. For reward and punishment entails consciousness. It is absurd to say that you are going to punish your chair by “cutting-off” its legs because you stubbed your toe on it, because a chair is not “conscious” of anything.