Question: “The text of the King James Version for 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” The Revised Standard Version, on the other hand, reads: “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Every other modern translation has it similarly. There’s a big difference between “destruction from the presence of the Lord” and “destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.” The KJV version makes it sound like there’s no lake of fire, etc, but instead Hell is a place where people suffer since they can’t bear the presence of God. Growing up I always heard of Hell as “eternal separation from God.” Has every modern translation added “and exclusion” to the verse? Is it there in the Greek?”
Answer: If you look at the Greek text, you will see that there is no word that means “exclusion”:
“οιτινες [who] δικην [a penalty] τισουσιν [will pay] ολεθρον [destruction] αιωνιον [eternal] απο [from] προσωπου [the face] του [of the] κυριου [Lord] και [and] απο [from] της [the] δοξης [glory] της ισχυος [of might] αυτου [His].”
So the King James Version is, as is usually the case, a very literal translation of the Greek:
“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”
The use of “exclusion” in the RSV is an interpretation of what it means to be punished with everlasting destruction “from the presence of the Lord”.
The English Standard Version reads: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” But it adds a footnote with an alternative translation: “Or destruction that comes from.” And so their alternative reading of the text would agree with what you suggest. The problem with the RSV’s translation is it makes the passage seem clearer than it actually is, and quite likely, the interpretation of the RSV is incorrect.
St. John Chrysostom commentary on this passage suggests the interpretation that the destruction is brought about by the presence of Christ at His coming:
“There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance.”
Furthermore, in the next chapter, St. Paul says something similar about the effect of Christ’s coming on the Antichrist:
“And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
And, St. John Comments on that passage as follows:
“And such is the nature of good things; they not only correct what is akin to them, but also destroy the opposite: and in this way is their power most displayed. For so both fire, not only when it giveth light and when it purifieth gold, but even when it consumeth thorns, doth very greatly display its proper power, and so show itself to be fire: and Christ too herein also doth discover His own majesty when He “shall consume” Antichrist “with the breath of His mouth, and bring him to nought with the manifestation of His coming” [Homilies on Second Corinthians 5.2].
I would not take this text to imply that there is no lake of fire. The teachings of Scripture and Tradition when it comes to the final judgment are more complicated than that, and they have to be taken together, as a whole. If you were only going to read one book (apart from Scripture) on this subject, my recommendation would be “Life after Death,” by Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos).
It should also be pointed out that the meaning of “destruction” in this passage does not suggest annihilation, but rather ruin and perdition.