Thursday, May 17, 2018

Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Fesko, J.V. Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation (Mentor, 2016), 320 pp.

Among the more frequently revisited heresies of our time, one finds the manipulation, modification, or outright rejection of the doctrine of imputation taught in Scripture. The Scriptures teach three imputations:
1. The imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt to his posterity.
2. The imputation of the sins of God’s elect to Christ.
3. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ to God’s elect.
Without these doctrines, there is no Christian Gospel. For the bad news is simply this: We are born dead in trespasses and sins, having died in Adam our progenitor, and are by nature children of God’s wrath. And the good news is simply this: The Lord has laid upon Christ the sins of his elect people, Christ has suffered the wrath of God in their place, and God credits his people with not merely a clean slate (i.e. that moral state that results from having had our sins completely forgiven) but with the very righteousness of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ (i.e. all of Christ’s perfect obedience to the law of God is now our possession - we possess the perfect righteousness necessary to enter into heaven right now, and are not in need of doing any good works whatsoever in order to be saved).

Yet there are many in our time who deny either one or two or all three forms of imputation, some of which, erroneously, even view themselves as faithful heirs of the Reformation. Given the popularity of some of these heretics (e.g. N.T. Wright) due to their ability to reach a wider audience than the academicians and academically-oriented scholar-pastors, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear that an accessible scholarly text has been published on such a vital issue. J.V. Fesko’s Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation is a recent work that does this by presenting excellent scholarship not only in a style of writing that is accessible to most readers, but also by following its chapters with concise summaries of the content presented therein.

Fesko’s book traces the history of the doctrine of imputation from the days of the early church, to the days of the Medieval Era, through the Reformation Era, past the Modernist era, and into our own day. What the reader will learn is that the doctrine was not entirely absent from the earliest days of the post-New Testament church. Rather, over time the seeds of the doctrine grew, eventually blossoming into the doctrine as it has been articulated by such Reformed confessions as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Ausburg Confession, the Three Forms of Unity, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. Contemporary denials of the doctrine, in other words, are not further reformations of our understanding of the Scriptures, but deviations from the clear teaching of the Scriptures to which the church has widely, if not universally, agreed.

Fesko covers the contemporary errors of men like N.T. Wright and Michael Bird presenting their arguments in a clear and concise manner, and refuting them in an equally clear and concise manner. Given the tendency of the enemies of the doctrine of imputation to obfuscation, this is much appreciated, and it will serve those ministers and congregants who are seeking to familiarize themselves with recent attacks on the Christian faith from within the ranks of Christianity, and know how to respond effectively to those attacks. And in this regard, while it does not aim to do so directly, Fesko’s book nonetheless also helps the Christian reader understand how the popular heresy of annihilationism is foundationally wrong in its conception of life and death. For Death in Adam, Life in Christ delves into the relationship between covenant blessings as life, on the one hand, and covenant curses as death, on the other hand, making it clear that death and life are states of existence resulting from one’s either being in the covenant of grace, or being a breaker of the covenant of works. It is an exegetically and logically precise work of theology that every believer should take up and read.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemy's Trade [Pt. 4a]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

An Apologetical Reflection on Dialogical Rules of Engagement

Language use varies not only from one group to another, but also from context to context. Academicians, for instance, generally seek to constrain subjective, emotive language as much as possible in order to focus their readers’ attention on the content being argued either for or against. Outside of academic circles, generally most of us employ subjective, emotive language, interestingly, to the same end. Persuasive interpersonal communication, in fact, seems to rest largely on a speaker’s apparent subjectivity and empathy, whereas non-persuasive communication of this kind is deficient in apparent subjectivity and empathy. Within their respective contexts, granting that interlocutors are aware of the context’s rules of engagement (e.g. whether they are engaging in a specialized academic disputation or an informal conversational debate), these modes of communication are not problematic. However, if one is unaware of the rules of engagement, then he is bound to misunderstand the meaning of his interlocutor’s assertions.

For example, the word “all” can function in several different ways in any given informal context. Informal contexts often use the word all hyperbolically, as a means of emphasis. Contextually, assertions of the variety “All x are y!” typically are not quantitatively precise, but serve to emphasize a large quantity of some particular “y.” “All” would mean “most,” not each and every individual x. More precise informal contexts may involve the use of “all” in conjunction with a place, signifying not the entirety of that place’s population, but the entirety of the people representative of that place. The sentence “All New Yorkers are Yankees fans,” for instance, does not mean each and every New Yorker is a fan of the Yankees. Rather, it means that all native New York baseball fans are Yankees fans. The quanitative all here is precise, but it is limited to a subset of the absolute All in the tautologous assertion “All permanent New York residents are New Yorkers.” The precise use of the word all, in other words, is shown to be relative to a particular subset of the complete set of permanent New York residents.

Oftentimes, as has been mentioned already, a failure to properly interpret the informal use of, for instance, the universal quantifier all can lead to much confusion between interlocutors. Informal discourse must be interpreted according to the rules of engagement employed by interlocutors. As regards formal discourse, similarly, the rules of engagement must be understood if proper interpretation is to be achieved. What is key to achieving understanding between interlocutors, then, is both parties understanding the rules of engagement. Are they engaged in informal discourse? Then set-A rules apply. Are they engaged in formal discourse? Then set-B rules apply. The broader categories of formal and informal, moreover, can be further refined so as to ensure that formal scientific discourse, for instance, is not interpreted according to the rules of engagement in formal philosophical, or literary contexts.

To put the matter simply: The words we use typically have several meanings, and these meanings are native to particular contexts. The contexts here refer to (i.)a general dialogical context one is engaging in (e.g. Formal vs. Informal), (ii.)the sub-context of that general context (e.g. Formal-Philosophical vs. Informal-Philosophical), and (iii.)the narrow context between specific interlocutors (e.g. Formal-Philosophical-Ontological vs. Informal-Philosophical-Ontological). With this in mind, we may be able to better articulate our own arguments, as well as better understand which criticisms against our argumentation are legitimate and which are not.

The explicit purpose of this article is to better elucidate and, therefore, understand illegitimate criticisms of theologically sound argumentation, i.e. criticisms that ignore dialogical contexts.

I. Misrepresenting Misrepresentation

A needed corrective, we must note, concerns whether or not x has misrepresented y’s position and/or argument. The commonality of such an accusation has been noted elsewhere by the present author,[1] but here will be given a somewhat more technical assessment. In the first place, it is to be noted that a misrepresentation of another’s position is not always a straw man argument. As Douglas Walton notes, “the straw man fallacy is not simply the misrepresentation of someone's position, but the use of that misrepresentation to refute or criticize that person's argument in a context of disputation.”[2] Commonly, the straw man fallacy is treated as being a subspecies of the ad hominem fallacy. This implies some level of self-consciousness on the part of the one presenting the argument that he is, in fact, misrepresenting his opponent. Thus, in cases where there is no self-consciousness of such misrepresentation, i.e. where misrepresentation is not due to some deliberate intention to deceive, the fallacy accusation does not actually hold up.[3]

Moreover, misrepresentation of another’s position can only be properly assessed from within a particular dialogical context. Informal dialogue, as has been noted above, allows for exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. In such cases, it is the interpreter’s responsibility to interpret universally quantified assertions such as “Everyone knows x!” or “ALL x are y!” not strictly quantitatively but qualitatively, suggesting a very large number. Such statements can be assessed from a formal context only after they have been translated, as it were, into a more formal language. If an interpreter addresses the assertion “Everyone knows x!” as a formal statement regarding the quantity of persons who have knowledge that or of x, then he is addressing a possible meaning of his interlocutor’s assertion, in general, but which does not obtain in an informal context. This renders his criticism of the factuality, soundness, or validity of his interlocutor’s connected argumentation invalid, since he is addressing something his interlocutor did not communicate.

For instance, Walton explains how this can happen if an argument based on an appeal to analogy is too strictly interpreted by one’s interlocutor -

. . .suppose a proponent puts forward an argument based on an appeal to an analogy, and is correctly interpreted as claiming that two situations tend to be similar in certain respects. Suppose the analogy is imperfect, and subject to default, but nevertheless qua argument from analogy, it is a fairly reasonable argument, and not without merit. Seen as an argument based on an analogy then, this argument is rightly interpreted as inherently presumptive and defeasible, open to exceptions and qualifications.

But what if a critic portrays the speaker's way of putting forward the argument, unjustifiably, as one that was meant to be deductively valid. If we accept the assumption that the missing premise in question has to make her argument deductively valid, then we will not find that missing premise in the given text of discourse, and that could seem like a decisive criticism. In the case of an argument from analogy, we would take the argument as claiming that the two situations in question must be exactly equal, in every respect, for the argument to be any good. But this attribution is based on a misinterpretation, and commits a variant of the straw man fallacy by taking the argument in a much stricter way than a charitable interpretation of how it was used in the discourse would support.[4]

The situation here is similar to that which we have observed in the misinterpretation of the quantifiers all and every.

Ia. Interpreting the Informal Formally

Ironically, the accusation of a straw man fallacy can itself be an instance of the straw man fallacy, then, if the accusation rests upon a misrepresentation of his interlocutor’s argument or position.[5]And this is often the case with enemies of the faith who are knowledgeable enough in rhetoric, logic, and argumentation to understand the dialogical contexts in which Christians make arguments for the truth or against falsehood. However, rather than interpreting such arguments according to the relevant rules of engagement, they interpret them according to a different set of rules of engagement. For example, consider the following scenario.

Person A: Everyone in the early church was a Trinitarian.

Person B: Really?
Person A: Yes. Everyone without exception was a Trinitarian.

Person B: How could you possibly know that each and every individual who professed faith in Christ was a Trinitarian?

Person A: That’s not what I meant.

Person B: But it’s what you said. How else am I to interpret your words?

Given that A and B are in an informal dialogical context, the quantifier “everyone” would be understood by most people to mean something along the lines of “everyone of whom we have a written record” or “every early Christian of significance of whom we have a written record,” and not “each and every person who professed faith in Christ.” B is aware of this, but his intention to shake the faith of A, so he draws attention to A’s inability to possess knowledge of what each and every professing Christians believed about the Godhead in the early church. The goal is not to refute what is being said (i.e. All of the notable Christians of the early church, of whom we have a written record, were Trinitarians) but what is not being said (i.e. Each and every person who professed faith in Christ in the early church was a Trinitarian). The context should have shaped B’s responses to A, but B’s intentions are not honest. His wants to cast doubt on what A’s belief actually is (viz. All of the notable Christians, etc) by dismantling what A’s belief is not (viz. Each and every person who professed faith in Christ, etc).

Ib. Interpreting the Formal Informally

Whereas the prior example given shows B taking A’s assertion as a formal declaration about the quantity of professing Christians of the early church and what they believed, when it was really meant to be understood more narrowly, the following example shows the inverse.

Person A: Is it not the case that Scripture says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”? (Romans 3:23)

Person B: Yes. Paul is very clear about that.

Person A: Then upon what Scriptural basis can you justify your belief that Mary was born free from the taint and stain of original sin and, moreover, remained sinless for her entire life?

Person B: Well, Paul is using hyperbole. He doesn’t mean each and every single human being.

Person A: But he literally says “All” within the larger context of humanity as a whole - Jew, Gentile, young, old, male, female, etc.

Person B: Yes, but you are taking that quantifier too strictly. Paul is just using a Jewish idiom.

Here we see A properly interpreting Paul’s use of the word all as signifying the entirety of humanity. In order to avoid the contradiction it poses for his belief in the immaculate conception, and perpetual sinlessness, of Mary, however, B, in contradiction to context of the early chapters of the book of Romans, interprets Paul’s assertion “All have sinned” as an informal colloquialism or idiomatic expression meaning “Most people have sinned” or “You’d be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t sinned.” B’s misinterpretation of the universal quantifier all in Romans 3:23 is a purposeful maneuver that allows for the immaculate conception and perpetual sinlessness of Mary, a doctrine that cannot possibly be maintained if Rom 3:23 is correctly interpreted as a formal declaration that each and every person has sinned (past tense) and falls short of the glory of God (present tense).

Ic. Interpreting the Relative as Absolute

Related to the above purposeful misinterpretation, we find another tactic used by enemies of the faith. Opponents of Christ will at times interpret relative assertions as absolute. Consider the following example, an extension of Ib’s dialogue between A and B.

Person B: Do you really think that Rom 3:23 is a universal statement about each and every individual person?

Person A: Yes. The context demands it.

Person B: Well, if all men are fully corrupt, then would this not include Christ?

Person A: Of course not.
Person B: So now you’re trying to tell me that Paul’s use of the word all is not truly universal?

Does the word all really signify each and every person, as A says the Scriptures clearly teach? Or is B correct in saying that A has abandoned his belief that all really signifies each and every person, in order to make an exception for Christ?

B’s counterargument is deceptive, because in it he purposefully fails to acknowledge that universal quantification is always class specific. When we assert that “All x are y” we are stating that for all x’s, each and every x is y. We must, therefore, determine the particular class of items Scripture is dealing with when it states that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Is the class of items the entirety of all humans born abstractly considered? Or is the class of items the entirety of all humans born under the federal headship of Adam?

The book of Romans makes it clear that when Paul is arguing that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, he is talking about all those who are born under the federal headship of Adam.[6] This, therefore, excludes only one person - the Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Adam. Christ was not born under the federal headship of Adam, and we know this because Christ was born without sin, lived a sinless life, and was vindicated as perfectly righteous by God in his resurrection. Christ, therefore, is necessarily exempt from the class of all men born under the federal headship of Adam. Christ has physically descended from Adam through his mother Mary. However, his federal head was not Adam but God the Father.[7] Whereas B formerly interpreted the universal as non-universal, he is now interpreting the universal as applying in an absolute sense (i.e. Each and every man considered abstractly) rather than in a relative sense (i.e. Each and every man relative to a particular class of men, viz. those men born under the federal headship of Adam).

Id. Interpreting the Absolute as Relative

The inverse of Ic occurs when opponents of the faith purposefully misinterpret the absolute as relative. Consider the following -

Person B: I reject the idea that the wicked will be raised up in a body transformed and prepared thereby for eternal conscious suffering in hell.

Person A: Then what do you make of 1st Corinthians 15?

Person B: That passage is only dealing with the resurrection of the righteous. It nowhere says anything about the resurrection of the wicked.

While it is the case that 1st Cor 15 does not explicitly state that the wicked will be raised with bodies transformed and prepared for eternity, it necessarily implies it. Paul’s argumentation in this chapter is very clear. Paul writes -

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.[8]

Paul explains that men are like seeds, which die and are raised with a body given specifically to them by God. The explicit teaching is dealing with the resurrection and transformation of the righteous. However, death in general is likened to sowing and reaping in general. The seed/man dies and reaches fulfillment in resurrection, coming to possess a body peculiarly formed for him and not another. All who die will be raised from the dead; all who are raised from the dead are raised with a body which God has chosen for them. The righteous will receive glorious bodies. The wicked, however, will receive bodies suited for eternal destruction.

A parallel case of relativizing the absolute can be found in the following dialogue.

Person A: Are the gifts and calling of God irrevocable? (Rom 11:29)

Person B: Paul says so. Yes.

Person A: Then does it not follow that God’s gift of salvation is irrevocable?
Person B: No, because Paul is using that kind of language to talk about God’s gifts in general. Relative to the gift giving of mere mortals, God’s gift giving is to said to be irrevocable.

B’s argument is that not all of God’s gifts are irrevocable, but only those relative Paul’s argument in Romans 11:29. However, this is clearly not the case, as Paul argues that God will not break his promises to save “all of Israel”[9] because his gifts and calling are irrevocable. In every instance, the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Therefore, the gifts and calling of God toward Israel are irrevocable as well.[10] B wants to deny that God’s gifts and calling are always irrevocable, for such a truth would make render all forms of conditional salvation false.

[Continued in Pt. 4b]

[1] See Diaz, Hiram R. “The ‘Nobody Understands Me!’ Fallacy,” Involuted Speculations,, Accessed April 19, 2018.
[2] “The Straw Man Fallacy,” in Logic and Argumentation ed. Johan van Bentham, Frans H. van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst, and Frank Veltman. (Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1996), 124.
[3] Robert Talisee and Scott F. Aikin have argued for another form of the strawman argument which they identify as a subspecies of the hasty generalization fallacy in their paper “Two Forms of the Straw Man” in Argumentation 20 (2006), 345-352. Similarly, Scott F. Aikin and John Casey argue for three forms of the straw man argument in their paper “Straw Men, Weak Men, and Hollow Men” in Argumentation 25 (2011), 87-105. These proposed forms of the straw man argument, however, differ enough from the straw man argument proper that they are not relevant for our consideration here.
[4] The Straw Man Fallacy, 123.
[5] Walton’s comments here are particularly helpful. Walton -

The straw man fallacy is made even more tricky to pin down in many cases by another factor. In these cases, an arguer's unstated presumptions or nonexplicit premises or conclusions may be the only indications we have of one or more of his commitments. This brings us to the question of enthymemes, or unstated premises. When attributing enthymemes, especially to an opponent, it can be very tempting to exaggerate the opponent's position by filling in a missing premise of the form `Generally things that have property F also have property G, subject to exceptions' with an absolute, or strict generalization, of the form `All things that have property F also have property G, without exception.' This kind of move is a form of the secundum quid fallacy, meaning that qualifications have been ignored. But the same move may also be a case of the straw man fallacy, the tactic of misrepresenting an opponent's position by making it seem stronger, or stricter than it really is, in order to more easily refute it.

The Straw Man Fallacy, 122.
[6] cf. Rom 5:12-21.
[7] cf. 1st Cor 11:3.
[8] 1st Cor 15:35-41.
[9] cf. Rom 11:25-28.
[10] N.B. The irrevocable nature of God’s gifts and calling are a problem not only for any proposed conditionalist soteriology, but conditional immortality as well, as the latter’s proponents identify life and existence as a “gift.” If the conditionalists are right in asserting that life is a gift, then life is irrevocable, and the conditionalists are wrong in asserting that the life of the wicked will be revoked forever by God. If, however, the conditionalists are right in asserting that the life of the wicked will be revoked forever, then they are wrong in stating that life is a gift.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Athanasius, Ontology, and the Work of Christ

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Introduction: Rethinking Church History?

There is value to examining our predecessors in the faith, be they the unnamed scribes who diligently produced copies of the Old and New Testaments, or the earliest proto-systematic theologians of the church who put their best and most prayerful effort into defending the faith against heretics, as well as teaching the sheep of Christ. Regarding the latter, i.e. the church fathers, we get a glimpse of how men living in a completely different time period interacted with their cultures — art, philosophy, law, science, and religion. This grants us the opportunity to examine our own beliefs, testing them for consistency with the Scriptures and with what the body of Christ has consistently taught throughout the ages.

The church fathers were not without errors, nor were they always entirely in error. Unfortunately, however, given their historically situatedness, they often employ language and ideas in an historically specific manner that lends prima facie legitimacy to proof-texts offered by Protestants, Romanists, and the Eastern Orthodox in defense of their respectively unique doctrines. Their writings can often be the source of confusion for Christians honestly seeking to understand historical developments in doctrine, and, what is more, can likewise serve as proof-texts for various heresies.

Oneness Pentecostal David K. Bernard, for instance, claims that Irenaeus — the author of the church’s greatest apologetical texts, Against Heresies — was
a prominent Christian leader who died around A.D. 200, had an intensely Christocentric theology and a firm belief that Jesus was God manifested in flesh. He held that the Logos which became incarnate in Jesus Christ was the mind of God, and was the Father Himself.[1] 
And in a similar vein, as Luke Wayne notes,
in their widely distributed pamphlet, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?" the Watchtower Society (the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) claims that none of the writers of the early church believed in the deity of Christ or the triune nature of God.[2]
These groups appeal to proof-texts using language that appears to support non-trinitarianism, but which upon close examination does not.

The same proof-texting methodology used by Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witness is also observable in the writings of advocates of the doctrine of annihilationism. Perhaps most famously, Seventh Day Adventist Le Roy Edwin Froom, in his work The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers Vol. I, boldly asserts that the apostolic fathers “were all Conditionalists,”[3] a claim that finds repetition in the writings of many of Froom’s modern admirers among the annihilationists. Following in his steps, they attempt to grant their position historical grounding within the ranks of orthodox theologians of the early church by identifying “giants” of apologetics and theology as their own.

Among the “giants” who are often acontextually cited, we find, again, Irenaeus of Lyons, as well as Athanasius of Alexandria. Froom’s The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers identifies “Irenaeus” and the “most conspicuous and learned Conditionalist of the third century,”[4] “an avowed Conditionalist.”[5] Following in Froom’s steps,[6] Glenn Peoples argues that “Irenaeus of Lyons was a conditionalist,”[7] for he “notes that God called the planets and stars into existence, and  that they, along with all created things, ‘endure as long as God wills that they should have an existence and continuance.’”[8] Christopher M. Date echoes these sentiments, further arguing that
Irenaeus could hardly be any clearer. Whereas God would that the saved be granted “continuance” and “length of days for ever and ever,” the lost will instead be justly deprived of the same. . . [He] then is clearly and plainly stating that the redeemed will exist forever, and the unredeemed will not.[9]
Date, again, declares that
There is simply no contextual justification for believing that Irenaeus’ point has to do with the miserable quality of life faced by the wicked for eternity.


There simply is no avoiding the clear meaning of Irenaeus’ words. Whereas those who hold to the traditional view of hell affirm that both the saved and the unsaved will live forever throughout eternity, either blissfully in the presence of God or in torment having been separated from him, Irenaeus plainly taught that only the saved will live forever because “existence and continuance” depends upon the will of God, which he will deny the lost."[10]

Glenn Peoples succinctly puts forward his interpretation of Irenaeus, claiming that “there is no vagueness about the meaning of these comments…Irenaeus, using exactly the same language, goes on in the same chapter to say that the lost will not exist forever.[11]

The annihilationists likewise claim Athanasius as one of their own, utilizing the same proof-texting methodology in so doing. After identifying Irenaeus as “a Conditionalist,” Peoples goes on to assert that Athanasius’ use of “language that is no less explicit” than that of Irenaeus, shows that
It is perfectly clear that by “sink back into destruction,” [he] is referring to a return to the state out of which humanity came: nothingness. The only means of escape from this fate, Athanasius said, is through the Incarnation of the Word (Christ), so that “whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.”[12]
He goes on to add that
To call this a “vague” reference to real and complete destruction is to say that it is somehow unclear that we once did not exist, which is absurd. And Athanasius is not talking here about a universal immortality where everyone gets immortality whether they are saved or not. The resurrection to which he refers here is “grace.” Athanasius is explicit elsewhere (Discourse 3 Against the Arians, chapter 29) that it is only in “receiving Him” that we can “partake of the immortality that is from Him.”[13]

This view is similarly held by Christopher M. Date, who writes —

Athanasius might answer, as George Foley characterizes him as doing, that Christ “rescued us from the continuance of death.” His death “enabled Him to triumph over death as a continuing power, by permitting men to share His immortality.”  The character of death has thus changed for believers; it is no longer permanent. “We, the faithful in Christ,” Athanasius writes, “no longer die the death as before, agreeably to the warning of the law.” Rather, “corruption ceasing and being put away by the grace of the Resurrection, henceforth we are only dissolved, agreeably to our bodies’ mortal nature, at the time God has fixed for each, that we may be able to gain a better resurrection.”[14]
For Peoples and for Date, as well as for Froom and many other annihilationists, the case is closed. Athanasius was an annihilationist, and this is proven by the very language that he uses. There is no question in the above writers’ minds about the beliefs of Irenaeus and Athanasius. Not only is this unquestionably the case, it can only be denied by those who actively seek to read into these church fathers beliefs that they clearly did not have.

Yet a close reading of the fathers does not support the notion that they were in fact annihilationists, despite their apparent terminological agreement with annihilationism’s defenders. This could be demonstrated on a larger scale, but for the present article will be limited to the theology of Athanasius of Alexandria. This is primarily for two reasons. Firstly, the present study is not intended to be a full analysis of all of the patristic authors. Our goal is simply to underscore the falsity of the belief that all of the church fathers prior to Tertullian and Augustine — excluding, of course, the universalists fathers Clement, Origen, Maximus the Confessor, and Gregory of Nyssa — were annihilationists. Secondly, many scholars have noted that in regard to his ontological anthropological, and soteriological positions, Athanasius “is clearly building on Irenaeus.”[15] This links his Athanasius’ doctrine to Irenaeus as well as to his eternal-torment teaching successors, from whom he is typically divided by annihilationists.[16]

§ II. Being and Nothingness:
Ontology and Anthropology in Athanasius’ Theology

As Paul Gavrilyuk explains, “as a result of the intellectual confrontation with the philosophers and the Gnostics, in the second century the idea of creation out of nothing became more salient in Christian teaching.”[17] Hence, in contradiction to the Platonists who taught that “God did not create from nothing, but from matter already existing,”[18] Athanasius championed the biblical doctrine that God created all that exists from nothing. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo underscores God’s transcendence from the created order, whereas the philosophical view held by the Neo-Platonists and Gnostics “makes God’s ability to create dependent on something outside God, namely the pre-existing matter, thereby diminishing God’s creative power.”[19] This distinction between the Creator and his creation is central to Athanasius’ entire system of theology. “For Athanasius, as for Irenaeus before him, the condition of being created out of nothing entailed that the creatures were ontologically different from God. The creator is unchangeable and eternal; creatures, in contrast, are subject to change, corruption and death.”[20]

What has been created, therefore, only exists by virtue of the goodness and grace of God exercised in creating it and sustaining it in existence. As such, its every moment as an existent thing depends upon God upholding it by his good and gracious power. Without God’s interaction with the creation, via his gracious sustaining of it, all of it — even human beings — return to nothing. However, since man is the image and glory of God, he is upheld in a special way by the Word of God, the Logos,  with whom he shares a creational union. Khaled Anatolios explains,
…if God’s nature is that of true being, who is utterly self-sufficient and inaccessible,  human nature is characterized by its origination from nothing. This ex nihilo  is by no means merely a historical datum or a punctiliar “moment” in the story of humanity’s beginning; it is an ontological determination that characterizes humanity’s existence, and that of creation in general, as deriving from and thus inherently tending toward non-being: “for the nature of the things that come to be (genēta), inasmuch as they exist out of non-being, is unstable, weak, and mortal when considered in itself” (Against the Greeks  41). However, this aspect of human “nature,” or physis, cannot, by definition, characterize the actual constitution of the human being as such. It merely refers to the radical nothingness which underlies human existence and indicates humanity’s inherent lack of self-possessed being and thus its radical incapacity to preserve itself in being through its own power. For human beings to actually exist, human “nature” must be radically complemented by the dynamic of “grace”, charis, which corresponds to the divine philanthropia. The aspect of “grace” in the human being is the gift that is granted to humanity of participation in God the Word, in whom all created things have their consistence. Thus, humanity is conceived simultaneously as being of a corruptible nature that tends toward nothingness, in contrast to the perfect and transcendent nature of God, and yet as possessing the grace of participating in divine life, because of the divine philanthropia which overcomes the  natural disparity between the  God who is and the creation that comes to be from nothing.[21]
Thus, while it is the case that creation tends toward non-being, and humans as part of the creation tend toward this end as well, humans are sustained in existence by the grace of God in a special way. As Athanasius states —
Among all the things upon the earth, he was especially merciful toward the human race. Seeing that by the logic of its own origin it would not be capable of always remaining, he granted it a further gift. He did not create human beings merely like all the irrational animals upon the earth, but made them according to his own Image, and shared with them the power of his own Word, so that having a kind of reflection of the Word and thus becoming rational, they may be enabled to remain in blessedness and live the true life of the saints in paradise. 
(On the Incarnation 3)[22]
Humans, therefore, possess a gift of grace that sustains them in a way distinct from all other creatures.

§ IIa. Athanasius, Plato, Being, and Non-Being

It is important to note that Athanasius’ use of terms like existence, non-existence, being, non-being, corruption, incorruption, et al must be understood in light of his overarching philosophical context. Athanasius was working with mostly Platonic categories[23] that are somewhat counterintuitive to modern readers. Thus, annihilationists conceive of non-existence simply in absolutistic terms, but the same was not true of the philosophers from whom Athanasius borrowed and refined concepts which would become central to his theology. According to Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius displays
a colloquial familiarity with philosophical concepts of the various schools, in particular a Stoic cosmology which is employed to speak of the Word as the principle of harmony in the cosmos, and a middle Platonic ontology in which God is characterized as true being, to which creaturely being is linked by participation.[24]
Hence, Athanasius declares that “the good is being, whereas evil is non-being.”[25] Being is identified as “good because it has its exemplar in God who is Being.”[26] Inversely, “non-being evil because it has no real being, but is conceived by false human notions.”[27] Jonathan Morgan expands on these ideas, stating —
Non-existence (or, non-being) is fundamental to Athanasius’s under­standing of evil insofar as it is the opposite of good. Whatever is good has being while evil is the privation of being… the affliction of evil (the tendency toward non-being) came upon humans when they turned toward themselves, forgot God, and began pursuing what is not God, namely, sensual desires and corruptible pleasures. Athanasius makes clear that the soul’s turn from God and pursuit of temporal gain resulted in idolatry. For him, idolatry is worshipping and valuing that which has no real existence. Yet it was this tragic turn toward idolatry that became the soul’s trajectory from life and true being toward non-being. Here, it is important to note that, for Athanasius, ‘non-being’ is not understood simply as that which has no existence, but rather the failure to live out the full potential of God’s design for humanity.[28]
Consequently, “non-being is both ontological and existential. While slowly enduring corruption and death because of sin, fallen humans exist on a lesser plane than what God had intended.”[29] 

§ III. The Atonement and Universal Salvation from No-thing-ness

Non-being, then, can be conceived of as either (a.)complete nothingness/no-thing-ness, or (b.)the deprivation of that which is, i.e. that which is good/God. The first nothingness is ontological, whereas the second is moral/qualitative.[30] It is from the the first nothingness/no-thing-ness that Christ delivers all of humanity. Meijering —
All men must die, therefore the Word surrendered the body it had assumed to death, and offered it to the Father. God’s threat that man would have to die if he sinned had to be fulfilled, but in such a way that this did not imply the ruin of all men, i.e., of all mankind. Therefore the immortal Word of God assumed a mortal body, but at the same time imbued what was mortal with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. The corruption in death no longer has power over men, because the Word dwells among men by means of one body.[31]
Because God is good and gracious, he has defeated sin, death, and the devil. All humans being united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection are saved from and absolute nothingness. Anatolios —
Through sin, death entered into the world and all humanity was subject to it, according to the ‘just judgement of God who had previously warned humanity that the consequence of sin is death.’ This judgement was fulfilled in Christ's body, which was sufficient to atone for the death of all by virtue of its participation in the Word. Thus. on me one hand. the universal efficacy of Christ's sacrifice is expressly linked with its participation in the transcendence Word while, on the other hand, the condition for the possibility of this sacrifice is the mitigation of the Word’s transcendence through the instrumentality of the body. Of himself. and by virtue of his own nature. the Word cannot die. But just as the invisible God becomes visible through the instrument of the body, so the immortal God is able to undergo death through the same instrument. And through this death, the Word's immortality and incorruptibility is communicated to the body.[32]
Athanasius identifies all mankind as beneficiaries of the resurrection of Christ; through his incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection the Incarnate Logos made all flesh immortal. Anatolios quotes Athanasius —
For since the Word realized that human corruption would not be abolished in any other way except by everyone dying —  and the Word himself was not able to die, being immortal and the Son of the Father —  he took to himself a body which could die, in order that, since this participated in the Word who is above all… it would be sufficient to undergo a death for the sake of all, and because of the Word who was dwelling in it, it would remain incorruptible, and so corruption would depart from all humanity by the grace of the resurrection. Therefore as an offering and spotless sacrifice, he offered to death the body which he had taken to himself, and immediately abolished death from all who were like him by the offering of a like. For since the Word is above all, he fulfilled the debt by his death, by offering his temple and the instrument of his body as a substitute for all. And as the incorruptible Son of God was united to all human beings by his body similar to theirs, he granted incorruption to all humanity by the promise of resurrection.[33]
Far from being a promise only for those who exercise faith in Christ, immortality of the body has been procured for all men through Christ’s death and resurrection.

All mankind, in other words, has been saved ontologically from absolute nothingness. Hence, Morgan states that in Athanasius’ theology

The resurrection puts into effect what Christ’s death accomplishes…In a general sense, it proves that the Word made man is superior to death, and, because he took to himself a body like ours, he is able to make us sharers in his incorruption. Everyone — saint and sinner alike — will experience this grace at the universal resurrection.[34]
The grace of God is shown toward all men in their being united to Christ, ontologically, in his incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection. The reader unfamiliar with Athanasius’ understanding of grace as that which brought into existence, sustains, and saves creation may be tempted to anachronistically interpret his nature/grace distinction. Hence, Anatolios underscores that in reading Athanasius’ doctrine of grace and nature, we must “immediately hasten to dissociate this terminology from a nature–grace distinction conceived along a scholastic or post-scholastic model.”[35] Rather than fitting neatly into the Romanist/Protestant debates of the Reformation Era on this distinction, Athanasius views the nature/grace distinction as belonging “within the more radical framework of the fundamental distinction between created and uncreated.”[36]

God’s grace, in other words, is not viewed as solely bestowed upon those who believe the Gospel, but upon all men, seeing as it is that which brings all things into existence and sustains them in existence as well. God is giving of himself in creating and sustaining his creation, revealing himself as the ineffable One who yet has condescended to reveal himself to us through the external world, as well as through ourselves (as we are made in the image of the Image/Logos of God). He has revealed himself as creating man for the end purpose of existing in immortality/fellowship with God, and since this is what he willed in the creation of man, as Gerald Hiestand explains,
God was not content to see his self-portrait ruined. Given that humanity functions as a living, visible representation of God’s image, it would have been ‘unfitting’ for God to leave humanity in a state of corruption; divine neglect would have been a breech of God’s honor. ‘It were unseemly’, Athanasius writes, ‘that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin, and turn again toward nonexistence by the way of corruption....It was, then, out of the question to leave men to the current of corruption; because this would be unseemly, and unworthy of God’s goodness’”[37]
Again, we must note that the salvation from annihilation is universal. No man will cease to exist, for Christ has overcome the inherent ontological instability of man worsened by man’s fall into sin. Christ has overcome annihilation for all men, even those who will never turn to Christ and be saved from eternal punishment.

§ IV. The Atonement and Particular Salvation
from Estrangement from God

For Athanasius, the incarnation of the Word of God took place for “the redemption from death and the giving of life”[38] to all  men, ontologically. However, for those who believe the Gospel, “the loss of human knowledge and the contemplation of God”[39] is repaired and restored. Merely being an existent human being is not equivalent to truly having existence/being, as we have noted above already, nor is it equivalent to having true life. A. M. Aagaard, speaking to the centrality of this notion of salvation being the becoming-like-God, in a moral sense, in writings of the fathers, remarks —
Our perfection or the fullness of salvation is our deification; an immortality that goes for both soul and body. This salvation means that the deified person sees the God who is immortal by nature…none of the early theologians expresses this so powerfully as Irenaeus… 
For the Glory of God is a living human being, and the life of the human being consists in beholding God. 
…the salvation or perfection of the created image of God is held together with faith and a new way of life.[40]
Irenaeus’ understanding is that “the unjust are doomed to eternal separation from God (‘death’), because they lack the Divine Spirit.”[41]

Athanasius shares a similar view,[42] demonstrating that while he believed in a universal ontological immortality, he was not a true universalist. Though humanity had been raised to immortality in Christ, not all men would believe. These men will not, consequently, see God, know him, or become like him. Morally, qualitatively, spiritually they will continue to tend toward nothingness/non-being/evil/non-God-likeness, all the while remaining ontologically immortal. Christ’s atoning work on the cross accomplishes the immortalization of the flesh, but the immortalization of the soul (morally, qualitatively, spiritually) only comes about via faith in Christ and sanctification of the Spirit of God. Anatolios —
Athanasius…adopts Irenaeus’s emphasis on the convergence between God’s transcendent majesty and his benevolent involvement with the world, the stress on the immediacy of divine presence to the world, the conception of humanity as fundamentally receptive to the divine, and the understanding of redemption in terms of repairing human receptivity and re-instituting the union of divine and human.[43]
The “repairing of human receptivity” has taken place in the immortalization of all men through Christ’s union with them. Regarding the reinstitution of the union of divine and human, “Athanasius clearly believes and teaches that the grace of divinization must be acquired by an intentional human effort at reproducing the life and virtues of God Himself through discipleship and imitation.”[44] Through Christ’s conquering of death and annihilation (i.e. ontological non-being), he “gave to every member of the human race only the potential to be divinized”[45] (i.e. moral/spiritual being, or participation in the divine life and immortality). “Whereas the essential Son possesses these virtues from the Father kath ousian, the Father's adopted sons [through faith in the Son of God] must strive to acquire them by cooperating with God's operations through the exercise of the will.”[46]

Humanity, consequently, has been redeemed in total from the annihilating power of sin and death; however, humans receive true life and true being only insofar as they are believers in Christ, appropriating his grace, seeking to imitate him, and thereby become partakers of the divine nature, morally/qualitatively/spiritually speaking. No man will be annihilated, on this view, but not all men will be saved from the corruption of sin, the perpetual inward tending toward non-being that will never reach its apex in the immortalized sinner’s ceasing to be.

§ V. Concluding Remarks

Whereas annihilationists see in Athanasius orthodox support for their doctrine, a closer examination of his theology makes it clear that he was not an annihilationist. While he does state that the created order by dint of (i.)its being made from nothing and (ii.)its being cursed by God in the Fall could have been annihilated, he explicitly teaches that all men will be raised to immortality by virtue of Christ’s union with them. Likewise, while Athanasius teaches that all men have been granted the grace of immortality, ontologically speaking, through the work of Christ, he identifies man’s partaking of the divine nature as occurring only in those who appropriate the grace of God for them in Christ by faith, living as Christ lived, recapitulating his life life so that they may attain to a better resurrection.
According to Athanasius, no man will ever pass into oblivion. The Word became flesh, and through this union ontologically immortalized all men, but this is only part of the salvation available to man. And it will become eternal conscious torment to the one who rejects the Gospel of Christ.

[1] The Oneness of God Vol. 1 (Word Aflame Press, 1997), 237. For a recent scholarly, in-depth examination of Irenaeus’ Trinitarianism, see Lashier, Jackson Jay. "Irenaeus on the Trinity,"  in Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae Volume 127, Ed. J. den Boeft, B.D. Ehrman, J. van Oort, D.T. Rania, & C. Scholten. (Boston: Brill, 2014), 256pp.
[2] “Ignatius of Antioch and the Watchtower,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry,, Accessed February 27, 2018. (emphasis added)
[3] Ellen G. White Writings,, Accessed March 01, 2018. (emphasis added)
[4] Ellen G. White Writings,, Accessed February 28, 2018.
[5] ibid.
[6] Edward Fudge cites Froom and Henry Constable as explicit proponents of this interpretation of Irenaeus, but only indirectly affirms for himself the belief that Irenaeus was an annihilationist. Fudge writes —
Both sides in our controversy claim Irenaeus, Bishop of Gaul. Edward B. Pusey devotes five pages to the writings of Irenaeus, quoting references to fire that is “perpetual,” “everlasting” and “eternal,” and people who are “forever condemned.” Pusey’s longest quotation from Irenaeus defines death as separation from God
Conditionalists accept all these expressions and recall Irenaeus to the witness stand for cross-examination. Dow this explanation of deprivation really support the extinction of the wicked? Surely being itself—as well as a blessed life—is a good gift from God, for which mankind must depend entirely upon God. Utter deprivation of every godly blessing would therefore include the loss of existence itself, since human beings, being created, did not exist until God willed to give them existence.
The Fire that Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment Third Edition, (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 266-267.
[7] Peoples, Glenn. "Hell in the Times: Were the Early Church Fathers 'Vague' in Their Support of Conditional Immortality?," Rethinking Hell,, Accessed February 28, 2018.
[9] "Deprived of continuance: Irenaeus the conditionalist," Rethinking Hell,, Accessed February 28, 2018. (emphasis added)
[10] ibid.
[11] "Hell in the Times," Rethinking Hell. (emphasis added)
[12] “Hell in the Times,” Rethinking Hell.
[13] Ibid. (emphasis added)
[14]"The Righteous for the Unrighteous: Immortality and the Substitutionary Death of Jesus," in McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 18 (2016–2017), 85. (emphasis added)
[15] Edwards, Denis. “God’s Redeeming Act: Deifying Transformation,” in Worldviews 14 (2010), 247. See also, Gavrilyuk, Paul. “Creation in Early Christian Polemical Literature: Irenaeus Against the Gnostics and Athanasius Against the Arians,” in Modern Theology 29:2 (April 2013), 22-32.
[16] Froom, for instance, sees Athanasius as one of the last voices teaching annihlationism, claiming that the doctrine “by the sixth century, [was] virtually crushed and driven underground,” adding that “the Eternal-Torment school of Tertullian-Augustine was at last practically unchallenged. And it continued in the ascendancy for centuries—consolidating its power and brooking no opposition” (The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, Vol 1, Ellen G. White Writings,
[17] “Creation in Early Christian Polemical Literature: Irenaeus Against the Gnostics and Athanasius Against the Arians,” in Modern Theology 29:2 (April 2013), 30.
[18] Meijering, Eginhard. “Athanasius on God as Creator and Recreator,”  in Church History and Religious Culture 90:2-3 (2010), 182.
[19] Creation, Gavrilyuk, 30.
[20] ibid.
[21] Athanasius, ed. Carol Harrison (New York: Routledge, 2004), 41. (emphasis added)
[22]  Athanasius, Anatolios, 33. (emphasis added)
[23] Regarding his understanding of the Logos as bearing a two-fold relationship inward toward God and outward toward the works of of God, Athanasius was apparently influenced by the Stoics.
[24] Athanasius, 4.
[25] Anatolios, Khaled. Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (New York: Routledge, 1998), 63.
[26] ibid.
[27] ibid.
[28] “Soteriological Coherence in Contra Gentes-De Incarnatione,” in Evangelical Quarterly 88.2 (2016/17), 103-104. (emphasis added)
[29] ibid.
[30] Some suggest that this be identified as figurative, but that a priori judges the qualitative/moral tending toward non-being as less serious than ontological tending toward non-being, a view incongruous with that of the fathers.
[31]Athanasius on God, 185. (emphasis added)
[32] Athanasius: The Coherence, 76-77.
[33] Athanasius: The Coherence, 77. (emphasis added)
[34] Soteriological Coherence, Morgan, 108.
[35] Athanasius: The Coherence, 56.
[36] ibid.
[37] “Not ‘Just Forgiven’: How Athanasius Overcomes the Under-realised Eschatology of Evangelicalism,” in Evangelical Quarterly Vol. 84, No. 1 (January 2012), 56.
[38] Robertson, Jon M. Christ as Mediator: A Study of the Theologies of Eusebius of Caesarea, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Athanasius of Alexandria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 149.
[39] ibid.
[40]  “‘My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation:’ On Likeness to God and Deification in Patristic Theology,” in Religion & Theology 17 (2010), 311. (emphasis added)
[41]  Ludlow, Morwenna. Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 31. (emphasis added)
[42] The similarities between Irenaeus and Athanasius’ theology are clearly laid out by John I. Hochban in his article “St. Irenaeus on the Atonement,” in Theological Studies Vol 7, Issue 4 (1946), 525 - 557.
[43] Athanasius: The Coherence, 24.
[44] Finch, Jeffrey. “Athanasius on the Deifying Work of the Redeemer,” in Theōsis: Deification in Christian Theology, Ed. Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2006), 110.
[45] ibid.
[46] Athanasius on the Deifying Work, Finch, 111.