I’ve been blogging on the soon-to-be released book by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up. In this last post, I want to touch on a subject whose treatment was tantalizing brief: the duration of hell.
F & P in chapter 2 present what can be pieced together of the ancient Jewish view on hell at the time of Jesus. They present three ideas that were common among Jews at the time:
- Hell is a place of punishment after judgment.
- Hell is described in imagery of fire and darkness, where people lament.
- Hell is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment.
The third in the list is interesting. Second Temple Jewish writers were ambivalent on the question of the duration of hell, some suggesting annihilation others unending punishment.
Then, in the third chapter, F & P turn to the teaching of Jesus in order to compare Jesus with the other Jewish teachers of the time. In general, they conclude “Jesus agreed with His Jewish contemporaries about the realities of hell” (pg 97). So what about the issue of annihilation versus unending punishment? F & P observe that both ideas are present in the teaching of Jesus. They write,
“In almost every passage where Jesus mentions hell, He doesn’t explicitly say that it will last forever. He speaks of torment, and we get the impression that hell is terrible, that it’s a place to be avoided at all costs, but He doesn’t clearly tell us how long it will last” (pg. 81).
However, they point to the “most suggestive statement—perhaps the only statement” about the duration of hell in Matthew 25:41-46.
Now those who read Love Wins will remember that this was an important passage for Rob too. If we were to vote on whose exegesis is better and whose conclusions then are sounder, F & P would win by a landslide. This is a very good explanation of the meaning of aionios kolasis “everlasting punishment” (25:45-46).
So after discussing the meaning of the phrase, they conclude
“The debate about hell’s duration is much more complex than I first assumed. While I lean heavily on the side of that says it is everlasting, I am not ready to claim that with complete certainty” (pg. 86).
I appreciate this humble approach and their lack of dogmatism on this issue. I think is attitude is indicative of the book’s tone. Let’s state this in the form of a question:
Is it appropriate for evangelicals to take a different view on the question of hell’s duration than the traditional view of unending punishment?
I think I would state my view in a similar manner as F & P have. While I lean toward the unending punishment view, primarily because it’s how the church has understood Jesus’ teaching, I’m somewhat agnostic at this point. I hope soon to read Edward Fudge’s very recently revised and updated The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. 3rd edition, fully updated, revised and expanded.
Ok, now for the surprise. I have 9 copies of Erasing Hell to give away to the first 9 people who provide me with their email addresses.