Mark Galli to Jeff Cook to Francis Chan

Mark Galli, senior managing editor at Christianity Today, responds today to Jeff Cook’s post yesterday. Mark has written a book that will be out shortly that responds to Rob Bell with the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins.

In the End, We Can Trust

Mark Galli, senior managing editor, Christianity Today

In a recent blog post here, Jeff Cook took aim at a video by Francis Chan, the author of a forthcoming response book to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I took note, naturally, since my response book, God Wins, is coming out in the next month as well. I’ll admit I was self-centeredly looking for “ammunition” that would set my book apart.

But after reading Cook’s critique, I found myself in the awkward position of feeling compelled to defend an author whose book will be in “competition” with mine!  But it appears the Chan and I are both partial to one biblical argument.

Let’s begin with the critique.

… it seems to me that those who affirm the traditional view of hell need to do more than say “this is what the Bible says and we’re just repeating it.” Everyone involved in the debate about hell right now is saying “the Bible says”. What those who affirm the traditional view must show is why that view is worthy of devotion.

There is a way of saying, “The Bible says…” to shut off all conversation. I doubt if Chan is saying this, and I certainly don’t say this. Cook is right to critique a Biblicism that would do this sort of thing.

In addition, Cook is on to something when he implies that we need to do more that merely repeat the Bible. We are called by Jesus to preach the Word, not merely read the Word. So that requires explanation of some sort. Some of those explanations will help us understand more deeply biblical teachings that are unpalable in our age.  But sometimes we won’t be able to do that because the mystery is so deep.

The problem with the wording of Cook’s conclusion is this: It suggests that our job is to try to justify the ways of God. But of course, it is not our job to show people why God or his truth is “worthy of devotion”–as if there were a reason above and apart from God that would justify his truth to us. Instead, his truth comes to us unbidden, sometimes in the starkest of terms—“and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Who can possibly unravel the mystery, and yes, offense, of this “simple” biblical truth?  So the truth often comes to us in terms that defy our ability to grasp it or explain it in ways that shows it worthy of belief, let alone devotion.

While the paradoxes of divine justice make us balk in our age, it has been the paradoxes of the Trinity or the Incarnation or grace that have caused other eras to demand that these shown to be worthy of devotion. But to succumb to this demand is to let our presuppositions run the show, when it is biblical revelation that is in charge of the business of theology. When we succumb to this demand, we invariably end up with an extra-biblical explanation that undermines the faith (tri-theism or modalism, Arianism, etc.)

The truth of the matter is that the faith will always be a stumbling block, for different reasons in different eras.  In many instances, all we can say is “The Bible says…” as long as we do not mean the Bible as a magic book but the Bible as the revealed Word of God.

This does not mean we should not ask the toughest of questions.  We have that freedom in the grace of God to do so.  Many biblical characters are shown doing just this, to the point of insolence sometimes!  But note how, in the end, even the Academy award-winning questioner of God, Job, concludes the matter:

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:2-3)

At the end of the day, the Christian is not called to have answers to the deepest theological perplexities, nor to justify the ways of God to man, but to point to Jesus Christ on the Cross. There we see God as both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. How he solves that which we only see as impossible dilemmas, I do not know, but with a God of pure justice and pure mercy, all things are possible. And after we’ve asked our questions and mightily wrestled with them, we can feel free to leave things we do not understand, things too wonderful for us, in the hands of a good God.

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  • John Lussier

    Dear Mark Galli,

    Labeling the position you are arguing for as traditional is a mistake, historically and rhetorically.

  • Tom F.

    So for Galli, what God will actually do seems clear. God’s actions and plan are laid out, and the mystery is the why. We are not to try and justify God, but simply to announce the biblical revelation. The end result of attempting to justify God’s ways is “extra-biblical explanation that undermines the faith”. In short, the tradition can be taken for granted, and the biblical revelation is transparent as a sign; one can look through it unproblematically towards truths which we must affirm even as we do not understand. Do I have this right?

    I respect Galli, but I think he misses the sense of vertigo that is increasingly felt within some parts of the church. First, the tradition is not nearly as solid (and I mean this in a sociological, Peter Berger, sort of way) as Galli implies. No longer is it what you bump up against. We all have to choose our tradition, even if it that means paradoxically choosing a tradition that denies that choosing traditions is a good thing. And so Galli misunderstands the problem; the question is not “Why is this aspect of God worthy of worship?” but rather “Which of the competing stories about God will I believe and practice in my life?” Theological and philosophical issues aside, it is hard for me to connect what Galli is saying with my experience “on the ground”, where I have many Christian friends who disagree with me fiercely and with each other, and who can pull out Bible verses and do very sophisticated exegesis, all to the service of very different theological conclusions. For me, living in that situation, for Galli to talk about the scriptural witness and the tradition as though they gave clear truths that simply have to accepted even as we don’t understand rings hollow. Not that I’m against truth, but it just seems a lot to ask that I have to decide among all these competing stories without being allowed to ask the stories to be able to justify themselves.

  • John, if Mark’s position is that of eternal conscious torment, then his view is the traditional view. Of course, a variety of views have been held throughout history, but eternal torment has been the predominant view since the third century. That being the case, alternate views such as conditionalism (which is the view I take) are, by the standards of historic orthodoxy, heterodox.

    There’s no need to get up in arms over calling a certain position “traditional” (unless, of course, you’re a Catholic who disagrees with said position 🙂 I’ll get up in arms the day someone can refute the biblical case for conditionalism and present a compelling case for eternal torment 😉

  • Tom, #3

    “I have many Christian friends who disagree with me fiercely and with each other, and who can pull out Bible verses and do very sophisticated exegesis, all to the service of very different theological conclusions. For me, living in that situation, for Galli to talk about the scriptural witness and the tradition as though they gave clear truths that simply have to accepted even as we don’t understand rings hollow.”

    Well said. I can only agree.

  • Susan N.

    Tom F. @ #2 – I completely agree.

    One additional thought, re: Job… The confrontation between Job and God took place in Ch. 42, and a whole lot went before that point in terms of Job’s relationships (with his friends, and with God). In response to Job’s struggle, his friends were more helpful when they were sitting shiva with him — in silence. The fact that God did “meet” Job in his struggle is as significant to me as the revelation that the ‘why’ of pain and suffering are often simply unknowable, but that God allows Himself to be knowable to those who earnestly seek Him. Further, when Job was restored, God instructed him to go and bless all those friends who had been so obnoxious and given him such a hard time.

  • DRT

    I continue to find it ironic that many Protestants tend to end up invoking tradition as the reason for their interpretation of scripture. Why can’t you at least admit that it says in many places that the gospel for all and God will be the All. There is a contradiction in the bible, hence the arguments. Simply siting tradition and the text gets us no where. The *traditionalists* do need to show why their view makes more sense because the bible indeed says both things.

  • Tom #2

    Well said.

  • Scot McKnight

    Tom F.,
    I wonder if you would mind answering this question in light of your claim that the issue is which tradition will I believe.

    Question: How do you decide which of the theories is the one to believe?

  • Brianmpei

    First, I’d love to pastor in the alternate universe that’s proposed here. In THIS universe I’m asked regularly by believers and unbelievers to “justify the ways of God”. From Jesus’ tone with the Syrophoenician woman to Paul’s words about women and wives to eternal torment and all points in between people want me to make sense for them of some of the things they discover in the Text.

    Second, don’t forget the Job quote comes from a whole text. A text meant to explain suffering and to give unexpected tragedy some context. An attempt to make sense of God for those living in the real world.

    Third, I don’t think wrestling with mystery really necessarily leads to the slipper slope that Galli suggests, “When we succumb to this demand, we invariably end up with an extra-biblical explanation that undermines the faith (tri-theism or modalism, Arianism, etc.)”

    I appreciate and concur with Galli’s position that Jesus is where we need to look. The problem for those of us who pastor is that following Jesus comes with a Text and the two aren’t the same thing and one, the Text, creates a lot of questions to which honest, thoughtful, intelligent people would like answers.

  • I find it odd that the last paragraph only mentions a God of perfect justice and perfect mercy and fails entirely to mention the cross as a place of love or God as a God defined as love. For me this is where the toughest part of the matter relating to eternal punishment derives: if God is love (1 John 4:8) and his essence is defined as love, then the question must at least be asked, what is loving about eternal conscious torment?

    To mention mercy is not as helpful in my opinion, because mercy is not an essential attribute of God (unlike love), but is instead only an action that God undertakes. This is an important distinction; God must be loving in all that he does (however that is) because his very essence is love as defined by Scripture, but he does not have to be merciful in all that he does because this is not part of God’s very essence. For me it is easy to answer Galli’s “dilemma:” God will always be just, as this is part of his essence, but he does not have to be merciful, although he obviously is on the cross. Yet in discussing eternal punishment this “problem” is not really a problem.

    Setting up the paradox as between love and justice is much more helpful in relation to eternal punishment and much more difficult to understand and explain, especially on the Calvinist framing of the issue. There is a fine line between paradox (seeming contradiction) and outright contradiction. I think we have to be careful not to allow the latter to pass for paradox under the guise of mystery.

  • EricW

    “Second, don’t forget the Job quote comes from a whole text. A text meant to explain suffering and to give unexpected tragedy some context. An attempt to make sense of God for those living in the real world.”

    Is that what Job is/was meant to do? Is that what it attempted to do for its original readers/hearers?

    Maybe Job was originally just a sit-around-the-fire shaggy dog story.


  • I am afraid that Mark does not deal adequately with this matter: he presumes that God’s revelation is intuitive, common-sense and can be easily discernible at face value. The reality is that so-called tradition is not always the best guide. God’s truth is revealed progressively. There are many competing “truths”. We as humans at least seek some level of coherence even if we can’t comprehend all of the intricate aspects of a particular truth.

  • Brianmpei

    #11. Among other things – but the point is, shaggy dog story not withstanding, all the poetry books are trying to make sense of God in sometimes seemingly senseless situations. (Psalm 73 for instance). I just think it’s silly to suggest we don’t try to explain what we’ve tried to explain for thousands of years. Our attempts have been imperfect and we have to adjust for each generation and culture but “his ways are higher than our ways” is, as Cook says, a lazy response if that’s all we’ve got.

    Sometimes the acceptance of the mystery is all we’re left with but that should be the last stop, not our first or best stop.

  • HLB

    Sometimes it is helpful to see where the real problem is when people disagree. It’s usually further back than the particular conflict at hand. I think that it is fair, when dealing with the topic of hell or any other biblical topic, to ask two questions.

    1. Does the Bible present one truth on any particular topic (hell, heaven, justification, Jesus, etc.) so that we can say, ‘_This_ is what God has to say about this topic’?

    2. Can this truth be _clearly_ known?

    Part of the difficulty in the current discussion on the topic of hell is that some Christians come to the discussion assuming that the answers to those questions is a clear, ‘Yes’ and other Christians answer with a, ‘No’. The real problem isn’t about hell. It’s about the nature of the Christian faith. What has God said? Can we know it?

  • Josh T.

    To me it sounds like Mark Galli just made an argument against using any sort of Christian apologetics or even exploring philosophy:

    “But of course, it is not our job to show people why God or his truth is ‘worthy of devotion’–as if there were a reason above and apart from God that would justify his truth to us. Instead, his truth comes to us unbidden, sometimes in the starkest of terms….”

    I think maybe Galli is setting up a conflict where there does not necessarily need to be one. Yes, many times our reasonings and explanations are going to be completely inadequate (see Job), but just because we’re finite, it does not necessarily mean our ponderings about God are useless.

    In contrast to what he says about the Trinity, I find some of the very simple analogies C.S. Lewis employs to be somewhat helpful to me in making sense of the concept. Or even the incarnation–in Surprised by Joy the analogy of Shakespeare writing himself into the story to interact with his characters. I don’t see how these examples are any different from what Mark Galli is arguing *against*.

  • Adam

    In the last paragraph, Galli said “At the end of the day, the Christian is not called to have answers to the deepest theological perplexities, nor to justify the ways of God to man, but to point to Jesus Christ on the Cross.”

    What if we started pointing to the Resurrected Christ instead? I think the Resurrected Jesus and the Living God have a much better narrative to tell than the Dieing Jesus.

  • Kaleb

    Tom #2
    Well said indeed!

    Randy #10
    I totally agree with you. I have never seen Christians so up in arms over claiming that God is Love as reformed folks. It is funny to watch them quote the Bible over and over and then try to reject God as Love!

    And my thoughts are if the Bible was as black and white as Galli seems to make it out to be there would be no need for Scot blog other than to ask for Asparagus recipes; unfortunately that is not the case even in the face of my love for asparagus. Galli seems to think that by concentrating on the Bible we will be able to all come to the same conclusions. I like that he talks about paradoxes and the biggest one that I would like to see dealt with is that Jesus tells us to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek, which is directly in the face of a lot of the O.T teachings; then we are suppose to believe this same God is going to punish an unbelieving 16 year old for 16 billion years + some. Please Please Please someone explain this one to me beyond saying that God is infinitely offended by a 16 year child/adult who may have been raised in non believing family. I would much more respect the person that could at least admit it does not make sense and that they just believe that is what the texts says so that is why they believe instead of giving lame arguments that do not explain anything.

  • Scot,

    As ever, I really appreciate this, and continue to enjoy the way your orthodoxy pokes through even when the discussions become hermeneutically uncontrolled (#8)!


  • Appreciate the philosophical and theological issues. My questions are still in the arena of “the Bible says”.

    In NT, all of the lurid, “fire and brimstone” presentations of Hell are in the “Jewish” literature. By that I mean documents written from or to the Jewish mind, not the Greco-Roman mind. Gospel of Matthew contains the majority of Jesus’ mention of the subject. He always trots it out when in conversation with religious Jews. I can’t find Him talking about Hell to ANY Gentiles or to Jewish “sinners”. Shows up in Jude and Revelation. Apocalyptic.

    In Luke-Acts and the Pauline epistles Hell is not there. Judgement is. The Day of the Lord is. We get the rich man and Lazarus parable in Luke. That’s it. The sermons recorded in Acts – nada. Paul’s Episles – nada.

    What in the world are we to make of that. I think it is far from obvious “what the Bible says”. Still working on it . . .

  • Rick


    “I have never seen Christians so up in arms over claiming that God is Love as reformed folks. It is funny to watch them quote the Bible over and over and then try to reject God as Love!”

    Wow. I have yet to see 1 person reject the notion that God is Love. Not sure who you have been reading or listening to.

  • Kaleb

    Rick #20,

    Here are just a couple quotes from yestedarys conversation on what Jeff wrote, in case you missed it. And these comments interesting enough come from most the people that I encounter who defend ECT. I could find more quotes from different people too, but I do not want to sift through 180 comments.

    Comment 111

    1. My point is, there’s nothing inherently obvious about history or the universe that tells us “God is love”. There’s nothing in any other religion to point toward an all-loving, gracious God who is knowable in an intimate, sensory, marital fashion.
    We have the Scriptures, and we can’t afford to chop them to pieces in search of a god who fits our modern ideals perfectly.

    Comment by Luke Allison — May 25, 2011 @ 3:19 pm
    Comment 102

    1. Where does the idea that God is love come from?

    Comment by Luke Allison — May 25, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

    While I know I am just pulling the quote of one person; I have encountered this kind of logic from reformed folks many times before. Even if they concede that God is characterized by Love they always then go on to say that it is nothing like we know Love-which means that Love as a word has no meaning or value since we can not know it based on any of our expereinces.

  • smcknight

    I have to confess to being a bit shocked at how “unclear” the Bible is for so many of you. As if appealing to the great tradition is some kind of power move, and as if the church’s uniformly clear tradition about the final judgment’s consequences is not uniform.

    OK, I can attend to the fact that some things we believe border on the mysterious and the incomprehensible, as some things about God ought to be, but if you can write so I can understand, and if you can read the comments of others and think you understand them, why would we not think we can read the Bible and get what it says? Isn’t this what we mean by the perspicuity of Scripture?

    I’m 100% for the struggle of seeking to justify and understand and comprehend and apprehend what we see in the Bible and what we believe, and like Job to struggle at times, but remember the Book of Job ends with a rather bald pointing-of-the-finger at Job by God and saying “you are human and I am God and there are some things too might for you to comprehend.” I happen to think that kind of mystery is the common experience of lots of us: we probe and we find the mind running out of space to comprehend the infinity and magnitude of God and God’s ways.

    But that chasm doesn’t justify our playing with the postmodern game that we can’t know, or that truth is inaccessible, or that the great minds of the church haven’t landed on some very true things that we are summoned to believe if we affirm the work of God in Christ through the Spirit in the church.

    I don’t want to play the mystery card too early in the game, nor do I want to shut down genuine questions, nor do I want to use the tradition card to end the conversation, but … we are called to embrace the way of God in Jesus in the cross and resurrection and to explain reality through that gospel.

  • Rick

    Kaleb #21-

    Just glancing at that conversation (so I may be reading it wrong), it appears he was not denying God is Love, rather he was pressing the question a bout how does one know that, and what does that mean.

    Scot #22-

    Well said.

  • Kaleb

    Scot #22,

    I appreciate your voice in this conversation, and if any of my post where ones that irked you I appologize. This has been an issue I have struggled with for a while and these posts have caused me to push further. I am all for tradition when it is clear and definitive. I know you are way more smart when it comes to this than I, and here are the thoughts I am wrestling with maybe you can help me. In many of the Evangelical traditions, as I was raised in one, I was taught one way of thinking about the Gospel as ‘orthodoxy’ and it was a message of Jesus died so you could go to Heaven. While I continue to affirm this message I have also grown to know that the Gospel is much bigger than this and feel it was misrepresented. I feel the Church has miss represented so much other things too, and I struggle to know why I should blindly agree on this one issue. And wasn’t much of the Reformation blamed with the same argument of disregarding tradition of its time? I don’t want to say we can not know anything, but are we nearly as sure on this issue as people claim? Can’t we look at other texts that seem to fly in the face of God tormenting people forever- like forgiving your enemy and turning the other cheek. I honestly wish I knew what you knew to make it so this was not such a big struggle for my faith.

  • John W Frye

    From the beginning the stakes were high. The primal couple were driven away from the tree of life less they “live forever” in a state of fallenness. Fallen immortality was not allowed. Death, as Waltke states, was both a judgment and a deliverance. There it is, at the beginning, the possibility of fallen immortality, i.e., eternal death. It takes a mighty skilled exegetical surgeon to slice hell from judgment especially with the sayings of Jesus in mind. Dru (#19), how often does Jesus have to state ECT for it to mean anything?

  • Kaleb

    John W. Frye #25,

    Thank you for that thought; I never thought of it that way. So a 16 year old suffers 1600 billion years + some if they die in their sins? I just want to make sure I clearly understand. This is Not meant to be mean or dismissive- I truly believe this, as if anyone else does, and I am not standing on street corner telling every person of their eternal punishment that awaits we are doing a huge diservice to every human still under God’s judgement. I think if this is true we are going to be very very guilty for not telling every soul we encounter that if they don’t have Jesus they will spend forever in Hell! I am very serious about this. We all are going to be under a very heavy weight of guilt. And the reason for the Gospel also has to be reduced to people understanding this truth about their eternal souls; if they reject Jesus they will spend forever and ever in Hell. Love him or else. Please correct me if I am wrong from this logic? I know this might come accross as disrespectful, which is not my intention! I think this is who we are called to be if I truly believe what you are saying. Do you agree?

  • T

    To be clear about what I think isn’t totally clear in the scriptures, 😀 First, I don’t think we can equate statements about a second death or eternal death with ECT. There are lots of logical ways that a second death or eternal death could play out. Second and relatedly, when Christ tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man, or when he speaks of worms that don’t die and fire that doesn’t go out, or when John gives us the Revelation, none of those read, or are intended to be read, with the almost mathematical precision with which ECT is so often presented. As just one example, do we think there will be eternal, fire-resistant worms in hell? I don’t think that’s what Jesus is promising in that text, though, it is clear he wants to paint a horrific warning which we minimize at our own peril. Nor is eternal consciousness anything I see promised in a way that makes annihilation or other similar versions of eternal death impossible given the apocolyptic nature of much of the biblical language on the subject.

    Relatedly, I have been reading the Exodus story to my girls the last several nights, and I was reminded of how death to “all” the Egyptian animals kept happening in one plague after another, even to the point when the firstborn of the animals died (again) at passover. My point is that, contrary to so many sermons I’ve heard over the years, sometimes “all” doesn’t mean “all” in the scriptures, and that uncertainty applies no where more appropriately than on the specifics of future warnings given in apocolyptic language.

    All that said, I think Bell doesn’t do the warnings about hell justice. God gives these warnings for a reason, and I can’t think of him giving them so strongly through his Christ without the reason being as serious as the warnings sound. I also think it is unfortunate that the reaction to Bell’s “understatement” of the biblical threats of hell is seemingly inspiring pep rallies or even flag-waving and chest-thumping or card-checking around ECT. I’d love to see a true “third-way” here that gives the biblical warnings their horrific due without putting ECT in statements of faith.

  • Joe Canner

    John #25: “how often does Jesus have to state ECT for it to mean anything?”

    Since, as Dru noted, the only time Jesus says anything resembling ECT is in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, please address the following:

    1. What is this the actual point of this parable?
    2. What does it tell us about heaven and hell, given that the rich man is in Hades and Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom?
    3. What does it tell us about how God decides where to send people after death?

  • Darryl S.

    On a somewhat (un)related note: if you haven’t seen it, here’s NT Wright’s response to Bell and hell.

  • T

    Let me say clearly, since I don’t see it elsewhere, that saying that the worm doesn’t die and the flames aren’t quenched isn’t the same as saying that someone will be forever conscious of those flames and/or worms, or that those flames and worms won’t completely consume what’s there and still be hungry for more. Leaches and fire never say “enough!” but that doesn’t mean don’t completely consume a man. ECT is simply not the only logical inference from such language.

  • Susan N.

    I wonder whether at the root of the issues of judgment, hell, ECT it is more a rejection of the messenger (and the method) than the message. “If I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1, Ampl. Bible)

    I’ve been reading the Gospel of Matthew over the past several weeks. A couple of points stood out and stuck with me from Matt. 23 last week and 24 this week. Jesus said of the religious experts on the Law, ‘Do what they say but don’t do what they do.’ In other words, they’ve got the right idea, but not the right heart — and therefore, they don’t speak or act on their ideas rightly. Jesus said of the end of times that “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”

    Which is more beloved, the idea of sinners getting what they deserve in hell, or God and others (friends and enemies alike)? The way some people tell it, I have gotten the feeling that they’re almost gleeful at the thought of “justice” being done in the form of eternal punishment of the wicked. I haven’t gotten a sense of any love for me, or for God, in a way that I can understand, through their words of witness. I often don’t see signs of Christlike love in their actions. I’m not accusing anyone in this discussion of that, but just sharing some of my past experiences that have influenced my faith on this matter. Blessing, not cursing, and praying for our “enemies”?

    I like the way the Apostle Paul delivered his message to the Greek philosophers in Acts 17:16-34. He concluded by straight-talking about Christ’s resurrection, the need for repentance and coming judgment, but did not mention heaven/hell?

  • Adam

    Mike King made a comment on his own blog listing all the different perspectives of the early church fathers. I thought that list was interesting.


    The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.—St. Basil the Great

    There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments. — Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

    For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetual, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them…the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them. –Diodore of Tarsus, 320-394 A.D.

    And God showed great kindness to man, in this, that He did not suffer him to continue being in sin forever; but as it were, by a kind of banishment, cast him out of paradise in order that, having punishment expiated within an appointed time, and having been disciplined, he should afterwards be recalled…just as a vessel, when one being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or remade that it may become new and entire; so also it happens to man by death. For he is broken up by force, that in the resurrection he may be found whole; I mean spotless, righteous and immortal. –Theophilus of Antioch (168 A.D.)

    Wherefore also he drove him out of paradise and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some dare assert, but because He pitied him and desired that he should not be immortal and the evil interminable and irremediable. –Iraneaus of Lyons (182 A.D.)

    These, if they will, may go Christ’s way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice. –Gregory of Nazianzeus, Bishop of Constantinople. (330 to 390 A.D.) Oracles 39:19

    The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them. For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being.—St. Macrina the Blessed

    In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one. –St. Jerome, 331-420

    For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. –Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

    The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of His grace. –Theodore of Mopsuestia, 350-428

    We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life. –Clement of Alexandria

    Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless eons (apeirou aionas) in Tartarus. Very properly, the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aionion period (aionios) calling its life and its allotted period of punishment, its aeon. –Olnmpiodorus (AD 550)

    Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire.–Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.)

    That in the world to come, those who have done evil all their life long, will be made worthy of the sweetness of the Divine bounty. For never would Christ have said, “You will never get out until you have paid the last penny” unless it were possible for us to get cleansed when we paid the debt. –Peter Chrysologus, 435

    I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures. –St. Jerome

    Our Lord is the One who delivers man [all men], and who heals the inventor of evil himself. — Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

    While the devil thought to kill One [Christ], he is deprived of all those cast out of hades, and he [the devil] sitting by the gates, sees all fettered beings led forth by the courage of the Saviour.–Athanasius, the Great Father of Orthodoxy

    Our Lord descends, and was shut up in the eternal bars, in order that He might set free all who had been shut up… The Lord descended to the place of punishment and torment, in which was the rich man, in order to liberate the prisoners. –Jerome

    In the liberation of all no one remains a captive! At the time of the Lord’s passion the devil alone was injured by losing all the of the captives he was keeping. –Didymus, 370 AD

    While the devil imagined that he got a hold of Christ, he really lost all of those he was keeping. –St. Chrysostom, 398 AD

    Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to everyman. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil…to quote Zephaniah: “My determination to gather the nations, that I am assemble the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even say all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent”…Consider carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.—Origen (185 to 254 A.D.) He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.

    The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal. in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus’ Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God’s enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies.—Jerome (340 to 420 A.D), commenting on Zephaniah 3:8-10

    Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all. –Didymus the Blind

    So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all” –Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3. (Origen founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.)

    The Son “breaking in pieces” His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state. –Eusebius of Caesarea (65 to 340 A.D). Bishop of Caesarea

    Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,’ for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection.– Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

    We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued…. for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. –Origen (185 to 254 A.D.) He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.

    For it is needful that evil should some day be wholly and absolutely removed out of the circle of being. –Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

    In the present life God is in all, for His nature is without limits, but he is not all in all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all. For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that He may check the course of impiety. –Theodoret the Blessed, 387-458

    When death shall no longer exist, or the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all. –Origen

    All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all?—Clement of Alexandria

  • BradK

    Scot #22,

    Just to make sure I understand, are you saying that the Bible’s position on Hell (e.g. eternal, conscious torment as opposed to annihilation or some kind of ultimate redemption, etc.) is perfectly clear? Likewise are you saying that church tradition on Hell is uniform and clear? If so, I must admit that I am shocked that you are shocked. But maybe I am missing something as a lot of this discussion seems to be people talking past each other.

  • Tom F. (#2):

    Surely Galli isn’t asking us to simply believe something that we know cannot be “taken for granted” (in a Peter Berger sort of way). Clearly that would be “bad faith” (in a Sartre kind of way).

    Historically and traditionally, however, we can take for granted that the scriptures speak of a coming judgment—whatever that looks like. The resulting vertigo from challenges to such “mere Christianity” ought not last long. Other challenges might keep us in the “fiery brook of relativism” longer, but the idea that there’s a coming judgment (again, whatever that will look like) ought not be one of them.

    As to Scot’s wonderful question above (#8), the answer is of course a web of multiple reciprocities: which family I’m born into, where that family is located geographical, the faith community my family brings me into, historical inquiry, persuasive argumentation, and, at the end of the day, credo ut intelligam.

  • Peter F.

    As I try to reconcile the contradictions I find in my Bible and in my experience, I quickly reach the end of my intellectual ability. As a practical matter I’ve begun asking myself these questions: “If I were God, seeing the condition of humanity, what would I most want them to know about me? In what way would my plan to restore our relationship culminate?” In this way, for me, it becomes less about me understanding God and more about understanding what he’s saying to me. After all, the gospel is about God initiating and me responding… I think.

  • Kaleb

    Darryl S 29,

    Thanks for that post. I think Wright offers so much more to this conversation. Everyone should go watch the link posted on 29 from N.T Wright about Hell and even Rob’s book. I love that He highlights the graciousness and mercifullness of God; over a view that God is an olgre waiting to punish people after death- we choose what story we believe an live into and the Gospel is an open invitation to all humanity the price has been paid New Creation has started- believe it.

  • smcknight

    BradK, not quite what I was saying.

    Two issues, one Bible and one Tradition.

    On Bible, I don’t see how anyone can shake Luke 16:26’s oncrossable chasm or Rev 20:10, 12-15’s endless punishment. I don’t pretend to think there is certainty here, but the church has for nearly all its existence held to eternal punishment. For my own take, and I wrote about this in One.Life, until those texts are given a fair reading (and some just wash them away with “oh, that’s a parable, we don’t trust parables; or oh, that’s apocalyptic, who knows what that might mean”), I’ll stick with those texts as I’ve read them.

    On Tradition, yes there are variations, particularly among the Cappadocians and thinking in the 4th Century. After that, though, the tradition is uniformly clear. That doesn’t mean it is right, of course. I’m a Bible guy and a Tradition-first guy.

    These are my two fixed points, but I will begin teaching a course on universalism and hell this Fall because, one more time, I want to go through this stuff. I’ve never given this topic a complete reading and study in history, so I want to do it again. I wrote on this years ago and read the Bible and some major statements; then for One.Life I did some work, and it was in that context when I saw that Gehenna had no early evidence for being a dump (though I’d said that and even written that myself), but this time I want to examine some more Jewish material and then some theological material that I just haven’t given as complete a reading as I would have liked.

  • Matt Edwards

    I don’t understand how the “God’s ways are bigger than my ways” argument supports any position. To me, that argument makes it just as likely that we can skillfully exegete even a “plain” passage and in the end fnd out that we were way off. The only implication of the “God’s ways are higher than our ways” argument is that we should have humility in whatever position we take.

    I think Cook’s critique stands. The Bible may have some verses that say certain things about Hell that are “plain,” but it also reveals “plainly” that YHWH is a certain type of God (i.e. a God of compassion and a God of judgment). If Rob Bell and others want to argue a position based on the type of God YHWH has plainly revealed himself to be in the Bible, then Chan’s argument (as presented in the video) fails.

  • John #25,

    how often does Jesus have to state ECT for it to mean anything?

    At least once would be nice! The Lazarus parable is about Hades, not Hell, and never mentions an everlasting duration of torment.

    The closest we have is Matthew 25:46, which mentions eternal punishment, not eternal torment. Of course irreversible death and destruction is punishment that lasts forever. Why anyone would think otherwise is beyond me.

  • Adam


    Do you think the 4th century has some significance in the shift?

    The list of quotes above shows ample evidence of thoughts that differ from tradition and all of them are from the 4th century. Another thing that happened in the 4th century was that Rome became a Christian Empire.

    Is it possible that the tradition that you are referring to is more of a result of Roman influence and not necessarily a biblical or even christian influence?

  • scotmcknight

    Ronnie, don’t ignore Matthew 18:8-9.

  • scotmcknight

    Adam, it is also important to know what was the case prior to the 4th Century, to examine what the Bible does say regardless of first three centuries or the 4th Century, and I’d like to say the Empire hypothesis has nothing to do with this theology. I’ve not seen anyone make the case for ECT as a result of Empire ideology. Ach, let’s keep that one out of this discussion. I want to dig into this more, Adam, but I would think the universalist teachings of the 4th Century, which as you know were later rejected (almost uniformly though there is clear hints in Eastern Orthodoxy’s liturgies), were diversions and what did survive as the tradition was what was taught before the 4th Century. And, to make this part of historical exegesis, Jewish literature has plenty of eternal punishment stuff, too — again not uniform.

  • rjs


    Doesn’t MT 18:8-9 say “cast into eternal fire” and “cast into the fiery hell”? Is there something amiss in the translation?

    Eternal complete destruction could satisfy these references. There is no need to have ECT here.

  • Matt Edwards

    Scot # 36,

    I think you can shake Luke 16 and Revelation 20 if you take a two-stage judgment approach. (What N.T. Wright calls “life after death” and “life after life after death”).

    The ultimate destiny of all people is resurrection—either resurrection to eternal life or resurrection to eternal judgment (Rev 20:15). But in the meantime, there is a temporal post-mortem state. The events of Luke 16 occur before the eschaton, since the rich man thinks he can go back and warn his family. In this temporal state, the wicked are in conscious torment (in a place called Hades, Luke 16:23) and the righteous are across a chasm at Abraham’s bosom. But this is not the eternal state—as Rev 20:14 says, Hades itself will be cast into the lake of fire.

    Revelation 20:10 says that the beast and the false prophet are tormented day and night forever. It does not say that human beings will be tormented day and night forever. Is it unreasonable to suggest that the beast suffers a different fate than the rest of humanity? John describes the fate of unbelieving humanity as “second death” (not torment). “Second death” sounds more like annihilation than torment.

    I would argue for two-stage post-mortem judgment on unbelievers—temporary conscious torment and then annihilation at the eschaton.

  • scotmcknight

    RJS, if the word “eternal” means “endless” then ECT is implicit.

  • scotmcknight

    Matt, I tend to agree that Hades and Hell are not the same, though that is hardly certain. But the “uncrossable” chasm could both in the intermediate and final state. Not an easy one, but Jesus clearly offers the man absolutely no hope. That’s important.

    Rev 20:10 does something though that is crucial here: it connects God to eternal punishment. This becomes ontological then. Further, into that same lake of fire are sent more — check out 20:12-15, the wicked. Humans join the beast and false prophet, and they are in a place where the punishment is for ever and ever according to 20:10. And 21:8 counts here, too. Second death is lake of fire; lake of fire is endless.

    For me these texts have to be read fairly and in their Jewish context etc etc and more than can all be done here, but maybe more of that next winter!

  • scotmcknight

    And Matt I call this “death after death.”

  • Tom F.

    Re: Scot in #6. I wouldn’t, but I want to think a bit before I answer. 🙂 Same to anyone else who has asked me a question.

  • rjs


    But does the fact that the fire is eternal necessarily mean that what is cast into it exists eternally in the fire?

    I think you can get there from other passages, probably … but I don’t see it here.

  • Adam

    How much of the language of worms and fire is literal vs metaphor for “unpleasant time”?

    It makes more sense to me that leaving people to their own devices can result in absolute misery for all eternity but doesn’t require God to be actively involved in the torment.

    Or even, hell as a place where all the nasty stuff goes, and the people who also go there are choosing or have chosen to embrace the nasty stuff.

    I don’t see these methods as undercutting the metaphors of flame and fire but also not adding maliciousness to God.

  • Matt Edwards

    Thanks for the response, Scot. I don’t want to argue with you on your blog, but since this is an idea I’m still working out, I’d like to push back on your comment. Your responses are helpful to me in developing my thoughts about hell.

    I wasn’t suggesting that the wicked aren’t cast into the lake of fire (clearly they are, as you pointed out); I was suggesting that the experience in the lake of fire is different for the wicked than it is for the devil, beast, and false prophet. The wicked are destroyed in the lake of fire whereas the unholy trinity is tormented in the lake of fire forever.

    The basis of this idea twofold: (1) different language is used to describe their experiences, and (2) since the unholy trinity is a representative of evil, it is reasonable to suggest that their punishment is more severe.

    Rev 20–21 never says that the wicked are tormented in the lake of fire. It also never calls the unholy trinity’s experience “second death.” Now, you could argue that “torment” and “second death” are two ways of saying the same thing, but you could just as easily argue that they are two ways of saying two different things.

    The injustice of ECT leads me to believe that they are two ways of saying two different things, and that the unholy trinity will suffer a greater judgment in the lake of fire than will the rest of the wicked.

    I agree a lot of it comes down to “lake of fire” imagery that was already in place (which I haven’t studied in depth).

  • Scot, Matthew 18 does not mention torment at all. I’m not sure why you would think that torment would be implicit if eternal means endless. Jude 1:7 shows (I think conclusively) that “eternal fire” is not fire that torments forever, but rather fire that destroys completely.

  • Regarding Revelation 20:10 (from a comment I left on Paul Adam’s blog),

    Being tormented in fire is part of the symbolic vision, in the same way that being trampled by a goat is part of the vision in Daniel 8. Both “being tormented in fire” and “being trampled by a goat” must be interpreted. They are not intended to be literal descriptions of reality any more than the symbols themselves (goats, rams and hybrid beasts) are intended to be literal descriptions of reality.

    If the beast is symbolic of a corporate entity, as most commentators agree, it would be nonsense to say that the Roman empire (for example) will be tormented in fire forever. It would be an improper use of a vision to say that the members of the empire will be tormented forever, in the same way that it would be improper to say that the residents of Media and Persia will be trampled upon by a goat.

    “The second death” is actually the inspired interpretation of the lake of fire symbol. The sentence “The lake of fire is the second death” follows the standard interpretation formula found in apocalyptic literature of [symbol] IS [reality] (I gleaned this insight from Edward Fudge). For example:

    Dan 8:21: the goat is the king of Greece
    Zech 5:8: [the woman in the basket] is wickedness
    Rev 5:8: [the] golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
    Rev 19:8: the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints

    Interestingly, both times John mentions humans being thrown into the lake of fire, he is careful to interpret the symbol as “the second death” (Rev 20:14 and Rev 21:8).

    Finally, the meaning of the lake of fire should be consistent and work for everything that is said to be thrown into it. Corporate entities and empires cannot be tormented. Death and Hades cannot be tormented. But demons, empires, religious systems, death, the intermediate state and human beings can all come to an end. That what the lake of fire is, an end.

  • I don’t see Jeff Cook suggesting anywhere that it is our job to justify the ways of God.

    What I heard him say was that God’s ways are not beyond human reason. And Jeff’s charge that he hasn’t seen anyone explain the justness of the traditional interpretation of hell well rationally, still stands IMO.

    The ofensiveness of the Gospel BIBLICALLY defined is not its irrationality but its defiance of popular human concepts of power and sophistication.

    And also a quick response to the ending of Job’s story: hyothetically speaking, had Job suffered ETERNALLY, it may have been justifiable from an abstract concept of divine sovereignty but like Jeff suggested from a linguistic point of view would render the term justice void and seriously call into question why anyone would WANT to respond with love and trust towards a deity that would be indistinguishable from Satan himself.

  • scotmcknight

    Ronnie, you’re putting words in my mouth, no? Did I say “torment”? All I want to observe is that Matt 18:8-9 suggests that there is eternal fire/punishment/whatever term you want to use. One could even make a connection between this text and the lake of fire in Rev 20.

  • John W Frye

    In this thread I am stressing ECT not because I believe it is the only option, but because too many go soft too quickly on some severely horrible statements about tormenting judgment found on the lips of Jesus and reiterated in other Scriptures. I’ve read Scot’s *One.Life* and know some options he presents. But I cannot believe that the Bible’s declaration that “God is love” diminishes actual, conscious horrors of punishment for sin. I use ‘punishment’ purposely. No thinking person denies horrible, evil suffering in this life as a consequence of human rebellion. The “God is love” mantra doesn’t do a thing to relieve the human suffering we see and/or hear about everyday. I do not believe God “sends” people to hell, but God will let us live with the consequences of a life of sinful rebellion. The idea of ECT didn’t just pop on the scene with Rob Bell’s book. As Scot points out ECT has been around awhile. I want to know why ECT came to be an orthodox tenet of the faith. And all emotional-driven arguments like God becomes a monster or what about the (alleged) innocent 16 year old girl do nothing to advance this inquiry.

  • Scot, yes you did say torment:

    #45 RJS, if the word “eternal” means “endless” then ECT is implicit.

    The “T” is ECT stands for torment. If that’s not what you intended, I understand, but I didn’t put words in your mouth.

  • Scot (#37) – Does the fact that Christ himself (1 Peter 3:18-4:6) later crossed the Luke 16:26 chasm (that his parable’s Abraham declared uncrossable) affect what we can deduce from it in relation to hell?

  • Richard

    @ 55

    I’m not sure he’s putting words in your mouth when you’re positing the passage supports ECT…

    As for “Scripture is clear,” yes those who don’t hold to ahnihilation or ECT need to wrestle with Rev 20, etc but those who do need to do some real wrestling with the passages suggesting universal restoration and reconciliation and they have yet to put forward a solid argument in that regard. Part of that is tangled in our understanding of atonement as well – was it universal atonement or limited atonement?

    To act like this was all settled years ago and anyone who questions it is a softie postmodern is to ignore tremendous amounts of evidence biblically, historically, philosophically, and traditionally.

  • Calebite

    I’m not sure if many of the non-ECT positions above solve the issue they are trying to alleviate. To me, a position where God raises people from the first death, for the purpose of judging and punishing them temporarily does not make God or His justice more palatable. In fact, it seems worse to me than believing a position in which humans are created immortal, and will exist for eternity either with God or separated from him. The second flows ontologically from who God created us to be, the first seems almost like double jeopardy (in the legal sense, not the game show sense!).

    For the record, I’d probably fall more in an ECP (punishment) or ECS (separation) camp than necessarily the ECT (torment). Although, eternal separtion from all that is loving, good, and holy is probably torment enough in and of itself.

  • keo

    I think I’ve been keeping up with the multiple posts on this topic here over the weeks, including the brief batting around of “aion,” but I don’t recall anyone addressing the analysis in either of these two little books from the 1800s (full text online). I skimmed through each in 45 minutes. The first is on the origin of the ECT doctrine and the second an analysis of what “eternal” means before it gets translated into English. Both look at the Bible and at extra-Biblical literature.

    I’m more interested in the “eternal” question. If the author is right, then what references the NT does make to eternal punishment take on a very different light.

    Thoughts, anyone?

    On ECT:
    On what “eternal” means:

  • Calebite: Conditionalism affirms that God raises all men in order to judge them for their deeds. Those who are not forgiven will be punished. The punishment will culminate in their destruction. How is that even close to double jeopardy? Nobody is paying for their sins more than once.

    Scripture nowhere teaches that all humans are created immortal. To the contrary, immortality is explicitly described as a gift that only comes through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). The tree of life, which would have conferred immortality to Adam, was put beyond reach, and is only made accessible in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1). The meaning of the imagery is obvious: Only those who are allowed entrance into the city of God will live forever.

  • Joe Canner

    keo #61: Thanks for the links. I had heard some alternative translations for aion=eternal and wanted to delve more into the topic, so maybe this will be a good place to start. The alternative translations sounded a little dodgy at first until I ran across John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” This helped to understand that eternal, at least in some contexts, is qualitative rather than quantitative and that it begins now, not after death.

    It is also helpful to keep in mind that John uses the word “eternal life” much more than the other gospel writers, who use “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew) or “kingdom of God” (Mark, Luke) more often. This suggests that there is some overlap on these terms, which in turn supports a qualitative interpretation of eternal.

  • Beth

    Really? Mark to Jeff to Francis? Sounds like a bunch of school boys trying to one up each other.

  • Adam

    Mark in 58 brings up a good question.

    A lot of christian tradition says that Christ descended into hell. Therefore he crossed the uncrossable chasm.

    However there is no specific scriptural support for the idea. It is implied in the Apostle’s Creed.

  • Scot #37,

    Much of the debate about ECT seems to revolve around terminology. What should be taken literally and what should be taken figuratively?  Annihilationists/conditionalists argue that passages that speak of the unsaved as perishing (John 3:16) or being destroyed (Matt. 10:28) should be taken literally. Traditionalists argue that the passages in Revelation that speak of everlasting torment, even though it is apocalyptic imagery, should nonetheless be taken literally. 

    I agree with Matt that the parable in Luke 16 refers to the intermediate state between death and resurrection and is not really relevant to the subject of ECT. At the same time, it seems to me that the major thrust of Jesus’ teaching presented God’s judgment as the destruction of the wicked. He said that God could destroy body and soul in hell, if He must (Matt. 10:28). He said that the wicked are like dry wood about to be thrown into the fire and like chaff to be burned in the unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:10, 12). He said that the wicked will be burned up there just like weeds when thrown into the fire (13:30, 42, 49, 50).

    The impression is that the impenitent can expect to be destroyed. That the fires of hell do not torture but rather consume the wicked. Even in Revelation, it would seem strange if the symbols and the people who are said to suffer destruction are in fact not destroyed.

    But the fact is, Scripture does not specifically define the nature of hell. Jesus just says there will be two destinies and leaves it there. One is free to interpret it to mean either everlasting conscious torment or irreversible destruction. The text allows for both possibilities and only teaches explicitly the finality of the judgment itself, not its nature.

    Therefore, one’s interpretation of Scripture in respect to ECT will depend upon other considerations. Which is what I found so troubling about Chan’s video.

    All Christian doctrines undergo a certain amount of development over time. In the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for theological reflection (which may itself be up for debate on this blog) Scripture is primary – but it is illumined by two millennia of Church history, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason.

    In this case the traditional doctrine of hell as ECT forms a “lens” through which we view and interpret the Bible. But unlike the Bible, tradition is not infallible and it must be balanced and tested by reason and experience. Reason (rational thinking and sensible interpretation) and experience (how a particular view of scripture is actually lived out) is the means by which we may evaluate and even challenge the assumptions of tradition and adjust our interpretations of Scripture.

    This is what I found so troubling about Chan’s video. Arguments such as his, whether offered in love and humility or with contempt and fear, have been used by religion for thousands of years to prop up the existing tradition and stifle reason and sensible interpretation.

  • smcknight

    Sorry, I do see now that I used “T.” If you’ve followed my thinking and what I’ve written on this I don’t like the word “torment.” My preferred way to talk about this is diminishment, but each of the terms — punishment, torment (a biblical term), and separation — needs to be synthesized into a grander whole to give the full contour of final judgment. One way of talking about this is how I do in One.Life: the experience of utter absence in the presence of God.

    This has become too much about what texts support what and not enough about what Mark Galli is claiming…

  • Rick

    Galli’s response to Cook is similar to C. Michael Patton’s response to Cook over at Parchment and Pen.

    Patton states, regarding what Cook wrote:

    “but this…really surprised me: “The response that, ‘God knows things we don’t’ or ’God does things we wouldn’t do’ is insufficient here.” Really? Then I have one question: When is it sufficient? When is it sufficient to trust God knows what he is doing? When is it sufficient to say that his ways are greater than our ways? When is it sufficient to say that his judgments are greater than ours? If not here, when? This does not prove the doctrine of eternal punishment is indeed true, but the doctrine of our insufficiency to elevate our morality above God’s is. There simply are times when we have to punt our understanding and knowledge to God’s…while our faith in God is not a blind irrational faith, God is at liberty to explain things to us or withhold explanation without explanation. Sometimes our beliefs will be hard to believe.”

  • Matt Edwards

    Undoubtedly Chan’s book will be popular. I hope it doesn’t create a false dichotomy within popular evangelicalism–that you are either ECT like Chan or a universalist like Bell (even though Bell isn’t even a universalist).

  • keo

    I’m stumbling over the typo in sentence 1 of Galli’s “While the paradoxes…” paragraph. Is he implying that the Nicene Creed is the result of “succumbing to this demand”? Or is he suggesting that our creed is simply a repetition of the revelation in Scripture — rather than the product of thinking and reasoning used to defend and justify a revealed paradox to those who didn’t get it?

    The council was right to come up with a creed or they should have just let Scripture speak for itself?

    Frankly, I don’t see how biblical revelation (text, language) can be read or heard or understood without being mediated by human reason and understanding — which includes our presuppositions. As noble a goal as it may sound.

  • Gotta be blunt: Jeff’s article was helpful. This one was the same old story.

    With that said, I agree with the final paragraph but certainly do not agree with the conviction from which it is informed on this issue.

  • John W Frye

    No one here is trying to stifle honest inquiry or rethinking traditional views. What is at stake are biblical declarations made by Jesus himself and reiterated in other Scriptures about the horrifying consequences of not entering the kingdom of God through him, and the traditional interpretation of ECT. I see some trying to save God from himself or Jesus from himself. This is idiotic in my opinion. We have to deal both with the text and tradition as we wrestle with this weighty, eternal issue.

  • Brian Considine

    All this arguing and bickering over the unknowable when God simply says “be still and know that I am God.” I see no instruction in the Bible directing us to figure out hell. Can someone please point me to that book-chapter-verse. Sure Jesus spoke about it, in a vague mysterious way, but is it any wonder that Paul, Peter, and John are nearly silent on the issue? Can tradition speak truth beyond the revealed Word of God? If so, which tradition is to be trusted – Eastern, Roman, Protestant, Universal Reconciliation? Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in me.” I’m not sure where it says, “figure God out, figure me out too?” If we can that’s not a God worthy to be worshipped. Chan referenced Isaiah 55 which should tell us we’re not going to figure this out. Hey, but if it sells books for itching ears, what the heck. 🙂

  • Brianmpei

    @ Brian #73. Words are only symbols. I can’t give you the book & chapter you’re asking for but surely you can acknowledge that the very act of translating from the Greek into English or any other language requires some level of “figuring out” hell.

  • EricW

    69. Undoubtedly Chan’s book will be popular. I hope it doesn’t create a false dichotomy within popular evangelicalism–that you are either ECT like Chan or a universalist like Bell (even though Bell isn’t even a universalist).

    Too late.

  • Have Jeff and Mark been raptured?

  • Brian Considine

    very act of translating from the Greek into English or any other language requires some level of “figuring out” hell

    @74 – Well, Brian, no I wouldn’t actually say that all. The art of translation does not require the translator to actually understand the doctrine the language. And, after 2000 years while we’ve got a better handle on the language we still haven’t figured it out the doctine, wouldn’t you agree?

  • Brian Considine

    opps should read “but the language.”

  • Ryan S.

    @77 – Actually Brian is does make a difference. It all depends on theory of language in this case. See referential theories of language vs. speech-acts etc. Many translation choices are made based on what argument the author is making. To translate the words the author is using, you have to understand what the author is saying to some degree.

    Its not an either-or but a back and forth.

  • Quarkgluonsoup

    Try to construct a view on “hell” from the ground up: ignore everything you have ever been told, and construct your view on nothing more than what the bible says and implies. Nothing in it implies permanent punishment, let alone fire and brimstone. One commonly cited passage for hell is the Lukan parabale of the rich man and Lazarus. Only the word “hell” here is actually (the only such case in the NT) hades, and Abraham is also in hades, only a higher level of hades (the “Bosom of Abraham”). Revelation only says that satan, the beast and false prophet will be tortured forever. Everyone else who is not saved remains in hades (hades meaning what it meant in the Greco-Roman world of the NT: death) and is annihilated by being thrown into the lake of fire. Really the biggest theological problem I see about hell is that the NT isn’t clear about what happens to nonbelievers. Hell is actually a catholic doctrine, created through allegory (the typical method), later ported into protestantism

  • Quarkgluonsoup

    In the comments I noticed some pointing out the verse in Matthew that mentions nonbelievers as being tormented forever. I believe the only other passage that mentions eternal torment is in Revelation, which pertains only to the beat, false prophet and satan. The quote in Matthew, however, is embedded in a parable that is certainly not meant to be taken literally. Maybe Jesus just meant that part of the parable was suppose to be taken literally? Probably not, because nothing in the parable suggests this. It seems as if nothing in the bible even says outright that nonbelivers will be tormented forever.

  • Barry

    so much for the clear meaning of the text and the uniformity of tradition (282 comments later).

  • Boondock

    Cook consistently asks the pertinent questions and makes me reframe what many modern authors are saying. Sometimes the questions are as valuable as the answers.

  • Tom F.

    The question Scot posed to me was: “How do you decide which of the stories is true?”

    Short, blog length answer: I think I would follow some version of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, probably with a post-modern flavor. And this can knock off a lot of stories. For example, there is no reason to think that God enjoys torturing 3 year olds, as Jeff points out. Furthermore, it can knock off a lot of stories that both begin AND end with the statement “I wouldn’t believe in a God who would…”. At the end of the day, who cares what an individual would or wouldn’t believe? The point of theological discussion is to put our theological statements in something bigger than our private subjectivity, without ignoring that our subjectivity dramatically affects how we reason about and interpret scripture.


    I don’t think Galli’s post adequately acknowledges the dizzying array of challenges to the tradition, both internal and external. (And these can be legitimate challenges, such as when Protestants use the Bible to challenge tradition.). So in deciding between Jeff’s annihilationism and Galli’s CET, I’m not supposed to consider the kind of God those particular traditions affirms? Because they affirm distinct conceptions of who God is and what He is like. Not totally different, but different enough that it matters. And these conflicting stories are not so easily resolved by throwing scripture at each other, although they will certainly not be resolved by ignoring scripture. As Dallas Willard says in the Divine Conspiracy, “The acid test for any theology is this: is the God that is presented one that can be loved heart, soul, mind, and strength?” Galli seems to me to be saying: “There is only the biblical revelation: and it isn’t possible justify the God that appears in that revelation.” According to Galli, Willard would be applying a test to which God couldn’t possible fail, since our conceptions of love are apparently too far from the reality of God to be meaningful. But then our announcement of God’s love, something which Galli is committed, becomes meaningless. There would be no linguistic difference between announcing “God showed his love for us in Christ” and “God showed his “blah-blah-blah” for us in Christ”. If you can’t reliably predicate or ascribe something to God, no fair telling us we should be announcing it. My point about traditions was really this: if you have only one tradition or interpretation of scripture, you may even be able to get away with this move, but in today’s post-modern, tradition-contested environment, it makes no sense, and it is counter-productive, at least in my own humble and open to correction opinion.

    Bad faith: okay, I wasn’t actually familiar with Sarte’s bad faith before someone else brought it up, and upon looking it up, you may be right that I was insinuating that Galli displays this, when upon further reflection he probably doesn’t. I’m going to assume that some of my other clarification above address anything else related to that.

    Grace and peace to you all.

  • Kaleb

    I would love to hear the thoughts of someone that ascribe to Eternal Conscious Torment to help me understand this. If Jesus was really referring to E.C.T when it comes to Lazarus and a couple other passages why doesn’t Jesus go around warning EVERYONE that this fate awaits them if they don’t put their trust in the sacrifice he is about to become? Logically if E.C.T were real shouldn’t Jesus have just been going around warning of this fate and giving a CLEAR AND PRECISE way of avoiding it-like you are going to hell unless you….? – which is what many followers do.

    Why would Jesus just forgive an adulterous women about to be stoned with out her first repenting? He just says go and sin no more. My problem is that if I am going to take Scripture seriously, I am no longer to ignore things that seem to fly in the face of what I was taught and many hold to. Yes, it is possible that ECT exist, but it seems very contrary to the character of God that I am shown in Jesus. Since I have this dissonance about my belief I am going to error on the side of grace and love, which I understand as much as God has allowed me to receive, not wrath, and no longer hold beliefs that seem contradictory to the God who told us to turn the other cheek, forgive seventy times seven, love our enemies, bless those that persecute you, and love your neighbor. That is my Scriptural reason for believing that Jesus must be meaning something other than what many Evangelicals prescribe to his meaning about E.C.T. Why would God expect us to do these things and not do them? It would be like a parent saying do as I say, not as I do. This is not just my personal preference and I can not avoid feeling this disconnect when I read God’s Holy Scripture.

    I get the feeling that a few people think personal hopes and preference go over Bible reading when it comes to this and I would argue the exact opposite. As far as tradition is concerned, I believe there have been many times in history when the majority has gotten it wrong. I am not saying that I am smarter than everyone else, it is just the fact that this is not a creedal belief and if it were that important it would be in the Apostles Creed, which there is no mention the necessity to believe anything about what happens to those that reject God! I will stick with the whole New Creation thing that is found in Jesus and now available to us. I don’t think HELL has one thing to do with why we become followers of Christ; in fact I think it greatly distorts the reason we join in this beautiful RELATIONSHIP with the divine. I have never heard of any relationship that first started with a threat! Do this or else is no way to start a marriage as the Bible describes one. The same thing goes for parenting. I love God and figure that if I am wrong on these things that he will know my heart in all of it and my trying to best discern how to present this compelling God to others. Grace and Peace.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    I still feel that it is a shame that the debaters on this issue do not hold a private conference where behind closed doors they come to understand exactly where each is and the problems they have with each position–and then publish one book where all the arguments and counter arguments are laid out. Of course, they will not make as much money that way.

  • Adam

    Why is the rich man in hell?

    The only explanation given is:

    25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.

    If we take this at face value, all of us in America are going to hell because we have received good things.

  • Richard

    @ 87

    But Adam, that part isn’t literal, only the chasm is…


  • Kenton

    Richard (88)- LOL!

  • Kaleb

    Richard 88,

    Hahah… You are soo RIGHT!

  • Quarkgluonsoup

    Adam, the word is actually “hades” in the oringal Greek. Abraham isn’t in heaven here, but in the land of the death waiting for the judgement.

  • Scot, Mark, Jeff et al, when I was very young (11?), I had a nightmare in which I vividly experienced separation from everything that makes us part of a relational creation. I was alive, but without access to other. I was acutely conscious in a dark expansive void. It was an experience of total alone-ness coupled with the intense and terrible awareness that I could be alone for a very long time. It remains the most frightening thing I have ever experienced.

    There was no lake of fire, brimstone, or devil and his minions. There was simply separation from anyone or anything that acknowledged my existence. Total exclusion, total isolation, and an unspeakably profound sadness and foreboding at my loss of contact.

    So when I read ancient poetic religious language describing “hell” I don’t take it literally, but I do recognize a deeply serious warning. I see in “wrath” language a purpose in turning people (especially ancient / symbolic cultures) away from selfishness and towards other – and ultimately toward the perfect Other. On the other hand, I also see how such metaphorical language has been terribly abused by power, institution, and ignorance to control and separate people into religious tribal thinking.

    Ultimately, I cannot conceive of a “loving creator” or “father” who would unleash “unending wrath” on their children. As a father myself, I would love my children even if they totally abandoned me and spoke horribly of me. And I would welcome them back into my arms at ANY TIME. If my heart can sustain this rudimentary form of fatherly love, then how much greater is God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness towards his children? I believe it is infinitely greater. This is the kind of eternal, passionate love I believe is signified by the cross.

    So while I’ve been personally shown the psychic torment and “gnashing of teeth” of separation from God, I cannot interpret the ancient texts in any way but that, in the end, love does win, and that the prodigal door is ALWAYS open, and never slammed shut eternally. I cannot conceive of a Father who would act otherwise.

  • Adam


    The word Hades doesn’t matter here. Lazarus was taken to comfort and peace with angels. The rich man was taken to torment and pain.

    Lazarus got peace because he was poor. The rich man got pain because he was rich.

  • Resi

    19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
    22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.

    Note the other verses in that story. It never says the rich man so much as lifted a finger to feed or aid Lazarus. Sometimes what’s not there speaks much. Perhaps the term “rich” implied much more in that day than now.

  • J Wilkerson

    #19, Dru Dodson, “What in the world are we to make of that?”
    I think we are to read between the lines and use a bit of the logic that God has given… Maybe, just maybe, it’s not up to us to figure out and understand. Jesus makes it clear, loving God, and loving others should be greatest focus for our lives. Part of that loving others is helping them understand that an eternity away from the presence of God is no place be… Whether it be eternal conscience torment or not… I lean towards our focus should be on Christ… Not how I or others “end up” spending eternity… We are to let Christ be our peace and contentment in the things of mystery.
    Great thoughts, by the way!

  • Trav

    I’ve read many of the comments in this thread and also many of the comments under Cook’s article. This has highlighted an important truth: [b]Sometimes the Bible is not as clear as we would like it to be.[/b]

    [b]There are reasonable, Bible based arguments in either direction[/b]- when orthodox theologians and Christian leaders like Wenham and Stott give suggest that “ECT” isn’t clear in the Bible, we should listen to them respectfully. Chan’s comments in his video have utmost respect for scripture and he even symbolises this by speaking whilst holding a Bible in his hands! We must remember though, Wenham, Stott, and other annihilationists use direct Biblical arguments and also other arguments that are either indirectly derived from the Bible or trying to understand the Bible on a deep level (ie: Trying to understand how a God who loves humankind would give people ECT, and interpreting other Biblical texts in light of this Biblical truth- a good example of this).

    Another point to keep in mind is this:[b]We should not be dogmatic about this as if it were an all-important issue[/b]. It is not central to the gospel, and in comparison to some other Christian beliefs and doctrines, this one is relatively minor.

  • Trav

    Dutch Rikkers- they have been a few books on this issue like that where multiple views are presented. Have a look on Amazon.

  • PJJ

    “And after we’ve asked our questions and mightily wrestled with them, we can feel free to leave things we do not understand, things too wonderful for us, in the hands of a good God.”

    This is the same conclusion Rob Bell comes to. Why did you write a book AGAINST him?

  • Richard

    @ 98 Touche PJJ. I’d love to hear a thoughtful answer to that one…

  • Tim

    “The problem with the wording of Cook’s conclusion is this: It suggests that our job is to try to justify the ways of God.”

    Is this really what is being argued?

    Or is it rather, “Every part of my God-Stamped being screams out that this (fill in doctrine &/or interpretation of Biblical passage) is monstrous and unjust, therefore I just cannot believe it reflects accurately upon the character of a just and good God.”?

    One of my pet peeves is when some Christians, shifting into apologetic mode, say “Who are you to criticize God!”

    The vast majority of us don’t do this! We are simply criticizing views of God as inaccurate for various reasons (in this case, a moral one with respect to Jeff Cook’s argument).

    Does Mark Galli not get this? Seriously?