Erasing Hell (Jeff Cook) 2

This post is by Jeff Cook, and it examines how “desire” is connected to our view of the fate of the wicked.

Erasing Hell: On Desire   (Jeff Cook)

I realize some of you are tiring of this discussion, but I love the hell debate taking place this year. The dialogue is much bigger than the dark side of the afterlife. The questions being raised about hell cannot be separated from an analysis of God’s character, how we interpret scripture, how Christians disagree constructively, what we can know about God and his intentions, as well as the nature of goodness, justice and love. The central pillars of philosophy—epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics—as well as the heart of theology—God’s attributes and self-disclosure—are each under reconsideration because of this debate at the most popular levels of American Christianity—and that’s a great thing.

What does it tell us/you that many of us “wish” there wasn’t an eternal hell? Do you think God could have created a world in which there would be no hell? Why, then, do you think there is a hell?

Hell is making us all think really hard about God.

After reading Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up a handful of questions came to my mind and over the next month I would like to explore a few with you. These are not meant as a critique of Sprinkle and Chan’s book. Instead, Erasing Hell will serve as a launching point for considering beliefs I think Christians ought to be more critical of.

Let’s start with emotions and desires. Frequently in Erasing Hell, Sprinkle and Chan said they “did not” want hell to exist. For example:

“I would love to erase hell from the pages of scripture” (14), “I had to figure out if the Bible actually taught the existence of a literal hell. How great would it be if it didn’t” (14), “Do you want to believe in a God [who shows his power by punishing non-Christians forever]? Here’s my gut-level honest answer: No” (22), “I would love to think, as some have suggested, that the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about hell. I would love to stare at my friend’s face when asked that question we all fear—“do you think I’m going to hell?” and say “No! There is no such place!” (108) (See also 25, 72, 135).

Chan and Sprinkle are good, praise-worthy men, but let’s assume—as they do—that their intuitions concerning hell are skewed 180 degrees from those of God. Let’s further assume that God has decided to create a location of everlasting, conscious torment that will eventually be populated with no less than a couple million souls. And let’s also assume that there are some perfectly sane, exceedingly good and just reasons that God has for creating such a future for the damned.

If this interpretation of hell is best, there must be something worthwhile about hell that stands out to God, that He gravitates to, snaps his fingers and realizes, “Ahhh, that is the best possible option. I am going to create a world whose story ends with that kind of judgment, that kind of heaven, that kind of hell.” So what is it? Why is eternal conscious torment so compelling to God? What makes the creation of this kind of world with this kind of hell so “desirable”? It seems many of us begin in the same place as Chan and Sprinkle who confess, “What causes my heart to ache right now as I’m writing this is that my life shows little evidence that I actually believe this” (107).

Now, I fear some will say eternal conscious torment is God’s “only” option—as though an all-powerful being is in any way determined or that our God somehow lacks the creativity or foresight to avoid a world in which he must initiate a hell. Sprinkle and Chan do not make this mistake; they see God as significantly free (163). They know that God can eliminate human souls, he can save all, he can turn back history and erase the fall, he can allow the damned soul to pass into unconsciousness or out of existence (and on and on). Being both all-powerful and ridiculously inventive has a ton of benefits. Given the assumptions above, we must assume that God desires a world with everlasting torment.

In case it’s unclear what I would like to see, I’ll give you an example of what such answers might look like “since I do want a hell to exist.” As many of you know, I think the hell described in the Bible is the place where death, satan, and the souls of the damned are destroyed. This view is often called Annihilationism, and it strikes me as the best way to understand the numerous passages on hell, judgment and the future of the wicked. I have no trouble reconciling this view of hell with my ideas about justice, love, mercy, and the character of God. Consider (as an example of what I want from you in defense of eternal conscious torment) a few quick reason I desire a world with such a hell. On this view…

(1)   Hell is the end of all “death and mourning and crying and pain”, for hell is the end of evil.

(2)   Hell allows human freedom to reach its climax, for those desiring to live eternally have united themselves to the only Source of Life, those who have chosen sin as master have chosen to unite themselves to death—and everyone gets what they want.

(3)   Hell is supremely merciful. To end the life of someone who has irreversibly wed themselves to sin is an act of exceeding kindness (lest such souls continue on zombie-like for all eternity).

(4)   Hell allows God to punish a Stalin or a pornographer or a slave trader in exactly the right amount before allowing their souls to pass out of existence.

(5)   The location of hell is clear. Because Christ is reconciling all things to himself, there is no room in the cosmos for a location where sin and death continue their mastery.

I could go on, but these outcomes of hell seem both desirable to me, and I could see them being desirable to the all-knowing, supremely loving God when he decided—in the beginning—which reality he would actualize. These are the sorts of answers we need to provide thinkers like Chan and Sprinkle who confess they cannot get there and mourn deeply because of it (p. 14).

So bring it strong and pithy: Why has God thought (from the moment he selected the final outcome of our universe) that initiating the eternal conscious torment of a couple million souls was the best possible move? Why does God want such a hell to exist?

Of course if we can’t provide a very robust set of answers—even when speculating and without the constraints of “truth”—that might be just another red flag for the traditional view.

Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado, pastors Atlas Church (Greeley), and is the author of Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan, 2008) and Everything New (2012).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Peter

    Excellent. Thank you.

  • Bill Ferrell

    I am in substantial agreement with you on this. Good post.

  • http://brianmetzger.blogspot.com/ Brianmpei

    Clearly you have not read the Scripture that God’s ways are higher than our ways…jk.

    I held the “concious torment” view for a while – definitely all the way through Bible College – and yet I’m finding it impossible, so far, to come up with one reason that it’s desirable. A really good question.

  • EricW

    On the topic of hell, Rachel Held Evans has let an Orthodox Jew dialogue with her readers http://rachelheldevans.com/ask-an-orthodox-jew-response and here the response re: the Jewish view of death and hell, as told by the lady’s husband:

    From Kellen: Can you explain the Jewish perspective of what happens when we die? I’ve heard a few different things always explained by Christians, so I’m not sure if they’ve been Christianized or not.

    I’m going to let my husband handle this one, as he knows all the sources, etc.

    Michael says: What happens when we die is a fairly complicated question in Judaism. One of the thirteen fundamental principles of faith is that there will be a resurrection of the dead. However what happens from the time one is planted in the ground until the resurrection of the dead is a different story. I am going to go with the mainstream Jewish opinion today, and leave the dissenting opinions aside for the sake of clarity.

    When a person dies he undergoes a series of judgments in order to purify his soul from his unrepentant sins of this life. The first of those is the judgment of the grave. Soul stays with the body for 1yr and suffers as the body undergoes the initial stages of decay. This is a judgment that even most of the righteous go through.

    After that there are a series other judgments dependent upon one’s deeds. If one was not completely righteous, but is fortunate enough to be mostly so, he will be beaten a certain number of times by an angel with a fiery rod, in order to purify his soul, and then be able to ascend into Gan Eden to await the resurrection. If one was in between, or even wicked, he will descend into hell for one year. After which he will be given the choice of either being reincarnated into another body for a second go, or he can choose to descend into hell again for the full expiation of his sins. A wicked person(who is wicked in each subsequent life) will only be reincarnated three times, a person who improves each incarnation, up to 1000 times.

    Even then one may still need to have one’s sins expunged through the sufferings of hell. Then there are two grades of the wicked. The first spend one year in hell. They are in a sort of dirt nap until the resurrection, at which point they are resurrected, slain again, and their souls burned to ash which is trampled upon by the righteous. The greater gradation of the wicked are those who will suffer eternally, even after hell is abolished, they will continue to suffer.

    I have no idea from where or when these various ideas of hell entered Jewish thought, but if any of them do date back to the 1st century or before, even if they’ve evolved and changed somewhat over time, they might inform our reading of the NT texts on hell. After all, Jesus talks about wicked people being handed over to the torturers until they repay what they owe (Matthew 18:21-35), and about people being beaten with many or few blows, depending on their faithfulness and accountability for their sins (Luke 12:41-48).

  • Richard

    @ EricW. Intriguing thoughts from the contemporary Jewish perspective. I’m preaching on that Matthew 18 passage this Sunday and I observed that same concept in my early readthroughs.

    Re: God desiring hell, the bar gets even higher when we realize that many argue God does this for his own glory so eventually he will be wooing/convincing us of the desirability of ECT so we might glorify him because of it instead of wishing it weren’t so.

  • Joe Canner

    Eric #4: I posted on Rachel’s blog wondering that same thing (particularly the idea of reincarnation, which I didn’t realize was part of Judaism) and Ahava (or Michael) answered the question as follows:

    “Well, the idea of reincarnation goes back as far as Hillel, and the various punishments in hell are laid out in the Gemarra, which was codified around 550AD and the mishna which is from about 330AD. But most of the Jewish focus on afterlife is focused on the ressurection, who will be, who won’t be, etc.”

    I found their original post about the afterlife interesting as well, particularly because of the stark contrast with the Protestant all-or-nothing approach.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    The Jewish perspective is interesting, but Let’s stick with the question at hand.

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com Patricia Zell

    In order to see God sending people to hell for eternity, one has to see God as a double-minded despot. On one hand, He loves the world enough to send Christ to save the world–on the other hand, He is eager to toss people who don’t act in just the way or choose just the right choice into hell. I see a general disregard for the power of God’s love.

    What it appears that many are doing is taking certain things that Christ and other New Testament writers said and looking at in through the context of God being a double-minded despot. There are alternative meanings to what has been written. For example, the torture mentioned in Matthew 18, the outer darkness, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth could very well relate to the concept that when believers choose not to cleave to God, they will end up living like they were not even born again. Instead of living in light, they will live in darkness; instead of having joy, they will have weeping and gnashing of teeth; instead of experiencing blessings from God, they will receive cursings (torture) from the kingdom of evil.

    In order to believe that God will cast people into hell forever because they don’t have specific experiences in their lives, one has to completely overlook some definitive statements (i.e., statements that do not have alternative meanings) in the Bible. Here’s a list of some–study them and cross reference them:

    John 3:16

    I John 4:8

    I Corinthians 13:4-8

    James 1:13-17 (vs. 16 says “Do not be deceived [err], my beloved brethren”–what greater error is there than to think that God would be involved with something as evil as destroying a person’s soul in eternal hell.)

    Matthew 10:28-31 (Is Christ really saying that we should fear God because He can destroy our bodies and souls in hell and that we should not fear God because He has the very hairs on our head numbered? Talk about being double-minded!)

    John 10:10 (Who destroys and who gives life?)

    Isaiah 25:6-8

    Isaiah 45:22-24 (NASB)

    By the way, tell me how sending someone to be destroyed in hell would glorify God, especially when He has promised that all will swear allegiance to Him and that He will prepare a feast for all people, will swallow up death forever, and will wipe tears away from all faces? Anything less than all these things coming to pass would indicate that God had failed to achieve His purpose and could not be considered to be sovereign in any way.

  • Joe Canner

    I find this question (and the traditional answers to it) kind of like the “can God make a rock so big that He can’t move it?” conundrum. The traditional answer to the hell question is that God is infinitely holy and cannot have sin in His presence, therefore there needs to be a hell (or a Savior). However, this neither explains why it needs to be ECT nor why God is impotent to overcome this restriction.

    Perhaps our friends here who hold to the traditional view can elaborate and fix the logic here.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    It was studying what scripture says concerning Hell, the punishment of sin, and judgment that actually freed me to believe that Jesus really is the savior of all humanity, especially (not only) we who believe (1 Tim.4.10). I started the study believing that the doctrine of Hell was a solid rock upon which my theology and world view was built. As I subjected this “rock” to scrutiny though, I found it to be only sand packed together by human hands, like the sand-balls I’d make when I was a child growing up in Florida. The more I studied what scripture actually says concerning judgment and the punishment of sin, the more the sand slipped through my fingers. This freed me then to accept in faith the many precious promises of scripture that affirm the salvation of all humanity by grace. I came to understand punishment from God as being redemptive and restorative, like Lam.3.31-33 notes:

    31 For men are not cast off
    by the Lord forever.
    32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
    33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to the children of men.

    I came to believe that Daniel’s vision will come true:
    Dan.7:13-14 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

    Have you noticed that “Hell” is disappearing from English translations of the Bible. The Catholic Douay Rheims 1610 version had the word Hell in it 110 times. KJV corrected some of that and only has it 54 times. NKJV 32 times. Others only 12-14 times. And some do not have the word Hell in them at all, 0 times!

    Have you noticed that though Egypt had a type of Hell in their mythology, God did inspired Moses to not once warn of such a fate in all of the Law!

    Frankly, I didn’t “not” want there to be a Hell; I’m simply not that compassionate. I figured that surely many people deserved Hell. I also did not want to believe that Hell was a myth because if I came to believe that I knew deep down inside that I’d be rejected, thought and spoken evil of if I oppossed tradition. But the scriptural evidence compelled me to come to believe that Hell is a myth, not a biblical concept, and is used by the enemy to hinder people from seeing just how amazingly wonderful, gracious, and loving God is! And the myth of Hell hinders Christians from being as loving and accepting of others as they could be. The myth of Hell has and is used to control, denounce, exclude, and ridicule others who do not line up. It takes salvation and reduces it to being about whether one goes to heaven or hell, instead of being about participating in the present reality of the kingdom of God.

    Well, I could go on and on and on and on as to why I believe scripture affirms that love never fails, that Jesus really is the savior of all humanity, that Jesus truly does reconcile all of creation to God, that one day every knee shall bow in worship and every tongue joyfully proclaim allegiance to the King of kings, but I’ll stop for now.

  • LCG

    Is God’s punishment (and he does punish) more like a judge who demands justice and that a penalty be paid or more like a loving parent who punishes with the ultimate goal of redemption?

  • Adam

    @Patricia 8

    “By the way, tell me how sending someone to be destroyed in hell would glorify God, especially when He has promised that all will swear allegiance to Him and that He will prepare a feast for all people, will swallow up death forever, and will wipe tears away from all faces?”

    Let us not forget free will and the capacity of humans to choose. Jesus once said, “if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off for it is better to enter the kingdom maimed than to have the whole body tossed into the fire”.

    Let’s apply the same thinking to intangible attributes of humans. “If my greed causes me to sin, I should cut it off.” But what if I don’t want to? Do I get to enter heaven as a greedy person?

    I think it is right and desirable of God to destroy the greed and to destroy with greed any person who refuses to let go of it.

    In a similar thought to Jeff’s #2, if God is the source of life and he entirely removes his presence from hell, can anyone be alive or conscious while there? The only possible explanation I have to that is Rob Bell’s idea of second chances, meaning that Jesus has entered hell for all time and therefore offers a way out for all time. So, eternal conscious torment would be plausible if paired with eternal second chances and eternal refusal of Jesus.

  • Amos Paul

    On the one hand, I think that the ECT view of Hell *clearly* violates the Biblical concept of God’s Just Punishment because it has not restorative or redemptive purpose.

    Heb 12:6, The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

    Deut 8:5, Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

    Prov 3:11-12, My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

    Rev 3:19, Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

    Ps 94:12, Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law.

    Job 2:10, But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, I once heard it said that if Hell (the ability to ultimately reject God) does not exist, then free will does not exist. I find it ironic that the secular view of death is that we are just simply annihilated. In a sense, I wonder if people are choosing it?

  • Robert

    I hold to a traditional, evangelical view of Hell after having studied the topic and done thorough biblical exegesis to arrive at this conclusion.

    That said it makes me very uncomfortable. Hell should make us uncomfortable. The reality that people will end up outside of God’s best is never something we should rejoice in as believers. My personal efforts to reach others with the Gospel is due, in large part, because I hate thinking about friends and family in such a place.

    I am equally conflicted about the way the topic is being handled in both the traditional, evangelical viewpoint and the emerging progressive viewpoints. Bell’s book was, wait for it, a terrible attempt at the conversation. Now I haven’t had the time to read the new responses but I doubt they’ll be much better.

    Though I tend towards an annihilationist viewpoint after the eschaton, and I am not certain about those who have never heard, I still hold to the belief that there is a downside to the afterlife. That exists because we are all broken and we need Christ’s spiritual restoration through faith.

    At the end of the day my test for this whole thing ends up being: does your belief on the topic return you to worship and promulgate your outreach to those far from Christ?

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    Jeff,

    Looks like no one is taking you up on your challenge. Wonder why.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    If not for all the passages of scripture that to me seem to strongly affirm the salvation of all humanity, I too would believe in annihilationism. Annihilation seems to be the worst penalty for sin affirmed in scripture. For example, Jesus, knowing the Pharisee debate over whether or not the irredeemable were consigned to Gehenna indefinitely long or were annihilated after a period of suffering there, in warning the disciples to not fear man said for them to not fear man who could only kill the body, but fear Him who could destroy both the body and soul in Gehenna. Note though that he’s just noting the possibility of annihilation, not affirming that God will surely annihilate some people.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    So I’m holding my answers til noon. I will do my best to pitch some ideas that the traditional view proponent can hold to.

  • Scott Eaton

    Thank you, Jeff. That is one of the clearest and most concise explanations of the Annihilationist view I have ever read.

  • Kenton

    Jeff-

    I don’t know if this getting ahead of things or not, but let me turn your annihilation is better than ECT question back on you from the universalist perspective:

    Why has God thought (from the moment he selected the final outcome of our universe) that initiating annihilation of a couple million souls was the best possible move? Why does God want those souls to cease to exist?

  • Jayflm

    Jeff, I have come to believe that the Scripture teaches what you have laid out here. And I would add one bullet point to your list. “Hell provides a way for Christians to relate to those who do not believe with dignity and graciousness.” To borrow from Acts 13:46, if people “do not consider (them)selves worthy of eternal life,” we can leave them to their own ways without dehumanizing them. Manipulation and high pressure tactics that coerce the otherwise unwilling (not under conviction) to utter a prayer as a ‘get out of jail free’ card are not justified (as if they ever could be). Our salvation message is one of salvation to life, not salvation from ECT.

  • Josh Mueller

    I personally find the idea of just punishment before ultimately erasing conscious existence unconvincing. Yes, it would bring an end to evil and suffering in its own way but I don’t believe that’s the way love works and the way love ultimately triumphs. I think it is more likely that God may use an indefinite amount of time of intense suffering in inner isolation and the full blown effect of being confronted with one’s own evil inclination, in order to bring about a willful and joyful repentance and surrender in the very end. And who could object to this suffering if this was His way of working out His perfect will and desire for all of us?

  • megan

    Terrific post, Jeff. Thanks for leading the discussion in a constructive direction.

  • http://about.me/bkeithb Keith

    I agree with the Annihilationism view. A well written in-depth study of this view is Edward Fudge’s “The Fire that Consumes.” http://www.edwardfudge.com/written/fire.html

  • Dave P

    I do not believe in ECT, but in an attempt to answer the question I would offer this –

    1. ECT is an eternal display and reminder of God’s Holiness and His hatred of sin.?
    2 It is necessary because without it, we would not understand the the gift of Salvation. (again as an eternal reminder)?
    3. Just like we do not know Grace without the Law, Love without the presence of hate, Peace without the presence of discord and war, etc. – we would not fully understand the the fullness of God?

    4. idk ?

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Wow, comment number 21. Is anyone going to read this thing?

    Anyway, Jeff, thanks so much for your critical dialogue with our book. I’ve tried to stay off the blogosphere the last few weeks, but your engagement has been particularly helpful and compelling. I’m honored you’d take the time to help us think better–more biblically and theologically–through this very difficult issue.

    Let me respond to just a few things. First, in your previous post, you (inaccurately) say that we give a “dismissive wave” to annihilationism in the book. When I first read that, quite honestly I sat back and rubbed my eyes trying to figure out how you could gather that from reading the book. In all the hell passages discussed in the book, we only found 3 that seem to teach a never ending (or at least an ongoing) punishment. In fact, one of the surprising things we found in the study was how much biblical support there is for annihilationism. I won’t repeat the statistics, but I think we were pretty clear on this. Second, is there anything positive about being compelled exegetically to hold to never ending torment (3 passages are still there; the other “destruction” passages don’t preclude an ongoing punishment)? If we are right about those 3 passages (Matt 25, Rev 14, 20, BTW), and we tried to show that this was the best way to take them, then this means that God himself led the authors to say this. We tried really hard to take God at his word in the spirit of Isa 66:1-2. I almost get the sense that, according to your posts, this is not necessarily a good thing if his word doesn’t sit well with us. But this seems to be a crazy high view of our intellect. And third, first century Jews didn’t seem to have a problem with never ending punishment. This is the cradle that birthed Christianity. Yet (contrary to much popular opinion), Early Judaism upheld God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc. I know this isn’t an airtight argument, but it’s a decent one, isn’t it? We’re seeking to tether Christian doctrine to its historical roots.

    Again, I appreciate the dialogue! You’ve caused me to think and rethink a lot of stuff.

    Preston

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Sorry, when I begin to right, it was comment 21; not it’s 26, I think…hence the initial statement.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    (Note to self: proofread your comments before you hit post.) Embarrassing.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Once again, Jeff, you have raised questions about hell without a word about sin. Your framing of the question leaves it out altogether. Yet your answers assume it everywhere.

    From Kevin DeYoung,
    The punishment of the wicked in hell
    vindicates God’s honor (2 Thess. 1:5-12)
    avenges the persecuted church (Rev. 6:10)
    exposes the utter sinfulness of sin (2 Peter 3:11-13)
    upholds divine justice (Rev. 19:1-2)
    and makes known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy (Rom. 9:22-23)

    I would only add that an eternal hell is the best option because it gives us the largest possible motive for love and forgiveness since “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47; cf. Matt 18:21-34). The measure of our forgiven sin, according to Jesus, will become the measure of our love for others. Did Jesus save me from an infinite problem or from a finite problem? The former necessarily gives me greater reason for love and praise than the latter. So it is better by far that hell be infinite than finite.

    A question for the annihilationists: Why doesn’t God let the Stalins, the pornographers, and the slave traders into heaven after he’s punished them “in exactly the right amount”?

  • Joe Canner

    Kenton #19: I agree with you; while annihilation seems to fit the Scriptures better than ECT, it seems counter-intuitive that God would resurrect everyone just to destroy them, not to mention that those who are destroyed are His creation, made in his image.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    I could never be passionate about a God of ETC. It’s aking to Descartes questioning whether our “God” is actually an evil demon. If ETC holds true, then perhaps he is.

    On another note, Scot, you were awfully critical of Rob’s book, isn’t it only fair to be at least somewhat critical of the responses?

  • Kenton

    Preston (25 & 26)

    I don’t see any of your comments, but please jump in!

    Also, was “begin to right” (as opposed to “write”) a Freudian slip? :)

  • Kenton

    Whoops! Now I see it.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Peter G, (28)

    Why wouldnt God let the Stalinists into Heaven once they have been correctively punished, and the sin in them is no more? This is th foundation of Universalism.

    ‎”It takes a certain courage to look at what the Bible teaches, not like it all that much, and still believe it.” -Kevin DeYoung

    Is that the kind of faith we want? how can we be passionate about a God who demands us to accept such a bitter, shallow world view? We should be attracted to God because of his love and beauty, not his strength and power, which amounts to sycophancy.

  • Patrick

    Until I am convinced otherwise, I believe lost people will receive exactly what they chose on earth and that is not the God of the Bible and His virtues.

    They may be seen to live w/o God and His virtues as that was their free volition option. God did not create robots and IMO this is not punishment, it is honoring their free will.

    The fiery hell idea is obviously apocalyptic genre and not literal, Jesus always spoke with metaphorical language until the night before His crucifixion.

    As I see it, these unbelieving folks are like the Pharisees when Jesus offered them the parable of the wicked tenants, they pronounced their own judgment and received it in 70 AD, too.

    I could accept annihilationism if I saw some textual reason for it. Right now I just don’t.

  • Kenton

    Preston-

    I haven’t read your book, but based on your comment above, would it be fair to say that if Matt 25, Rev 14 and Rev 20 could be deconstructed to mean something other than ECT, then annihilation fits the biblical framework?

  • http://paulstewart.typepad.com Paul

    Jeff,

    The question, I think, really has to do with the nature of the human soul. Most traditionalists believe the Bible teaches our souls will go on forever. While, I would argue that this is a Greek philosophical concept that became a part of accepted Christian doctrine, before you can talk about annihilation you have to show how this is biblically possible.

    If one believes that human souls are intrinsically immortal and hell exists, it follows that the wicked will have to suffer consciously forever in it. If the soul is naturally immortal, it has to spend eternity somewhere. If there is a lake of fire, then hell has to be a condition of eternal conscious torment.

    On the other hand if humans were made mortal, with everlasting life being a gift, not a natural capacity. If God created human beings with the intention of living eternally with Him, but when sin entered the world, death came along with it – this being both a physical and spiritual death resulting, without Christ, in eternal destruction (Matt 10:28) – then I think the case for annihilation makes a lot of sense.

    Paul

  • Joe Canner

    Preston #25: Thanks for sticking your head in the lion’s mouth! Does the book discuss the first century Judaism view of hell (sorry, I’m working through the book slowly and have only finished Chapter 1)? If not, can you point us to some references? How does this compare with the later views (300-500 AD) as presented in post #4 above?

  • Charlie O

    “Let’s start with emotions and desires. Frequently in Erasing Hell, Sprinkle and Chan said they “did not” want hell to exist…”

    A fascinating question is why hell as eternal conscious torment makes really sincere Christians of all stripes queasy – once deeply pondered. So why the all the dispeptic discomfort and wishing it weren’t so?

    Much like the “Lord, liar or lunatic” logic argument about Jesus’ claims of messiahship; trusting that the Bible accurately represents God, it seems there are only three possible reasons why even the most staunch defenders of ECT race to say how they wish the scriptures said something different:
    1. Sin stubbornly obscures even the most Christ-like believer’s ability to grasp the ultimate goodness/justice of ECT.
    2. Humans are capable of being more merciful and compassionate than God.
    3. The doctrine of ECT is false.

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    Bo (34) and eveyone else too I guess,

    I also think much of this dialogue comes down to how we view Scripture (i.e. its inerrancy, inspiration, authority).

    I say this, because I think that DeYoung’s point is that if the Bible is teaching it (ECP/T), and we are viewing the Bible as inerrant, inspired, and authoritative, then we have to be able to reconcile the “hard texts”. In other words, I need to be passionate about the God of the Bible, to include his attributes that might be hard to understand, because I am believing that the Bible is inerrant, inspired, and authoritative.

    I suppose that is one of the main reasons why I struggle with those holding to Universalism or Annihilationism – they seem to be unable to reconcile or respond to the various texts that speak to ECP/T.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Bo, did you read all of DeYoung’s post or just that line? As he says later, “God is good and his ways are always right. It is a measure of our maturity that we not only affirm the truth of God’s word but rest in the goodness and rightness of it.” So I don’t think he disagrees that the God revealed in Scripture is beautiful and attractive. Perhaps it is a measure of how unoffensive we find evil that a God who sends wicked people there is distasteful to us.

  • Adam

    @Paul #36

    I like the question you ask. The way that the human soul is popularly presented is kind of saying, “there is no death”. The physical you may “die” but the real you always lives, somewhere. Is that idea biblical or is death more real than that?

    One possible explanation for ECT could be that, since death doesn’t actually exist we need a fitting punishment for sin. But if death really does exist then ECT is either absurd or unnecessary.

  • Kenton

    Daniel (#39)-

    Good comment.

    I think one of the issues underlying this one is the issue of how we read and understand scripture. I know many of the universalists commenting here have taken the approach Brian McLaren has advocated (see “A New Kind of Christianity” in the section called “The Authority Question”), i.e. one that view the bible as a library and not as a constitution.

    I think this difference is one of the reasons everyone seems to be talking past each other.

  • heathb

    “I would only add that an eternal hell is the best option because it gives us the largest possible motive for love and forgiveness…”

    Is fear really much of a motive for love? Do we really need eternal torment to truly make us appreciate the love of God?

  • Joseph

    what if God, when ‘creating’ the human race, did in fact deposit part of His essence in it…

    that ‘essence’ once given resides with the creature it was divinely given to…

    because of that, such a creature intended+designed to live (exist?) forever…

    God cannot annihilate His essence, even the most infinitesimal part of Himself. He can ‘share’ His nature, but He cannot erase any of it…

    if so, then the fact that all humanity was indeed created in His image & given “the breath of life” from the source of all existence can mean that He saw the risk worth it from the standpoint of who will eventually enjoy their eternity in His presence…

    just thinking out loud here…

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Peter, I can’t trust that a God who acts like a cosmic Hitler, sending those who do not reciprocate his love, to an eternal concentration camp. Actually Hitler had Goebbels convince the German people to trust him, too. I don’t see how God can blame me, or anyone else, for not liking him, not serving him, and be unfulfilled by him, if our perception of him is so woefully distorted. If God gave me this brain, these perceptions, then I perceive DeYoung’s God as the epitome of evil. How could I “choose” to otherwise? Fake it til I make it? I tried that for years. I thought God sought loving relationship, not blind, disgruntled followers?

    Daniel, youre absolutely right. I cannot reconcile all BIblical texts, especially the Hell parts. My view, universalism, does NOT take into account all verses pertaining to the subject because after reflection, it seems that such a goal is impossible. The Bible simply does not agree with itself, and I let the character of Jesus, the fully revealed God, to dictate or guide my view of how God treats his children. That being said, th extension of my view is simply that exclusionists or ETC people, even annhilationists, are doing the same, i.e. picking and choosing which verses to privilege over others to further their agenda (and I don’t mean that pejoratively).

  • Jayflm

    Daniel (#39), I too believe the Bible to be authoritative. And I find a preponderance of Scriptural references to ‘death’, ‘destruction’ and ‘perishing’ as the fate of the unredeemed. I find the absence of any ‘avoiding hell’ theme in the evangelistic messages in Acts and the epistles compelling. These things, coupled with a decision that the the word ‘aionios’ can be translated as a location in time (of an age) rather than merely a duration of time (everlasting) make it easy for me to say that I am moved to embrace Annihilationism (conditional immortality) by my deep commitment to the truth of scripture, not because of any rejection of its authority.

  • http://ypinabby.blogspot.com ahaak

    @Preston

    Thanks for joining the dialogue. EXTREMELY commendable!

    May I suggest a roundtable discussion of Chan / Sprinkle, Bell, and Cook (with Scot mediating of course)!

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    Bo,

    As Kenton (42) affirmed, it is be difficult to engage in this type of conversation when one doesn’t hold to the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible wholly, for that is where I am coming from. Otherwise, we are just talking past each other.

    Despite that we might be speaking different languages, regarding your comment to Peter, I think you should take another look at the NT theme of reciprocity, one that, in my estimation, is often overlooked (see http://www.amazon.com/Honor-Patronage-Kinship-Purity-Unlocking/dp/0830815724).

    Also, despite your claim, I do not feel as though I am allowing ECP/T texts to trump other texts. I firmly believe that I am allowing the texts to speak for themselves. Part of this reconcilation comes from Rom. 9:21ff.

    Also, Scot/Jeff did you delete my initial post? I know it was long, but was it not beneficial to the conversation?

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    Jayflm (46)

    We ought to note that there are two different words (and their many derivatives) used to address “an age” or “eternity”: aion and aionios. With that said, we ought to next look at how these terms are defined. All definitions are taken from BDAG.

    Aion has four definitions: (1) a long period of time, without reference to beginning or end (of time gone by/the past/earliest times, or of time to come which, if it has no end, is also known as eternity); (2) a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age (the present age or the age to come); (3) the world as a spatial concept; and (4) the Aeon as a person.

    Aionios has three definitions: (1) pertaining to a long period of time, long ago; (2) pertaining to a period of time without beginning or end, eternal; and (3) pertaining to a period of unending duration, without end.

    With those definitions in place, it would certainly seem absurd to attempt to persuade someone that aion never has a temporal sense, as the following texts demonstrate: Luke 20:34-35; John 9:32; Acts 15:18; Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:8; et al. All of these texts (and many more) certainly point toward a temporal or historic sense when using the word aion.

    However, the issue at hand is whether, at times, aion, aionios, and their derivatives can have a non-temporal meaning (i.e. specifically, contextually and correctly defining the term as eternal, eternity or everlasting). For instance, consider the following texts:

    Rom. 9:5 – will God’s praise be only temporary?

    Rom. 11:36; 16:27; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 4:20 – will God’s glory be only for an age?

    2 Cor. 9:9 – is God’s righteousness momentary?

    Based on this evidence, is anyone really willing to continue arguing that aion, aionios, and their derivatives do not, at times, convey a non-temporal sense?

    Therefore, if we are willing to concede that there might be instances where the sense is non-temporal, then, what should follow is a reminder that we ought to read, interpret and understand Scripture in its context. In other words, we ought to translate aion, aionios, and their derivatives as temporal when it fits contextually (e.g. Luke 20:34-35), and as non-temporal when it fits contextually (e.g. 2 Cor. 9:9).

    Moving now to two specific New Testament texts:

    In Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:31ff, the term aionion is used, which Jesus uses both to point to the eternal life of the righteous and eternal punishment of the cursed (Matt. 25:41, 46). Therefore, if we are to read this portion of Scripture in context, unless we are going to conclude that the eternal life of the righteous is also temporal, we must conclude, rather, that the eternal life of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the cursed are, in fact, eternal. Moreover, Jesus uses the same word aionion to address the “eternal fire” reserved for the “cursed”.

    Next, within Revelation 20:10, John uses the phrase tous aionos ton aionon (translated “for ever and ever”), to describe the eternal torment received within “the lake of fire and brimstone”. Now, those who wish to argue for a temporal meaning of this phrase must also consider Revelation 22:5, which describes the eternal, or unending, reign of God’s servants. Therefore, if an argument is made for the temporal nature of the torments of hell in Revelation 20:10, then we must conclude that the reign of God’s servants in Revelation 22:5 is also temporal. Surely, no one is willing to contend for that part of the argument.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Kenton (#35): yes, it certainly would. And believe me, I tried. About 1/2 way through writing the book, I actually wanted the Bible to teach annihilation and tried to see if this view could reflect the language of those passages. But I just felt that I would be dishonest with my own exegesis if I forced it. So we still landed, albeit cautiously (contra Cook), on never-ending punishment.

    Joe (#37), yes it does. In fact, the first century Jewish view of hell was one of the main arguments in the book.

    Charlie (#38), your statement needs modification: “A fascinating question is why hell as eternal conscious torment makes really sincere Christians of all stripes queasy.” Your statement “sincere Christians” should be “sincere modern Christians living in the West.” For the bulk of historic global Christianity, including Catholic and Orthodox believers, never-ending punishment was, and is, widely accepted–and embraced. Our rejection of hell (generally speaking) is a modern one. Christians in the past may have been queasy, but they still embraced it.

  • Dana Ames

    What Josh Mueller @21 said.

    Dana

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (19) Kenton. Ah! Its off topic, but it’s catnip! You ask, “Why has God thought (from the moment he selected the final outcome of our universe) that initiating annihilation of a couple million souls was the best possible move? Why does God want those souls to cease to exist?”

    Alright. Brief argument. (1) It could be the case that all souls destroyed in hell will never freely choose God, (2) It could be the case that God knows that this world contains the precise family of children that God wants to birth, and (3) It could be the case that all the damned souls contribute to the formation and direction of each and every child of God, now, in a way that makes them the sort of child God wished to create. As such this world is necessary (as is with both the redeemed and the damned) to birth the family God wishes to create forever.

    Here’s an important point: God has not done any damned soul any wrong by creating them, nor letting them go out of existence. They have had the opportunity to choose life, and their biological life is a substantial gift in and of itself (That is, better to live and die, then not to have lived at all). As such, God has actually done a great good to all those who will not choose life, even though they will inevitably die.

    There’s a brief start. These answers could be developed far more. Much love.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Daniel, (48)

    I appreciate the recommendation and the honesty. I think you’re right about the belief in inherency being the real kind of wizard behind the curtain here. I and other “liberal” Christian have no problem (justifiably, in our view) putting many parts of the Bible “in context” of the narrative or attributing aspects to personal opinions of the writers, not absolute, unadulterated truth. I’m not here to debate the role of scripture, but yes, how we regard it is going to be tantamount to having a meaningful dialogue.

    But as for the classic universalist texts, you really can incorporate them into your view? Rom 5:18, 11:32, 1 Tim 2:4 (depending on translation), 1 Tim 4:10, Col 1:20 (ALL things!) 2 Peter 3:9, Eph 1:10, Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Cor 15:22 to name a few!

    I dont want to debate each and everyone, and perhaps some can be explained away, but in some of these passages, (and I am not proof texting, but also assuming their place in the book which they are written) seem quite clear about the destiny of all people! But hey, as always, I could be wrong!

  • Luke Allison

    I’m still not sure that everyone means the same thing when they say “eternal conscious torment.” You still seem to be assuming that ECM means “eternal conscious TORTURE”, and envision a cavernous kingdom of pain, whips, spikes, and physical flames. Torment doesn’t have to come from an outside source at all.

    Here’s where I’ll agree with you: Negative Judgment (I prefer this term to Hell, since it’s more Biblical) is far more complex than “these people go to Hell, and these people don’t”. I’ve studied the Scriptures as much as any good seminarian, and I’m still leaning towards something like ECT as what I see there, but don’t count out Annihilationism either. Because, hey, if it’s good enough for John Stott, it’s good enough for me.

    One question, though: Are we convinced that punishment must always be “restorative” rather than “punitive”? I seem to sense that undercurrent in a lot of these arguments. We tend to assume that our modern penal system is the universally, historically superior model. Do we know this to be true? Do we know for a fact that prison time is more humane than, say, 10 lashes or a good caning? I feel like a lot of this argument can be fueled by unexamined assumptions about the superiority of our modern “civilization”.

    Until we’re willing to address those, I don’t know if these conversations will ever go anywhere.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (25) Preston Sprinkle.

    Thank you for responding here! Let me say to all (since it didn’t come out in my response), I was encouraged by the fact that you guys (Sprinkle and Chan) did put annihilation out front as an orthodox option. Please hear my bold “THANK YOU.” As you may know, a few of us have suffered a great deal for supporting this view of hell—losing jobs, losing book contracts, being placed on the fringes by people we respect, etc.—and to have you guys (and those like Mark Galli and Scot McKnight) stand up and say that the annihilationist view is not off-limits is a big deal.

    And I am personally very grateful.

    Now, I do defend the “dismissive wave” comment. On 107, there is an all too brief argument against the annihilationist interpretation of passages like Matt 25, Rev 14 and 20. There has been robust work done on those passages, and the position simply doesn’t fold that easily. On page 86, you encourage your readers not to get caught up in the “duration debate”, but this seems a massive issue in terms of thinking through hell from the apologist perspective (and that was why I put it forward in my response as a place work must be done be somebody). You guys wrote a serious book, and it seems to me that you ought to have given more time to the position if there was going to be a critique.

    The thing I struggled with most in Erasing Hell, and the reason for the present post, is that it seems you guys assume through the Erasing Hell text that “hell” means eternal conscious torment—and because of that consistently hit the emotional difficulties copied above. But why not think God shares such emotional anguish with such a future, and would therefore choose a different future? What possible reason does God have for going down that path? If no good answer is forthcoming, it gives us a *good* reason for thinking our interpretation of hell as eternal conscious torment is flawed.

    And that is the primary problem in my mind.

    You said, “I almost get the sense that, according to your posts, [taking God at his word] is not necessarily a good thing if his word doesn’t sit well with us. But this seems to be a crazy high view of our intellect.”

    It seems to me (and I would love your response) that we all read the scriptures through our differing interpretative glasses. That is, all interpretations of the scripture are theory dependent. Our philosophical and hermeneutical precommitments must be established in order to read God’s Word at all—but these precommitments must arise from our intellects. The fallibility/reliability of scripture is not at issue. It is the fallibility/reliability of *our reading* of scripture that’s the problem.

    This is, by the way, the reason I though Chapter 2 was the strongest part of your book. You are making an argument for HOW we read the passages about hell. It is a thoroughly *intellectual* appeal asking us to reconsider how we engage a first century text. (Also, there’s nothing wrong with thinking our intellects are worthy places to seek and discover truth. I’m not sure what the flip side would be.)

    On your third point, I need to relook, but it seemed *most* of the references to unending punishment you cited came from the second century. Am I wrong there?

    With that said congratulations on your recent successes! May God bless your efforts and the work of your hands.

  • Adam

    @Preston #50

    I’ll just add this one quote but there are many like from the same time period, but the rejection of hell is neither western nor modern.

    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.)

  • Perry

    What if, in God’s order of prioritizing the history of the world, he first decided that the souls of men would be immortal and indestructible, and that everything that happened after that must be subservient to that reality? Do we not already presume this to be the case of the angelic race? They too are eternal, conscious, morally accountable beings, capable of suffering. Therefore, all of the arguments against ECT must fairly be applied to them as well. If fallen angels can be consigned to ECT (which the Bible clearly supports), then there is no logical reason why humans cannot be also. All of the same arguments should apply to them – including Satan himself. Any thoughts?

  • Robert

    Hey Jeff,

    First I love this discussion as it is very close to my own religious/spiritual experience. As I have read through this article, other articles, and listened to your thoughts on this in a class room setting I believe that your version of hell seems based on the notion of justice which is one path that a person can use to approach this subject. It is difficult I think to look at the world and not see people people who deserve justice to be brought upon them. Murders, rapist, child-molesters, and so many more. When we look at a world so full of these people then hell does seem to be a just thing that God could do, punishing the wicked in the end, or in your version mercifully doing so by letting them ‘die’ so to speak rather than suffer torments for ever.

    However when I look at this version of hell and the reasons for its creation I think we don’t not get past the problem of hell even this version of hell being incompatible with Gods character. You wrote about how hell is the ‘climax of human freedom’ allowing those who worshiped life to continue on and “those who have chosen sin as master have chosen to unite themselves to death”. This may be true for the before mentioned murders and rapist but I think for few others. I know that you have herd the argument for the moral atheist before so I will set that aside for now, but what about the immoral Christian?

    If I may assume that your belief that what keeps a person from hell (annihilation) is the belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ as lord and savior than the path to heaven seems exceptionally easy. Those same murders and rapist can simply recant and be saved and there damning sins are washed clean. Then I ask what about people like Fred Phelps the leader of the West-bro Baptist church, or perhaps an little less controversial the members of the inquisition who burned millions of women for God. Surly these people qualify as those who have worshiped sin and are more than worthy of the eternal death that you described. But according to the good book and what I understand to be your own beliefs they possess the cosmic get out of jail free card, and we can expect to see them in the after life.

    This is a just God? Either God has created a state of punishment that is not meted out fairly or justly to every one, or the only just action that you can make in life is to believe in God making all of Jesus’s teachings on how to live a good life mute, so it shouldn’t matter if I am a pornographer or a murder as long as I have been ‘saved’.

    As I write this I do my best to look at my motives, and yes a great deal of my own problems with any idea of hell is how often others have condemned me to it, but under that the largest problem that I have with hell is how much it seems to me to pervert the Christian psyche. I ask if when we die and we stand before the creator and if we were told that we got this whole idea about hell wrong that every body who ever lived no matter what had come to join God in eternity how many of our fellow Christians would be happy about this?

    I think hell is a Christians last laugh, we want to see people go to hell because it helps us through our day. Hell provides Christians with a sense of righteousness of I am better than you because you are going to hell. It allows us to rejoice at the death of another person because then finely justice is served. Is this not a perversion of Christ teaching? If there truly is a hell in one form or another should we not weep at every death no matter the person?

    As I said I have personal bias with the idea of hell, but truly Jeff I find hell to be the most unchristian notion out there, and if we are going to say that it is compatible with a just God than I say that Gods justice is incompatible with his goodness.

  • JoeyS

    @ Preston Sprinkle,

    I just wanted to thank you for responding here. I think your contribution will be great to understanding these issues more in depth!

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Jeff, it’s “hotwing day” at Famous Daves, so I’m off to indulge in some greasy delights. I’ll respond to your very good questions in a couple hours.

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    Jeff (55),

    Although I would agree that part of the issue, which I did not specify in my comment (39), is how we read Scripture, I would disagree with your comment that these issues are not about the fallibiliy/reliability of scripture. Your comment presupposes that all those invested in this dialogue affirm all Scripture as inerrant, infallible, etc. If someone does not affirm this, then the conversation becomes very difficult, because which parts of Scripture do we affirm and which do we leave out.

    Also, outside of E. Fudge’s works, what are some other reputable works that provide exegetical arguments for Matt. 25, Rev. 14 and 20?

  • JoeyS

    @ 61 Daniel J. Fick, though not a “resource” exactly, Ben Witherington seems to learn towards annihilationism and gives some reasons why here: http://www.patheos.com/community/bibleandculture/2011/03/18/mt-10-28-why-anihilationism-is-not-universalism/

    The comments are an important part of this read, btw.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Peter (28),

    A question for the annihilationists: Why doesn’t God let the Stalins, the pornographers, and the slave traders into heaven after he’s punished them “in exactly the right amount”?

    Because the wages of sin is death. That’s like asking “after we’ve properly punished the mass-murderer with capital punishment, why can’t we let him go free?”

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Daniel (49),

    Therefore, if we are to read this portion of Scripture in context, unless we are going to conclude that the eternal life of the righteous is also temporal, we must conclude, rather, that the eternal life of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the cursed are, in fact, eternal.

    Conditionalists affirm that the punishment lasts forever. Matthew 25:46 speaks to the duration of the punishment, not its nature. The punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that punishment will last forever. This text poses no threat to conditionalism.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Preston (50),

    Our rejection of hell (generally speaking) is a modern one.

    That’s more than a little overstated. In the Enchiridion, Augustine comments,

    It is quite in vain, then, that some—indeed very many—yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture—but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth. “God will not forget,” they say, “to show mercy, nor in his anger will he shut up his mercy.”

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    To answer my introductory question, here’s my best shot.

    (1) God desires to create children of God.
    (2) It could be the case that a potential child of God by nature must be eternal. That is, it could be the case that a potential child of God *must be created eternal* at the outset.
    (3) Creating a space in which a human being can be “thrown into the darkness outside” is God’s only option if:
    (a) a potential child of God clings to sin indefinitely as master (for transformation into a child of God requires one’s will),
    and (b) God desires to make an eternal dwelling for himself and his children that is sin free.

    As such, in order to create sons and daughters at all who freely choose to become his children, God must create a state of affairs in which the possibility of everlasting separation is possible.

    There’s my best shot. I think it fails, but I won’t tell you why. :)

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (61) Daniel. I was thinking of Greg Boyd who has done substantial work on this problem both online and in a few of his books. Peace.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Ronnie (63), so you’re including the annihilation as part of the “exactly right amount of punishment?” Jeff Cook doesn’t seem to do that since he says annihilation follows the exact right amount of punishment.

    Hell allows God to punish a Stalin or a pornographer or a slave trader in exactly the right amount before allowing their souls to pass out of existence.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Josh (21). You said, “I think it is more likely that God may use an indefinite amount of time of intense suffering in inner isolation and the full blown effect of being confronted with one’s own evil inclination, in order to bring about a willful and joyful repentance and surrender in the very end.”

    It seems like your prescription is manipulation through pain, and surely such manipulation is not love, ya? But without such pain and isolation it seems the damned soul has no reason to return, and so universal salvation is not gauranteed. (Also, I think Scot and other’s critique of the universalist interpretation of passages are pretty convincing) Much love.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Peter (28). It seems the first 5 reasons you give need not see hell as eternal. I can affirm all of these reasons as an annihilationist.

    On the answer “Did Jesus save me from an infinite problem or from a finite problem? The former necessarily gives me greater reason for love and praise than the latter. So it is better by far that hell be infinite than finite.”

    As furthering thought: surely given this argument it would be better for God to not only punish me for eternity for my unforgiven sin, but to likewise punish both of my children for eternity as well. Yeah? Any reason to reject that escalation?

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Jeff (#55),

    Again, great questions and concerns. Thanks again for continually challenging me. Here’s a brief response.

    Re: Annihilationism. Our intention in the book was not to present a thorough argument against annihilationism, but to argue for the existence of a real end-time, post judgment, place of judgment for those who don’t believe in Jesus. That was the main point. We tried not to make the duration a major point of the argument. That’s why in chaps. 2-3 we tried to show that both Early Judaism and Jesus allowed for both annihilation and everlasting punishment. Either one of these supports out main argument, though, for exegetical reasons we landed on the never ending side. Yes, I worked through Fudge’s fine book, and especially Earle Ellis’s short article on Annihilationism. (If you haven’t read this, you need to. It’s an incredibly good defense!) But since the duration of hell was not our main concern, and since we had to cover a lot of other stuff in less than 30k words (!), and since I was already over 100 endnotes in a popular level book, I had to keep my interaction with annihilationists to a minimum. In no way do I claim to have thoroughly refuted annihilationism. We simply tried to offer a few easy to understand reasons why we landed on the never ending view.

    But even here, we said that Jesus’ statements about “everlasting fire,” the “furnace of fire,” and Paul’s phrase “everlasting destruction” don’t in themselves mean that hell lasts forever. I even said (at least I think I did) that Paul, in his 13 letters, never explicitly taught that hell was forever (he never even used the term hell). I was expecting to get a lot of beef from the T4G crowd, not the annihilationists!

    And so at times I guess we did assume that “hell” means “never ending punishment,” but that was intended to be the fruit of our exegetical arguments, not presupposed as we began the study. But I’m ready to admit that we could have made this clearer.

    Is this fair? If the book didn’t make all this explicit, then that’s my fault. At least you now know my intentions.

    Now, to the very important issue of interpreting scripture with our own bias. Man, we should dialogue further about this over email, but here’s my 2 cents. We all interpret the Bible through our own biases; we all have cultural baggage; there is no way to read Scripture as if we were on a desert island. (And my co-author and I might have slightly different views on this.) But, can we say that some interpreters make more of an effort to minimize the baggage? Do some let their presuppositions dictate their exegesis more than others? I think they do.

    For myself, I teach at an institution that would be totally fine if I was an annihilationist if I argued it from Scripture. The church where I serve would be pretty much the same. (I’m in a weird place where we are insanely biblical, in practice not just in theory.) Personally, I like the annihilationist position better than the everlasting torment position. I have NOTHING holding me back from embracing it. My friends would be cool with it (many of them are already there), my wife would be cool with it. My job, family, and church would all be fine with it. And I think it’s a valid Evangelical position. The only thing holding me back are those three passages and the exegetical arguments that I found better support never ending punishment (not to mention that this does seem to be the dominant Jewish view). So yes, my reading is fallible and in theory it may be governed by some precommitments (and doctrinal statements!). But I honestly have very few tangible precommitments that foster my view of hell.

    Is that fair to say? Some will say that sounds arrogant, I don’t know. But that’s what I mean by saying that something’s got to be said for letting the text dictate your beliefs. I’m certainly not trying to return to some sort of weird foundationalist hermeneutic. But you’re the philosopher, so tell me if I’m way off base!

    I don’t think that most of the Jewish never ending punishment passages came from the 2nd cent. Many of them come from 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra which together span 200BC–AD100. 2 Enoch is difficult to date. The DSS seem to present both views.

    Great dialogue, brother! Keep up the good work.

    Grace,

    p

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Joe (29). Perhaps resurrecting the damned is due to the specific punishments they must experience for their temporary sins before annihilation.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Peter (68), I can’t speak for Jeff. The conditionalist position is, and always has been, that the necessary and primary punishment for sin is death/total destruction. As with executions in this life, the death may be preceded by attendant penal pain and suffering in some cases.

  • KJ

    Jeff, I think you need to simply consider the platypus.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (33) Bo. You ask, “Why wouldnt God let the Stalinists into Heaven once they have been correctively punished, and the sin in them is no more?” At such times, they still have yet to desire union with God, and again it seems to me that God is not wronging anyone but allowing them to pass out of existence (for the wages of sin is death). But I am open to God using that time purgatorily if he desires, for who ever he desires. Peace.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Ronnie (60) and Adam (56).

    True, when the canon was still being formed (AD 100-400), there were some annihilationsists, but never ending punishment was still the dominant position among early church fathers. Even fewer followed Origin. But from Augustine to the 18th century, never ending punishment was the dominant position by a landslide. I guess that’s all I was trying to say.

    And we really need to drop the “eternal” language. It means outside of time and is way too Platonic. Aionios means (in many instances, at least) “everlasting” not “eternal”–there’s a big difference. Hell is not eternal; God is eternal, even if hell may be aionios, “everlasting.”

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Daniel (49),

    Revelation 20:10 is a symbolic vision. It is not intended to be interpreted literally. Since you copied that from your blog, I’ll copy and paste 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.

  • Patrick

    “Death and hell were cast into the lake of fire”.

    That sole apocalyptic line is the only one that leads me to think hell is both “ending and not the lake of fire”.

    Might be more, if I were an annihilationist, this would be why.

  • Richard

    @ Jeff

    You said, “Perhaps resurrecting the damned is due to the specific punishments they must experience for their temporary sins before annihilation.”

    Am I correct in understanding you to mean that as an annihilationist you hold there will be a temporary punishment of the lost before they’re destroyed?

    If that’s the case, is the concept of post-mortem repentance the only thing that keeps you from swinging toward Universal Reconciliation? What’s to say the damned don’t cry out for mercy as a result of their punishment and God gives it to them?

    In my mind, the “everlasting” [aion] is the challenge for the UR crowd and the annihilation proponents. And if we’re talking about the most desirable end to the story, doesn’t God say multiple times that his desire is that all be saved and sinners come to repentance?

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Preston (75),

    But from Augustine to the 18th century, never ending punishment was the dominant position

    I grant that. I was just showing that rejection of hell (meaning eternal torment) is by no means a modern phenomenon; as according to Augustine, it was rejected by “very many” even as last at the fifth century.

    I agree that aionios should be translated as “everlasting” when speaking of things that are extended forever only forward in time, and not back.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Patrick (78), that’s actually a mistranslation. It’s “death and hades” that are thrown into the lake.

  • Patrick

    Ronnie,

    I assumed they were the same idea just different terms?

  • Charlie O

    Jeff – this has been a very good, thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    About your reason #3: Hell is supremely merciful. To end the life of someone who has irreversibly wed themselves to sin is an act of exceeding kindness…”

    Can we just call this the Old Yeller argument?

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Patrick (82),
    No, NT uses hades to refer to what the OT calls sheol. In fact, the LXX translates sheol as hades. “Hell” is the normal English translation for gehenna which is different concept altogether.

    On that note, gehenna should be transliterated instead of translated since it’s a proper noun. “Hell” just has too much cultural baggage associated with it. This is just one example of how English translations themselves are biased towards the idea of everlasting torment.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Peter (28). It seems the first 5 reasons you give need not see hell as eternal. I can affirm all of these reasons as an annihilationist.

    Okay, so do they not count then? Also I’m not sure you can affirm #4–exposes the utter sinfulness of sin–the same way. I would like to be shown how sin weighs as much in the annihilationist view as it does in the traditionalist view. And if it does then why is one view better than the other?

    As furthering thought: surely given this argument it would be better for God to not only punish me for eternity for my unforgiven sin, but to likewise punish both of my children for eternity as well. Yeah? Any reason to reject that escalation?

    Huh? I don’t follow you. I don’t see a connection between my argument and your proposed escalation.

    As a sidenote, thanks for engaging here in the comments. It keeps things lively and interesting.

  • Kenton

    And like a lot of the related posts on this blog we come back to the question of what does the word aionios really mean?

    Preston- In comment 50 you talk about how you really tried to deconstruct Matt 25, Rev 14 & 20 which all make use of aionios to denote … something. Can you tell us why you rejected the universalist take on aionios? (http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Aion_lim.html)

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (79) Richard. You ask, “Am I correct in understanding you to mean that as an annihilationist you hold there will be a temporary punishment of the lost before they’re destroyed? If that’s the case, is the concept of post-mortem repentance the only thing that keeps you from swinging toward Universal Reconciliation? What’s to say the damned don’t cry out for mercy as a result of their punishment and God gives it to them? In my mind, the “everlasting” [aion] is the challenge for the UR crowd and the annihilation proponents. And if we’re talking about the most desirable end to the story, doesn’t God say multiple times that his desire is that all be saved and sinners come to repentance?”

    I love the way you frame this question. My basic answer is that it doesn’t seem to be taught in the pictures of judgment in scripture (Matthew 13 and 25 come to mind). I think God could remain a good and just being if universal reconciliation were his course of action. But I also think he would be a good and just being if there were a final decisive judgment, and those needing to be punished for past sins experienced such punishment prior to their destruction. So that won’t help our inturpretation.

    Now, would the universalist option be better? It seems to me God does desire all to be saved, *but he could desire something else more that makes universal salvation problematic.* For example, God could want all to choose to love him without coercion, and perhaps he knows that some will not—thus destruction is his course. Such an argument shows that universal reconciliation is not necessarily a given, and since God knows the counterfactuals (knows what would be the case if) he likewise knows that some will not choose to love him, and as such when picturing judgment in Jesus’ teachings this is the portrait he paints.

    In short, God does not picture universal reconciliation in scripture because he knows that not all will wish to become his child. What say you?

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (85) Peter. 85. In my mind 1-5 do not help because they do not help us move toward one view or another.

    You said, “Also I’m not sure you can affirm #4–exposes the utter sinfulness of sin–the same way. I would like to be shown how sin weighs as much in the annihilationist view as it does in the traditionalist view. And if it does then why is one view better than the other?”

    “The wages of sin is death.” No more no less.

    I wrote, “As furthering thought: surely given this argument it would be better for God to not only punish me for eternity for my unforgiven sin, but to likewise punish both of my children for eternity as well. Yeah? Any reason to reject that escalation?” I wrote this because your argument was that you needed “the largest possible motive”, so I presented a picture that was an even larger motive to show that your contention “So it is better by far that hell be infinite than finite” can lead to repugnant places. Much love.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Kenton (86),

    What exactly do you mean by the “universalist take on aionios?” The article you linked to is very dated and way too long for me to read! Can you sum it up?

    Long story short, I studied this word a bit during my PhD (primarily its use in the Jewish book The Psalms of Solomon, c.a. 50 B.C.), and I revisited the issue quite extensively in writing Erasing Hell. I read all the major dictionary articles (e.g. TDNT) 1/2 a dozen times it seemed, look up a ton of NT, LXX, and extra biblical passages, only to conclude that it’s an incredibly complicated discussion! 98% of people I’ve read, in blogs and books, that wax eloquent on the meaning of the word clearly don’t know what their talking about (BTW, Fick’s comments above–49–are among the most excellent I’ve read!). According to my PhD adviser, Simon Gathercole (Cambridge), “aionios is a perfectly good Greek word that means everlasting. What’s the problem?” And he’s been reading Greek since he was 9! Others, as you know, say it means “age, lifespan, duration, etc.” Context must govern the meaning (not some inherent lexical definition), but close attention to the contexts in which the word occurs only complicates the issue. My short treatment of aionios in EH went through several drafts and was critiqued, ripped up, revised, and critiqued again by several scholars. What ended up in EH is simply a few contextual arguments for aionios meaning everlasting (not “eternal”!!) in Matt 25:41, 46, but it certainly isn’t the last word.

    The use of the word in Revelation is more clear: “eis aionios ton aionon day and night.” It’s not just the word aionios here, but the seemingly explicit emphasis on duration–with no end in sight (I found Aune’s Revelation commentary in the WBC particularly helpful here.)

    Does that help?

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Jeff, in the passages I quotes, Jesus connects our love and forgiveness with how much we have been forgiven, not with how many people are punished. Your train of thought seems to be running on different tracks than mine. In Jesus’ logic, it matters how much our forgiven sin weighs. One way to measure that sin is to look at the punishment it deserves. If there is a correlation between crime and punishment, then the weight of one will tell you the weight of the other. You can move either direction. Given Jesus’ logic, you have no way to argue that a less-than-infinite view of sin’s guilt gives you as much motive as an infinite view does. If you’re consistent, your measurement of one becomes your measurement of the other. I’m not saying you have no motive to love. I’m saying you necessarily have less motive. I think that matters.

    “The wages of sin is death.” No more no less.

    That didn’t answer my question. How much does “death” weigh in your system?

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Peter, many traditionalists (possibly most today) reject the notion that sin is “infinite” (whatever that means—it’s almost never explained), and instead affirm that the torment is everlasting because people will continue in rebellion forever. Do you raise this objection with them as well? Just curious.

    Also, inasmuch as irreversible death is everlasting, I don’t see why conditionalism could not also affirm an “infinite” view of sin. In fact, traditionalists sometimes grant this point when attempting the counter the “everlasting punishment doesn’t fit the finite crime” argument. For instance, John Blanchard writes:

    If it would be wrong of God to punish finite sin with everlasting punishment, how can it be right for him to punish it by annihilation, which by definition is itself everlasting? If (as some allege) endless punishment is ‘sadistic’, surely the same would apply to limited punishment? Would indescribable (but pointless) torture followed by annihilation be any kinder? -from Whatever Happened to Hell, emphasis mine

  • Dana Ames

    Jeff,
    I’m Eastern Orthodox, and hold to the “minority view” in Orthodoxy, which is UR. Josh @21 sounds a lot like the EO take. Whether “majority” or “minority”, the interpretation to which Orthodoxy holds, derived from the writings of not only the Greek fathers but also some in the Syrian stream of things, is that when Jesus returns in the fullness of communion with the Father and the Spirit which will be evident to all, the presence of God will simply be the presence of God, not God inflicting any kind of pain or manipulation. We will all be in the presence of the fullness of God, which is the fullness of Love; the way we will experience that love depends on what there is the depth of our hearts. To the extent one has never been able to grow into the ability to show any kind self-giving love in this life, encountering the fullness of Love will be painful.

    Some years before I even knew what EO was or what there was room for within it, Brian McLaren articulated some of this in “The Last Word and the Word After That.” From ch 13 talking about Gehenna: (I apologize in advance for the long quote, but it’s germane.)

    boq
    “Don’t they all [images of a garbage dump, eternal worms, fire, darkness] suggest waste, decay, regret and sorrow? Isn’t that what anyone would feel if he spent his whole life on accumulating possessions or wealth or knowledge or power but missed out on life to the full in the Kingdom of God? He would have wasted his life! He would have failed to become the glorious person he could have become and instead become something crabby and cramped and ingrown and dark and shabby and selfish. Wouldn’t that make you weep and gnash your teeth?…”

    “What about those parables Jesus tells where weeds or fruitless branches are thrown into the fire?” I asked.

    Neil replied, “They’re all telling us that deception and false appearances will go up in smoke. The truth will be told. That’s what judgment means: before the just judge, the truth comes out. Hypocrisy and fraud are uncovered, burned away… Everything that’s worthless or fruitless will be exposed as worthless, and everything that’s worthwhile and fruitful will be celebrated, rewarded, saved. The point of all this, I think, is that Jesus wants us not just to avoid being bad; more, he wants us to avoid being fruitless.”

    “But it all sounds so final. Fire, burning,” I protested. It sounds more serious than just being judged.”

    Neil reached over, grabbed my arm, and spoke in a kind of fierce whisper: “Do you hear what you’re saying, man?… What could be more serious than standing in front of your Creator – the Creator of the universe – and finding out that you had wasted your life, squandered your inheritance, caused others pain and sorrow, worked against the good plans and desires of God? What could be more serious than that? To have to face the real, eternal, unavoidable, absolute, naked truth about yourself, what you’ve done, what you’ve become.”
    eoq

    I think every person will eventually clearly be able to see the truth about God and him/herself, and somehow, without coercion, come to acquire the desire to be with God, and come to repentance. It’s not about “multiple chances”, but ongoing purification.

    As for annihilation, Orthodoxy teaches that, to finish the “wages” quote, “The gift of God is eternal life,” and God doesn’t take back that gift, even in the face of our sin. He makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the unrighteous and righteous alike. Even though we of ourselves are not immortal, he is good and gracious and life-giving. You have problems with supposed “manipulation” by God; I have problems with a definition of “good” that seems to make God collude with death. I think that’s every bit as unpalatable as ECT.

    Peace to you too. Appreciate what you’re trying to do.

    Dana

  • Joe Canner

    Ronnie #91, The Blanchard quote may be useful to show that annihilation counts as eternal, but he makes a good point: what is the point of punishment followed by annihilation? Add that to my previous question (#29) about why God would resurrect just to annihilate (which Jeff answered rather half-heartedly in #72) and the whole thing starts to sound kind of ludicrous (like something out “Pirates of the Carribean”).

  • Adam

    @Preston Sprinkle

    I have now had time to dive into the specifics of the 3 passages you cited as the BIG 3 that lead you to conclude hell as ECT.

    The first observation is that ALL 3 passages that you list are from metaphorical sources (Revelations) or a parable (Matthew 25).

    Revelation 14 first. If we have to take the “forever and ever” literally in Rev 14 then do we not have to take the wine and smoke words literally too? If, so the Hell is a “Giant Winepress”. Are you seriously suggesting we take particular words in a sentence literally but not the others?

    Rev 20. Is a little bit more straight forward but does not fit what is considered the “traditional” view. Rev 20:12&13 clearly state that people are thrown into the Lake of Fire (and Rev is separating Hell from the Lake of Fire) based on what they HAVE DONE. The Lamb’s Book of Life is about deeds. Similarly, the righteous in Rev 14 are considered righteous based on their deeds. When looking at the Book of Life in Rev 13 and Rev 17 you find language that suggests predestination.

    This is important because a person who believes in Jesus as Savior and doesn’t DO anything is likely to get thrown into the Lake of Fire. Unless of course we take the predestination path, then it might not matter what you do or believe.

    Finally, Matthew 25. My take on this passage is similar to the Rev 20 passage. Entry into the kingdom is based on what you actually do and not what you believe. The Parable of the Bags of Gold is a perfect example of a servant who believes one thing and does another thing and is punished for what he didn’t do.

    The parable of the Ten Virgins mentions nothing about punishment, just being shut out.

    And the parable of the sheep and goats is VERY explicit that those who are loving go to heaven and those who are not loving go to hell. This whole chapter DOES NOT talk about the traditional idea of salvation. By saying that this chapter heavily influenced you against annihilation-ism do you also accept that this chapter influences you against forgiveness?

    I will go back to the beginning of this argument, these passages are entirely metaphor. It seems completely disingenuous to use one part of these passages as literal truth and yet not the whole thing.

    So, why is it these 3 passages stop you from annihilation-ism when there’s so much other evidence that is more plainly spoken for it?

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    Joe (93),

    what is the point of punishment followed by annihilation?

    You’re not really raising an actual objection by asking these rhetorical questions. From what I can tell, your only real objection is that resurrection followed by destruction is “counter-intuitive” and “pointless,” but you never really explain why.

    One response is that I don’t share your intuition and that such a thing is, in fact, not pointless. In #72, Jeff gives you a reason, but you apparently just dismiss it as “half-hearted” without really explaining why you find the answer inadequate.

    Look, many people find endless torment without the possibility of reform to be “pointless” as well. I always thought that the rebuttal was, “it doesn’t matter what we think about it, all that matters is what Scripture teaches!”

    As far as giving you an actual answer, here is my response to Peter G who posed the exact same challenge on another blog post comment:

    As for your question, the same could be asked of the traditionalist. What’s the point of resurrecting people who are currently suffering torment only to put them right back into a state of suffering again?

    On the conditionalist view, the dead are raised precisely because dead people can’t be punished. The unredeemed will be raised, judged according to their deeds, and punished appropriately. The punishment will culminate in their extinction.

    There is no reason at all to suppose that the final destruction of the wicked will necessarily be a painless, instantaneous thing, and most evangelical conditionalists affirm that there will be distinctions in future punishment (see for example Henry Constable’s classic treatment on the subject). Conditionalists do not deny that future punishment will involve pain, they just deny that the pain will last forever.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    Adam (94),

    It seems completely disingenuous to use one part of these passages as literal truth and yet not the whole thing.

    Tut! There’s no need to make accusations of insincerity. I agree that such a hermeneutic is painfully inconsistent, but judging motives is unwarranted (at least if that’s all we have to go on).

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Preston! (76)

    “Everlasting” is NOT the consensus translation of “aionios!” There are myriad Greek sources that translate it to mean a man’s lifetime, several lifetime, or simply the age to come!

  • Kenton

    Preston (#89)-

    So I’m laughing a little bit here, and please forgive me. But Erasing Hell was set up with this idea that you and Francis Chan were really really really trying to be humble, and you were trying really really really hard to see the trajectory going some other direction than ECT. So far so good. Then we come to this one word – and it seems like the whole thing seems to stand or fall on what that one word means. And after all that you come back with a comment that 98% of people don’t know what they’re talking about in that one word??? Can you see why I might see some irony there?

    And then your treatment was in your own words “ripped revised and critiqued again.” So after all that are we really to assume that now…that THIS TIME… you got it EXACTLY right??? And now the matter is totally settled???

    (And I am curious – if you were trying to consider the possibility that Rob Bell might be right, surely you investigated the scholarly take on that word from an apologist of universalism, yes? What did you look at?)

    So that article I linked to is more scholarly than I can fully appreciate. (It’s more on your level. ;) ) In short, it makes the case that since aion is “long but finite” (literally “age”), that its adjective form (“age-ous”?) would likewise imply something long and finite. I know that goes right to your “inherantly lexical” thing. I understand context has a priority, but you can’t ignore the lexical part either, right?

    My non-scholarly, universalist reading translates the word “of all time” kinda like Muhammed Ali describing himself as “the greatest of all time.” That is, it’s using a temporal term more in a quantitative way. So Matt 25 would read “the reward of all time” or “the pruning of the ages” (like the colloquial “whuppin’ of your life”). The gospel of John and Luke 10 talk about “the life of all time” (John alternatively calls it “abundant.” That fits the idea that it’s quantitative and not temporal.) and my take on Rev 14 & 20 – well Adam described it well in #94.

    Sorry to be long. I hope it’s not harsh. (I don’t mean it to be.)

    Grace and Peace!

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Ronnie (91), I was not aware that most or even many traditionalists reject the notion that sins are infinitely offensive. Those I have read do not do so even when they also affirm that sinners in hell continue to sin rebelliously. But then if they rebel forever, isn’t that infinite? How could it not be? What would it mean for a person who sins without end to be finitely guilty? I guess I would have to know how they go about rejecting the infinite weight of our sin before offering judgment.

    I recognize that conditionalists feel that annihilation is infinite. And insofar as they are consistent with their own system I grant that they don’t fall under my criticism above. My problem is that I think they’re playing word games. Too often they conflate death as an event with death as a state of existence without acknowledging it. So Fudge can say that in his view “both that life and that death will last forever” (Two Views on Hell, 82). But this is doubletalk. Death is an event for him not a state of existence so it can’t possibly last forever. You can’t make predicates with things that don’t exist. By definition, something that does not exist cannot last forever. The death itself is done as soon as the person ceases to exist. If there is no person anymore then there is no dead person and therefore no death of which to speak. I’m fine if conditionalists want to say the effects of death are everlasting, but to say that death itself (the punishment) is everlasting is trying to have one’s cake and eat it too. But maybe you can persuade me otherwise. Or maybe I’m not following the argument carefully enough at this point. Any help is appreciated.

    Also, there’s an if at the start of Blanchard’s quotation. I haven’t read him so I don’t want to make too much of this but it sounds like he’s trying to grant the point for the sake of argument not as a position he himself endorses.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Ronnie,

    You seem to agree with me when you wrote, “On the conditionalist view, the dead are raised precisely because dead people can’t be punished.” Precisely. If dead people can’t be punished then their punishment cannot in any meaningful sense be everlasting or infinite. There is no them to punish. So if God is retributively just (the punishment fits the crime), then our guilt must also be less-than-infinite on the conditionalist view, right?

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Peter, (99)

    I can’t believe you havent stopped riffing on the whole idea that even the smallest, infinitesimal sin is infinitely offensive to a perfect God. The thought that you take archaic social structure-based justice to be the reflection of the divine is bewildering. To think that someone can’t deviate from God’s will even a fraction and not deeply offend God either makes God a neurotic softie is takes everything way, way too seriously or the most self centered, egotistic deity imaginable. Calvary seems to refute both of these (Father forgive them they know not what they do… not “Father punish their trespass against you”). The Kingdom turns on forgiveness, not retributive justice, especially not the primitive 13th century kind you cling to.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    Peter G,

    But then if they rebel forever, isn’t that infinite?

    No, it isn’t. At any point in time, there will only be a finite number of sins. Besides, this is equivocation. The original claim is that sin itself has an “infinite” quality to it.

    But this is doubletalk. Death is an event for him not a state of existence so it can’t possibly last forever.

    Not so Peter. The word “death” can properly refer to both an event and a state. The word can be—and is—used both ways in Scripture. The process of dying will not last forever, but the resulting death will. I’m not sure why you find this problematic.

    There are no word games here. If an atheist were to say “once you die, you will be dead forever,” nobody would ever accuse him of playing “word games” because he is attempting to “make predicates with things that don’t exist.”

    but it sounds like he’s trying to grant the point for the sake of argument not as a position he himself endorses.

    Yes, but the point is that he affirms that annihilation is by definition everlasting. He says that if ECT is wrong because it’s wrong to punish finite sins with an everlasting punishment, then annihilation is equally wrong because that is also an everlasting punishment.

    His argument is not novel. Several traditionalists have made the exact same argument and admitted that irreversible death is a legitimate example of an everlasting punishment. Jonathan Edwards is a notable example.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    If dead people can’t be punished then their punishment cannot in any meaningful sense be everlasting or infinite.

    That’s not the case. You’re equivocating between a verb and a noun. Yes, something that does not exist can not be punished, this is uncontroversial and universally agreed upon. But it doesn’t follow from that that a punishment like death cannot be everlasting.

    Our first deaths are a punishment, but they are not an everlasting punishment because our first deaths will be reversed at the resurrection. The second death, by contrast, will not be reversed. It will last forever, and as such will be a punishment that literally has no end.

    I honestly don’t see the problem here.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    Bo (97),

    I believe Preston’s point was that we ought not use “eternal” to describe the duration of final punishment. I’m sure he affirms that aionios can mean “eternal” when modifying “God”, for instance.

  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Paul D. Adams

    TREMENDOUSLY VALUABLE discussion here. I especially applaud Preston’s commitments to stay with the text and let the text dictate our beliefs. This is not to say that others don’t share the same commitments, but it’s refreshing to hear. THANKS Preston!!

    Incidentally, there’s no question that the EH is honest and open about the tentative conclusion on everlasting punishment: “While I lean heavily on the side that says [punishment] is everlasting, I am not ready to claim that with complete certainty” (p 86). See my brief here.

  • Richard

    @ 87

    So let’s push on this a bit. The parables of judgment that you reference in Matthew 13 picture a furnace, right? I don’t know about you but I tend to think in terms of the furnace that heats my house. But that’s not what the Greek word refers to, right? It refers to a “kiln.” Doesn’t that imply that this might be a refiners fire? And doesn’t that fit nicely with Paul’s eschatalogical picture of judgment in 1 Cor 3 where the individual escapes but their works are burnt up. Doesn’t it also allow us to make better sense of Jesus’ words that “all will be salted with fire” in Mark 9? The traditional theories don’t by producing a radical discontinuity between the life I live now versus the faith I profess in Jesus. That’s cheap grace to borrow from Bonhoeffer, no? And that also doesn’t seem to take into account that everyone one of these eschatalogical passages deals very strongly with what we do or don’t do, yes?

    But let’s assume that it doesn’t refer to a furnace, after all many traditionalists don’t- does it necessarily follow from the text that the objects that are consumed in the fire (or the good sorted from the bad in the parable of the dragnet) are actually people and not the bad things in everyone’s life. If we read it as sorting good and bad people, aren’t we setting this against the tension that “no one is righteous, not one”?

    All that to say that I don’t think those passages entrench us in a double-outcome the way some imagine they do. I’ll answer the second part in a follow-up comment because this one is too long already.

  • Richard

    @ 87

    Jeff, you said, “Now, would the universalist option be better? It seems to me God does desire all to be saved, *but he could desire something else more that makes universal salvation problematic.* For example, God could want all to choose to love him without coercion, and perhaps he knows that some will not—thus destruction is his course. Such an argument shows that universal reconciliation is not necessarily a given, and since God knows the counterfactuals (knows what would be the case if) he likewise knows that some will not choose to love him, and as such when picturing judgment in Jesus’ teachings this is the portrait he paints.

    In short, God does not picture universal reconciliation in scripture because he knows that not all will wish to become his child. What say you?”

    Here’s my concern in framing it this way: the point of chosenness is that I have been chosen regardless of whether or not I embrace it. Even if I hate my earthly father with all my being and wish that Eugene Peterson was my father, that doesn’t change the reality that I am Howard’s son. Think to the parable of the prodigal father on this, yeah? The Father still sees both of his offspring as his sons even after they shock and offend and shame him in view of the village. A double outcome (saved and unsaved) posits that we are so powerful as to change God’s mind about us so that he really does finally give up on us. Love always hopes and if the Father is eternally loving, how much more and longer does he hold out hope for us? So yes there will be a just punishment of sins not left behind already, but where do we get the notion that it’s the final word when the Scriptures always posits another word, even for Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16).

    If God desires something more than salvation for all, reconciliation for all, love for all, where does he say so in the Scriptures? And while this makes UR problematic, we can easily agree that every theory has its problems and baggage – we’re just choosing which set of luggage we’re most comfortable with…

  • Luke Allison

    Bo Eberle #101 “The Kingdom turns on forgiveness, not retributive justice, especially not the primitive 13th century kind you cling to”

    The Kingdom turns on forgiveness, but not the tepid “we know better than God what justice entails”, 21st century kind that you cling to.

    Are you perfectly willing to claim that God’s justice is always restorative for all people? Are we really willing to stand and say that our prison system is a superior model? For instance, is the universe in 100 percent agreement that prison time is more humane then, say, 5 lashes or a good caning? What does it tell you that prisoners, when given the choice between the lash and prison time, will usually pick the lash?

    I believe this is an unexamined assumption of the superiority of our cultural moment. And I believe that a justice system that features no retributive justice is anemic and worthless.

    Why do I believe this? Because I believe that the whole of Scripture teaches something far more diverse and difficult than a simple “forgiveness vs. retribution” ethic.

    Now, if I were only to attribute authority to the teachings of Jesus in the 4 Gospel Accounts, then I would still come away with a more nuanced picture of God’s heart for justice than “forgiveness is good, and retribution is bad”.

    So where are you getting that idea?

    Let me ask you this: Is there a categorical difference Scripturally between those who are Sons of God, and those who are not?

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Ronnie (102),

    No, it isn’t. At any point in time, there will only be a finite number of sins. Besides, this is equivocation. The original claim is that sin itself has an “infinite” quality to it.

    You might be right here but I’m still not convinced that from God’s perspective their sin would be less than infinite since he is not time-bound. But you are right that the scenario is different than sin having an infinite quality to it. Although I would just want to clarify that sin derives it’s infinite weight not from us or even from something intrinsic to it but from the one against whom it is committed. For more on this I would refer you to Emil Brunner’s The Mediator which I think does an outstanding job of laying this out.

    Not so Peter. The word “death” can properly refer to both an event and a state. The word can be—and is—used both ways in Scripture. The process of dying will not last forever, but the resulting death will. I’m not sure why you find this problematic.

    I agree with you about what death means in the Bible. I just don’t see how conditionalists can affirm this double meaning. It makes no sense to say that death is a state–a state of what? Not a state of existence. So a state of affairs? Fine. But a state of affairs the dead person is not involved in since they do not exist. The person is not in a state of death after the event of death anymore than they are in a state of anything else. They are not anything. There is no them of which we can speak meaningfully. And yes, I do think atheists are playing the same word games–in fact, it was a conversation with an atheist that helped clarify this for me. Please don’t hear me accusing any conditionalists of being atheists! Furthermore, I understand that many conditionalists claim that death, in their view, is everlasting. I readily grant that claim. I just can’t see that it’s cogent.

    If Blanchard feels otherwise I would simply disagree with him. The same with Jonathan Edwards. Do you have a citation for the latter?

    Thanks.

  • Joe Canner

    Ronnie #95: I don’t know if your still here, but just in case…

    I’m not sure if it is clear from my posts, but I am “agnostic” on ECT vs annihilation vs universalism. I was ECT until less than a year ago, I see a lot of Scriptures that seem to support annihilation, and universalism seems to match most closely with the Biblical narrative (albeit not necessarily to individual texts). So, my questions are meant to uncover answers, not just score rhetorical points.

    As to the questions themselves, I would like to think that God is logical and there should at least be some logic to punishment. Perhaps that is asking too much. From a human standpoint, for example, when someone is sentenced to death we don’t typically add extra punishment before hand (although this was clearly the practice in Roman times). Such a punishment seems entirely retributive and contrary to God’s character. My understanding of the traditional arguments for hell is that hell is something we choose and that hell is necessary because God cannot have evil in his presence. Aside from a few isolated proof-texts about God’s wrath, I can’t see any Scriptural evidence that suggests what purpose is served by a retributive punishment before annihilation (and Jeff’s answer in #72 was very tentative and without scriptural or logical support). Both annihilation (without the punishment) or ECT accomplish the goal of removing evil from God’s presence. But maybe I am missing something….

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

    Kenton (98),

    Just a couple quick thoughts. I apologize for not being more clear. I didn’t mean to communicate that our treatment of aionios was the last word on the issue. I thought I made this clear by saying our study “certainly isn’t the last word” on the issue. My whole tangent about what went on behind the scenes in my study of aionios was intending to show that I STILL have much to learn about aionios. I limited my study to the meaning of aionios in Matt 25, which I argued contextually, but in no way to I claim to fully understand all the nuances and complexities of the word. I’d advise others to have the same caution. That was my point.

    Re: your article on aionios. You got anything from at least the 20th century? Lexicography can become dated; your article was written around the time of the civil war. Much has been discovered since then.

    No, our argument in EH doesn’t rest on the meaning of one word. When (if) you read the book, you’ll see this.

    p

  • Joe Canner

    Luke #102: “I believe that a justice system that features no retributive justice is anemic and worthless.”

    Assuming this is correct, it still begs the question of what the point of the retributive justice is. In this world, retributive justice (e.g., the death penalty) is meant to deter future crimes. How does eternal punishment deter anything? Clearly it’s power to deter has had a limited deterrent effect over the years and it’s power seems to be declining. (Perhaps not coincidentally the death penalty has had a limited deterrent effect as well.)

  • Gem

    Interesting reading these comments-mainly from males. Jeff Cook’s theme is “the fate of the wicked” and several commenters speak of the punishment of the wicked in hell.

    For me, as a woman who has given birth, I understand that something can be in me which is not part of me.

    I propose that my wickedness/my sin is not “me”.

    Paul understood- see Romans 7 “the sin that dwells in me”.

    For me, the death of that sin which is in my members is a very good thing, GOOD NEWS! Good news which I can embrace now in this life and walk in the God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10). Or, perhaps I will choose to cling to my flesh, not parting with that eye or hand which is causing me trouble, so my body will have to be thrown into the fire (TODAY, not bye and bye fire in the sky) Matt 5:29, 18:9, Mk 9:47. God will turn me over to Satan to ratchet up the heat to consume my flesh in order that my spirit will be saved (1 Cor 5:5). And if that flesh remains stubborn, I have a date with the Lake of Fire where I will be baptized and the old man will finally fall away, consumed forever (Rev 21:8).

  • Luke Allison

    “In this world, retributive justice (e.g., the death penalty) is meant to deter future crimes.”

    I understand that may be the reason we’ve formed societally as to the WHY of retributive justice. But what about the simple fact of satisfying justice?

    The victims of crime (surviving victims) rarely receive any reparations, while the state receives free labor in some cases.

    Do we have any kind of theology when it comes to the satisfaction or enaction of divine justice? Or is it all based on societal concerns?

    Obviously, earthly justice is an insufficient echo of divine justice, but since it’s all we have, what are our primary concerns in enacting justice?

    Think about this: “due process” assumes that, given a fair shot at presenting all the evidence, justice will somehow prevail. That’s extremely optimistic. But it also assumes something higher than “due process” is involved in the whole scenario.

    I believe in asking “how does eternal punishment deter anything”, you’re putting the cart before the horse. You’re assuming God is worried about the same things a society is worried about in enacting justice. I don’t believe that to be true.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Peter (109),

    I think you’re taking exception to a way of speaking that almost everyone finds completely acceptable. If an atheist died and was brought back to life two hours later, I can’t image that anyone, in any circumstance, would take exception if he said, “I was dead for two hours!” The death, in that case, lasted two hours. If he was brought back to life two days later, he could say “I was dead for two days!” You can take it from there.

    Likewise, if my dog died, and a year later an acquaintance asked “hey how’s your dog”? I would answer “he’s dead.” I doubt he, or anyone else would say, “well, he actually is not “dead”, he is not anything, he doesn’t exist!”

    It seems to me that you’re trying to apply rigid logical standards to language that any ancient (and most moderns) would just find completely alien.

    As for Edwards, Glenn Peoples wrote about it here: http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/2008/jonathan-edwards-comes-to-the-aid-of-annihilationism/

  • Joe Canner

    Luke #114: I am not necessarily suggesting that society’s views of justice are the same as God’s, but the analogies may be helpful to untangle some of the logic.

    Regarding reparations, there are occasionally attempts by society to require reparations, but generally speaking you are correct that they are minimal.

    Ironically, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus suggests that Lazarus was rewarded with a trip to Abraham’s bosom because he suffered in this world and the rich man ended up in Hades because he had pleasures in this world. The theme of the oppressed getting lifted up is also woven throughout OT prophesy. This side of God’s justice doesn’t seem to get as much press as the punishment of evil side. Perhaps this is because it doesn’t square with our Protestant notions of salvation.

    At any rate, thinking about justice for the victim doesn’t seem to get us any closer to understanding hell or eternal punishment. What does the victim gain from knowing that their oppressor is being eternally punished? I would much rather encounter (say) a repentant Osama bin Laden in heaven than rejoice in his punishment in hell.

  • Kenton

    Thanks, Preston.

    No, I don’t have any later resources. When I’ve casually asked for something scholarly from the universalist perspective on the word (that I could still grasp), that’s been an article that keeps coming up for consideration. I appreciate your saying there’s still more on the word that needs to be processed. That leaves me with enough ambiguity to say my way to understand it (may) still has (have) merit.

    You said EH doesn’t rest on the meaning of aionios, but it still seems to be the critical link people talk about when discussing the matter (and seems to be the thread that ties Matt 25 w/Rev 14 & 20). Seeing how you make the case for the E in ECT without aionios if (when) I read the book will be the 2nd thing I look for.

    (After reading the sample online where you made the point that “God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases” my curiosity is piqued. The first thing I will look for is to see how you make the case that what God *really* wants to do is fry some of our butts.)

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Ronnie, thanks for the Edwards link. I’ll have to work through the whole article but it looks like he is in agreement with you and other conditionalists.

    Likewise, if my dog died, and a year later an acquaintance asked “hey how’s your dog”? I would answer “he’s dead.” I doubt he, or anyone else would say, “well, he actually is not “dead”, he is not anything, he doesn’t exist!”

    And if you’re friend then said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know your dog was enduring an everlasting punishment.” Would that be accepted as an acceptable way to speak? Not by most people’s definition of everlasting. Again, the state of affairs that results from the punishment may be everlasting. But that’s not the same thing as saying the punishment itself is everlasting.

    If time marches on, and the person doesn’t march with it, it seems nonsensical to say their punishment marches on without them. I have no problem with conditionalists claiming that death is everlasting within their framework. Death as a concept has that kind of flexibility in our language. What I’m less sure about is the claim that that this “everlasting death” is itself an everlasting punishment. Punishment does not have that kind of flexibility. It’s not a word that denotes both a state of affairs and an event the way the word “death” does.

    Do you really think it makes sense to talk about punishing someone who doesn’t exist anymore. It makes sense to say you punished (past tense) someone who doesn’t exist. But then it’s not everlasting, is it?

    This is why modern people laugh when they hear about the Catholic church exhuming bones to be burned. Well, if you believe in a physical resurrection with some sense of continuity (as the broader culture did) it makes sense. But if you believe in annihilation, it doesn’t.

    Thanks, I hope I’m being clear. I’m not just trying to be obstinate here but I am trying to take the conditionalist view seriously. As I said, I have no problem saying the effects of annihilation are everlasting. It’s saying that the punishment itself is everlasting that I can’t make sense of.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Joe (110),

    I would like to think that God is logical and there should at least be some logic to punishment.

    Again, I’m not sure that you’ve shown or explained why the conditionalist view is not logical. You say that retributive punishment is contrary to God’s character, but don’t give any reasons why you believe that to be the case. Romans 12:19 seems to explicitly teach that God’s justice is at least in part retributive in nature, Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    To make statements like,

    I can’t see any Scriptural evidence that suggests what purpose is served by a retributive punishment before annihilation

    and

    it still begs the question of what the point of the retributive justice is. In this world, retributive justice is meant to deter future crimes. How does eternal punishment deter anything?

    is to misunderstand the very nature of retributive punishment. The point is the fulfillment of justice. There does not need to be some other utilitarian goal such as deterrence or reform. People are punished because that is what they deserve, period.

    And historically, “hell” has been cached out in terms of retributive punishment. The idea that hell is merely a place where people are separated from God because they forever choose to be evil is a fairly new suggestion.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    I didn’t know your dog was enduring an everlasting punishment.” Would that be accepted as an acceptable way to speak?

    No. But then no conditionalist claims that the dead “endure” everlasting punishment.

    Do you really think it makes sense to talk about punishing someone who doesn’t exist anymore.

    No. But no conditionalist claims that God will be “punishing” people who don’t exist.

    I’m not sure where to go from here. I’ll try to put it one other way: If the punishment is non-existence, and the state of non-existence will last forever (i.e. it will never be reversed), then the punishment will last forever.

    Here is another traditionalist who affirms the point:

    Moreover, it is worth pointing out that the conditionalist alternative is also a kind of eternal punishment. Though conditionalists explain that the Bible’s “eternal” punishments are punishments which have eternal results (non-existence) but are not everlasting in the consciousness of the one being punished (e.g. in Matthew 25v41, 2 Thessalonians 1v8, Jude 1v7), it is still an everlasting punishment which follows “temporal” offenses. This way of arguing would prove too much – it ultimately proves universalism rather than conditionalism, because the penalty of losing one’s existence is still a de facto eternal punishment.

    http://david.dw-perspective.org.uk/da/index.php/writings/conditional-immortality-the-hell-which-ends/

  • Luke Allison

    Joe Canner: “At any rate, thinking about justice for the victim doesn’t seem to get us any closer to understanding hell or eternal punishment.”

    True in one sense. But it may get us a little closer to thinking about what the point of justice is in the cosmic scheme of things. If justice is indeed built into the fabric of existence (much like wisdom), then our discussions of it need to go deeper than what we currently experience in our “higher” justice systems.

    “What does the victim gain from knowing that their oppressor is being eternally punished? I would much rather encounter (say) a repentant Osama bin Laden in heaven than rejoice in his punishment in hell”

    I’m not saying they gain anything. I would rather meet a repentant version of Osama bin Laden as well, and I don’t think we’d necessarily rejoice in his punishment in hell. But we’d look on it and nod our heads and say: “God is just.” Just as we’d look at ourselves and say: “God is gracious.”

    My primary concern is simply this: If we automatically disparage ideas of retributive punishment as “13th century barbarism” as opposed to our more highly evolved notions of justice (listen to Jose Baez’s remarks after the Casey Anthony verdict for a shockingly twisted idea of just what lawyers are doing), then we assume that the modern is always superior to the primitive. And I’m not sure that’s true in every arena.

    After all, we only know the “Age of Enlightenment” by its moniker because fauning adherents to its philosophies named it so.

    So all I’m asking is: can we say matter-of-factly, cut-and-dried, no-questions-askedly that modern restorative punishment (prison time with reformation) is inherently more “just” than retributive forms of punishment (flogging, caning, execution)? Which is better?

    The possibility of error applies in either situation. But to be flogged after false accusations would be preferable, I think, to losing two to five years in prison for false conviction.

    This is all hypothetical. But let’s think about it.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Preston.
    Did you have thoughts on comment 55?
    Peace

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (107) Richard. Your last paragraph sums it up best for me. I don’t find universalism morally abhorrent and worthy of too much fuss, even though I don’t go there.

    The problem of the father is good, but again my argument is that god may know the counterfactuals and as such may know that some will never choose to returns home to the party, and as such given the options chooses destruction.

  • Joe Canner

    Ronnie #119: I’m sure I don’t need to review for you the examples in Scripture where God’s judgment was restorative. Yes, there are examples of retributive justice (The Flood, cleaning Canaan, etc.) but these are not preceded by torture. There’s not enough data on what happens to people after they are resurrected; that objection is just my own logic speaking.

    I’m not convinced that Romans 12:19 supports retributive punishment, partly because it doesn’t say what the result of God’s vengeance is. Perhaps God’s vengeance is more merciful than ours is. “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9) comes in the context of God being more merciful (to the Gentiles) than Israel wanted to be. Likewise, Romans 12:20-21 talk about doing good to our enemies. Why would God (via Paul) tell us to do good to our enemies if He is just going to punish them mercilessly and endlessly?

    The rest of your answer sounds like a “God said it and that settles it” kind of answer, the kind of answer I was hoping to get away from when I started questioning ECT. If annihilationists can’t come up with anything better than that (by logic or analogy) to explain retributive justice, then it will probably remain as puzzling and as foreign to the average person as ECT.

  • Joe Canner

    Luke #121: Thanks, I think I understand your point, and you’ve given me some good things to think about. My guess is that God’s sense of justice would be foreign to all cultures, from the beginning of time until now. I suspect we will be quite surprised (some for better, some for worse) to find out what God has in store for us.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Joe (124),

    Yes, there are examples of retributive justice (The Flood, cleaning Canaan, etc.) but these are not preceded by torture.

    I don’t understand. Are you suggesting that the deaths of those people involved no suffering? That’s the only thing that someone like myself would be committed to; that, in some cases at least, the process of death will involve penal pain. Again, if you somehow feel that this is contrary to God’s character, you need to show why that’s the case. To this point, you have done no such thing.

    There is a version of conditionalism that denies any sort of pre-extinction punishment. Glenn Peoples explicates the view here: http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/2011/degrees-of-hell/

    It should be noted that his reasons for affirming that view have nothing to do with a moral objection to penal suffering.

    If annihilationists can’t come up with anything better than that (by logic or analogy) to explain retributive justice, then it will probably remain as puzzling and as foreign to the average person as ECT.

    I’m interested primarily in what Scripture positively teaches about final punishment. Some people will only be emotionally satisfied with universal restoration. That’s just not something that I can help.

    That being said I think it’s false that the average person will find conditionalism to be as puzzling as eternal torment. One common objection to conditionalism is that it is only appealing because it is a “kinder, gentler” version of final punishment. In fact, most popular-level critiques of conditionalism make this exact charge.

  • Joe Canner

    Ronnie #124: Yes, death is generally preceded by suffering (although FWIW “civilized” societies try to minimize the pain associated with capital punishment), but it seems that the suffering is not the purpose of the punishment, just an unavoidable side effect. Surely if God had wanted to torment people before death he could have done a lot better job of it.

    Thanks for the link on conditionalism without pre-extinction punishment. I’m not sure I even knew until this thread that pre-extinction punishment was a common feature of conditionalism, but I’m glad there are some alternatives. Interestingly, Orthodox Jews (as per post #4), believe in both of these, as well as also in ECT and restorative punishment, depending on a person’s deeds.

    I agree that it is not our responsibility to make eternal punishment (or lack thereof) emotionally satisfying. Given that the Scriptures are somewhat mixed, my hope is that we could come up with a logical argument based on what we know both about God and about ourselves (since bear His image) to help untangle some of this without having to resort to “God said it” or “God’s ways are higher than ours”. Maybe I’m asking too much…

  • Jayflm

    Ronnie (126), I am agnostic on the specifics of how conditionalism might play out in the end, but find the theory itself satisfying because it alone takes God’s warning in Genesis at face value… “you will surely die”. Add to that the familiar verses such as John 3:16 and Romans 6:23.

    All the speculation about punishment befitting an infinite offense and the logical appropriateness of punishment before annihilation aside, conditional immortality certainly seems to me to be the framework that best fulfills the Adamic covenant penalty. You sin, you die. I understand that God is infinite in His holiness and majesty, but if that is the penalty He set before our first parents, isn’t that the limit He must finally observe so as to be completely just? Is there room for punishment before that? I think so. But I don’t know. All I am confident of is that Jesus Christ came and broke Adam’s curse. Through faith in Him we have crossed from death into life! All need to hear … “Believe and be saved!”

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Ronnie (120), I think we need a philosopher’s help! Jeff, where did you go?

    You re-worded your position, but you didn’t solve anything as far as I’m concerned. You simply removed the person form the equation without showing it.

    If the punishment is non-existence, and the state of non-existence will last forever (i.e. it will never be reversed), then the punishment will last forever.

    The problem is that saying “the punishment is non-existence” is not coherent. A punishment is not the kind of thing that can be equated with non-existence. In fact, I don’t know that anything can be equated with non-existence. It’s the kind of thing that, by definiton, can’t take a predicate. Try to put another verbal noun in place of “punishment” above and I think you’ll see what I mean.

    You want to say that their unending non-existence is their punishment, but there is simply no them left. Maybe there’s a punishment that somehow continues, but it’s not theirs. It can’t be. They don’t exist. So whatever punishment was theirs can no longer have any meaningful association with them.

    Maybe I can ask it another way: Whose non-existence lasts forever? How does it continue to be theirs once there is no more them?

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Sorry for the italics at the end. I must have left my tag unclosed.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    It seems to me eternal punishment can be understood as a punishment which cannot be reversed. Just as eternal redemption (heb 9.12) can be understood in the same way.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    And how would that be Jeff? A redeemed person continues to exist but an annihilated person does not. So I’m missing the parallel.

  • Perry

    Hypothetically speaking, if you get to heaven and discover that ECT actually does exist, will you abandon the God who sanctions it, and opt for ECT yourself? That seems to be the flavor of many people’s posts I’ve read. Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe that so many would comfortably place themselves above God as his judge. But then, this is just hypothetical, right? ;)

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    Peter, with all due respect, I feel like I’m trying to hit a moving target here. I just re-read our exchange (starting at 91) and it’s not apparent to me what your objection is or if it has remained constant.

    In 91 I claimed that since irreversible death is everlasting, conditionalists can accommodate an “infinite” view of sin. Your original response was that “everlasting death”, as used by say, atheists and conditionalists is just a word game. In 118 though, you apparently reconsidered it and agreed that “everlasting death” is an acceptable and cogent way of speaking.

    You then said that your problem is more with the idea of referring to everlasting death as “everlasting punishment.” But all along, you keep coming back to this idea of “nonexistence” which is a distinct concept. You’ll notice, if you look through my posts, that I never refer to final punishment as the loss of existence. It wasn’t until 120 that I used the expression in an attempt to use language that you apparently prefer, but that was probably a mistake.

    The reason I shy away from expressions like “nonexistence” and “annihilation” when discussing these issues is because those are not the terms that Scripture usually employs, and using them tends to encourage discussions such as these (which I consider to be philosophical digressions). Scripture instead uses terms like “death” and “destruction.” Death means the loss or absence of life, and as such is most assuredly a state that can go on indefinitely. In Scripture, death is not necessarily equivalent to nonexistence. For example, Genesis 2:7 shows that the man Adam existed before God gave him breath. He existed; he just wasn’t alive.

    If we posit that the punishment for sin is the deprivation of life, and further suppose that this deprivation will last forever, I just don’t see the difficulty is saying that the punishment will last forever.

    I think you are illegitimately applying a conceptual analysis of “nonexistence” to the colloquial semantics and grammar of death and nonexistence. It’s completely normal and acceptable to speak of a “state” of nonexistence, even though a certain conceptual analysis of those terms might yield a paradox. That’s why I think even an intellectual giant such as Edwards saw no problem with thinking of extinction as everlasting punishment.

    You ask, “Whose nonexistence lasts forever? How does it continue to be theirs once there is no more them?”

    So in your view, I suppose it would not be coherent for someone to say “John does not exist.” Because who are we predicating non-existence to? How can we predicate anything, including non-existence, to a person when there is no more person?

    So the objection you are raising seems really strained to me, and I’ve spent a good deal of time really trying to get to the heart of it. Even though I’ve been on a (very) extended hiatus, my academic background is philosophy but even then it’s literally taken me over an hour trying to figure out what, precisely, is the sticking point here. I hope that something I wrote here is helpful.

  • Chris

    Response to Daniel, comment number 49:

    There is a faulty assumption that when Jesus announced aionios life and punishment to the sheeps and goats that since it is parallel, the time of the punishment would have to be the same. Since heaven is known to be eternal, it is logical that “aionian life” is certainly not “lasting for an age”.

    While this is logical, in one way, it simply shows a lack of understanding of the word aionios. I like that you acknowledge that the word can be shown to be less than eternal depending on the context. For a while folks wouldn’t even admit this. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were interpreted and it was found that the definition, in Koine Greek, of aionios was “lasting (for an age)”, it should have made people go, “Wait a minute! This has serious implications!” Though it meant “lasting for an age” the best single word translation was/is “lasting”. Now it means lasting for an age (from its root word “aion – age”), but it is a very subtly complex word. Different ages last for different periods of time in the scriptures. The meaning that aionios is trying to put across is “lasting for a very long time, beyond the forseeable future”, but NOT eternity. Since it is an adjective, it is strongly influenced by the noun that it modifies. Let me give you an example from modern English: we could say that “that is a very lasting gum” “that is a very lasting cigarette” “that is a very lasting perfume” “that is a very lasting punishment” Now let’s say for argument that a lasting gum would be 20 minutes; a lasting cigarette would be 30 minutes; a lasting perfume would be 12 hours; and a lasting punishment would be 30 years. “Lasting” never means specifically 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 12 hours, or 30 years. It just means a long time. What is lasting for gum is not lasting for perfume. In each case the word is adequate, but the implications is very different based on the noun that is being modified.

    We know that life in heaven is eternal from other teachings in scripture. When we say “lasting life” in regard to heaven, the fact that it modifies “heaven” and more specifically, the “life that comes from God”, we know it is eternal. When we say “lasting punishment” or more specifically “the punishment which comes from God” we do NOT know that it is eternal. We need outside sources and contexts to understand just how long God’s punishment is. One hour in fire would seem like forever. The argument that “since aionios is used in both phrases in the sheeps and goats parable therefore it must mean the same amount of time” is faulty to the core. There is no scriptural support, context, or logic that requires God to punish sinners forever. In fact, the nature of God, his grace and mercy, His love, along with his tendency to relent over and over again indicates that a lasting punishment from God would most certainly NOT be forever. God is never portrayed as someone who stays angry forever. Often when He says forever, he goes on to NOT act forever – he relents. The nature of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the mercy of God, the justice of God would all indicate that God’s punishment for sin, though fierce, harsh, intense, deserved, and lasting, would not be forever. It would be aionios, lasting for an age, but not eternal. Aionios is a critical word. Of interest is the fact that there is a Greek word that ALWAYS means “eternal” and that is “aidios”. It never means “for an age” or lasting. Jesus did not use this word. He used one that is much more complex and much less definitively eternal.

  • Chris

    Response to Preston on number 111. Please read my comment number 135, and in response to your question about a more modern analysis of aionios, there is a book called “Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts” by Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan, 257 pages.

    This book is exhaustive in its treatment of aionios and aidios. After his exhaustive study of these words, one of the co authors, David Konstan, said that he concluded that if he was asked to pick a side of the debate concerning hell being eternal or temporary, he said that he sided with a temporary hell, based on the Greek language used. He was not writing as a universalist.

    A few other great books are:
    The Evangelical Universalist, by Robin Parry, and
    The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment – Jan Bonda

  • Kenton

    Perry (#133)-

    Did you see this? It addresses your hypothetical (OK, “sort of addresses it”). True followers of Jesus would opt out of heaven.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx36wwNX2N8

    Chris (#136)-

    Thanks!

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Thanks, Ronnie. I admit it’s a tough issue to wrap the mind around. If it helps, I talked to a friend of mine last night who’s currently studying philosophy and what I had written made sense to him and he agreed that punishment can’t be non-existence. I had to ask him to make sure I wasn’t crazy. ;)

    And while I applaud your desire to use Biblical language, at some point you have to explain what you think that language means. You have to define your terms. And it’s at the point of definition that I find the conditionalist position to be speaking doubletalk–operating with two different definitions but without acknowledging it.

    “I think you are illegitimately applying a conceptual analysis of “nonexistence” to the colloquial semantics and grammar of death and nonexistence.

    I’m not sure what to do with this. Am I just not supposed to ask about the concepts that lie behind our language? Or maybe it’s just the way I’m going about it. So what’s the right way?

    If we posit that the punishment for sin is the deprivation of life, and further suppose that this deprivation will last forever, I just don’t see the difficulty is saying that the punishment will last forever.

    You’ve switched your terms but I don’t think you’ve avoided the problem. Try this. Ask yourself how “deprivation of life” is the kind of thing that can happen once in time as well as forever. How do you deprive a person of life beyond the point at which their life has been deprived of them. Are you depriving them of their already deprived life? What could that mean?

    If I can put it in other terms: your problem is in your switch from verb to noun. When you say “the punishment for sin is the deprivation of life” you’re speaking verbally. God deprives someone of their life. When, in your next phrase, you say “this deprivation will last forever” you’re speaking nominally. Try to put this into verb form and it doesn’t work: God deprives them of life forever. What? He already did that. But as a noun it works because you’ve now changed what deprivation of life means. You’ve switched the nature of the thing you’re talking about without acknowledging it. So you’re not talking about the same thing in both clauses even though it might sound–on first read–as if you are.

    The conditionalist claim that death is an eternal punishment depends on a word game in order to work. It uses the word “death” with two different meanings.

    Thanks for engaging with me, Ronnie. I really appreciate that. Not many would hang with a discussion this long.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Peter (132). You said,” A redeemed person continues to exist but an annihilated person does not. So I’m missing the parallel.”

    Is this your best argument against annihilation? If so it simply does not compare with the massive amount of difficulties for the traditional position. And as such, I would swallow this one as a mystery well before jumping ship somewhere else.

    On your reflection: I find no difficulty allowing the inturpretation of “eternal punishment” as an irreversible punishment. That seems to me a potential reading. The ontological difficulties your bringing up don’t really hit me as compelling….. Peace.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    your problem is in your switch from verb to noun. When you say “the punishment for sin is the deprivation of life” you’re speaking verbally. God deprives someone of their life. When, in your next phrase, you say “this deprivation will last forever” you’re speaking nominally.

    That’s not correct Peter. I’m using the noun consistently. Are you saying that the punishment is the infinitesimal point in time when a person goes from being alive to being dead? That’s not right. The punishment is the privation of life itself. If a person is brought back to life, the punishment will come to an end. In the case of final punishment, the person will never be brought back to life, and as such the punishment can properly be referred to as everlasting.

  • Perry

    Romans 3:4-6 pretty much sums up this lively debate for me.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    And by the way Peter, many (possibly most?) conditionalists do argue that the “eternal” in “eternal punishment” refers to the consequences or results of the punishment. They do so by appealing to an observable rule regarding the way aionios is used with so-called nouns of action.

    I believe you previously said that you are fine with that interpretation.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Ronnie, right. I’m okay with eternal consequences. But then the punishment itself is not what’s eternal. At that point my objection raised earlier comes into play. A conditionalist who recognizes that only the effects of the punishment are eternal is consistent, in my view. But on that scheme we’re forgiven for a less-than-infinite crime (assuming retributive justice).

    An illustration might help. A guy who spends 20 years in prison may have a hard time finding a job. That’s an effect of his crime but it’s not, as far as the law is concerned, part of his punishment. In the same way, I can see that unending non-existence is an effect of the punishment of death but is not itself part of it.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    That’s not correct Peter. I’m using the noun consistently. Are you saying that the punishment is the infinitesimal point in time when a person goes from being alive to being dead? That’s not right. The punishment is the privation of life itself. If a person is brought back to life, the punishment will come to an end. In the case of final punishment, the person will never be brought back to life, and as such the punishment can properly be referred to as everlasting.

    You’re not feeling the full weight of your own position (that or I’m misunderstanding it). You seem to be saying that God continuously deprives this person of life as an ongoing action on God’s part. And my point is that there is no longer any person who he needs to deprive of life–that’s what deprivation of life means. You don’t deprive dead people of life any more than you do anything else to them. So God’s act of deprivation is by definition momentary. Just like the executioner does not have any ongoing work to do once he’s executed the prisoner so God is done once the person ceases to exist.

    It’s one thing to say the effects of a cause will never be reversed and are thus eternal. It’s quite another thing to say the cause itself and its effects will never be reversed and are thus both eternal.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Thanks, Jeff. My question wasn’t meant as an argument against annihilationism. Just wanted explanation.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog Ronnie

    Peter,

    You seem to be saying that God continuously deprives this person of life as an ongoing action on God’s part.

    No, I’m not saying that. If your beef is that the word “privation” sounds like an active process, then just substitute another word.

    Like I said before, you are positing an understanding of death that would make it nonsense to say “the dog has been dead for two hours.” Because he was actually only dead for a moment in time, and after that was no more. In other words the death had nothing to co-extend with for those two hours. But that’s a contrived thing to say.

    Anyway, I believe we reached an impasse here a number of posts back so this will be my last word on the issue.

    But then the punishment itself is not what’s eternal. At that point my objection raised earlier comes into play

    Possibly, but I don’t think your conclusion follows. You want to assert something along the lines of “the proper punishment for an “infinite” crime is a punishment that is consciously experienced forever.” But that’s not at all obvious. Someone could just as easily assert that the proper punishment is one with endless consequences, or one that entails the deprivation of everything good from a person, including existence. These things need to be argued for.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Someone could just as easily assert that the proper punishment is one with endless consequences

    .

    They could. And I’m not arguing against this position. I’m arguing against those who (wittingly or unwittingly) equate the punishment with its consequences and assume that because the latter is infinite so too is the former. But it’s not. If it’s retributively just, the law cannot consider the consequences that flow from the punishment as part of the punishment itself. They’re different categories. The one has relevance to the law the other does not.

    Thanks again. I appreciated the push back.

  • http://www.djfick.blogspot.com Daniel J. Fick

    Chris (135 & 136),

    If I’m honest, I don’t see me reading Konstan’s book anytime soon (Amazon had it listed for over $100.00), unless someone wants to buy it for me. Then, I would gladly read it. :)

    Moreso, I am failing to see how my interpretation of Matt. 25 is faulty. If Jesus wanted to separate the ideas (of eternal/everlasting and temporal), it would seem that a better linguistic fit would have been “aidios” to describe heaven, which would have then left, perhaps, less confusion. It seems that the parallel usage is more linguistically accurate.

    Also, you seem to be placing a large emphasis on aion, aionios, and their derivatives as having a temporal usage. I am not contending against this point, as I have already fully affirmed that these words are often used this way.

    Lastly, and this is not meant to come across pejoratively, regarding your last paragraph, unless you are taking these ideas from Konstan’s book, you seem to be making soe sweeping assumptions/declarations without citing any specific Scripture or other rational for your reasoning.

    Thanks for the interaction!

  • Perry

    Jeff,
    Perhaps you’ve addressed this somewhere, but what do you make of Jude 7?

    Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

    There are two reasons given for this. First, they are undergoing a punishment for immorality during their life. The second clear reason is to provide an example of what happens to such people. They are “exhibited”, and in context, they are exhibited forever in the following state or condition, that being eternal fire. The exhibit is live and ongoing, (as opposed to being recorded for posterity to merely read about.) And there is no evidence of its future cessation.

    Also, the punishment is clearly punitive, and its duration is clearly eternal. “Eternal fire” would cease to be “punishment” if the souls were annihilated at some point, however, there no hint that allows one to presume there will eventually be a cessation of this punitive condition. Thoughts?

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    The exhibit is live and ongoing, (as opposed to being recorded for posterity to merely read about.)

    The text says nothing of the sort. You should not define the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah by what you think “eternal fire” means. You should define “eternal fire” by looking at the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. The “eternal fire” of Jude 7 is, as far as I know, almost universally recognized as referring to the fire that actually destroyed those cities.

    The parallel passage in 2 Peter (2:6), makes the same point: if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly

    Being reduced to ashes and condemned to extinction. That’s the example of what will happen to the ungodly. Sounds like what I believe! :)

    Eternal fire is not “fire that torments forever.” It is fire the issues from the presence of God and destroys forever.

  • Perry

    Ronnie,
    OK, fair enough. What do you make of Revelation 14:10-11?
    Some observations:

    1) For those who have a hard time reconciling the existence of a universe where both God and hell coexist, this fire and brimstone is said to be “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”

    2) For the “smoke of their torment” to go up forever, would that not require that they be tormented forever? (It seems a better interpretation than to say their dead carcasses will “smolder” forever). Forever is a long (and unrealistic) time for any annihilated carcass to smolder.

    3) The “no rest day or night” is not qualified with any reference to a termination point. To assume one is not warranted by the text.

  • http://conditionalism.net/blog/ Ronnie

    There’s a lot that can be said about Revelation 14:11. Briefly:

    First, there is no indication that this is a depiction of final punishment. There is no mention of the resurrection, final judgment, or the lake of fire. It is mentioned in the middle of a narrative section about the beasts and is directly followed by an earthly judgment.

    Second, the image of smoke rising forever is also found in Revelation 19:3, where it refers to the smoke of the destruction of the great city Babylon. The language is borrowed from Isaiah 34:10, in a prophecy depicting the destruction of Edom:

    Night and day it shall not be quenched;
    its smoke shall go up forever.
    From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
    none shall pass through it forever and ever.

    Nobody that I’m aware of contends that either Edom or Babylon will literally burn forever—they correctly discern that the language ought not be taken literally. Rather, they understand this to be the same kind of symbolic, hyperbolic, judgment language that is found throughout the Old Testament (e.g. the moon turning to blood and so forth).

    For some reason though, when it comes to Revelation 14:11, traditionalists will forget everything they know about this genre of literature and insist that we can make solid inferences about reality based on the imagery (e.g. your points 1-3).

    Just curious, do you take the judgement imagery depicted immediately after (v14-20) literally?

    I’ll admit this much:

    1. If Revelation 14:11 was explicitly about final punishment and
    2. I was unaware of how similar language is used elsewhere in Scripture and
    3. I thought it was appropriate to interpret the symbolism found in this genre of literature literally,

    then yes, this might be a good proof-text for the traditional view.

  • Steve

    The debate about hell is entertaining. What’s next, debating about the color of unicorns or how fast fairies can fly?
    Establish that such a place exists, then get back to me.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Luke, (108)

    In response to your last question, No, there is no distinction. We are all in need of forgiveness, and by Biblical definition, the precedent of Jesus, there is not qualification, the sinners (not ex-sinners) enter the Kingdom first, according to Jesus. Anyone who enters the Kingdom I would take to be one of God’s chosen people. Of course everybody is chosen!

  • Chris

    Hey Daniel,

    Thanks for writing back! I totally understand about the Konstan book! It’s crazy how much people will charge for a book when it is hard to get. I gave some thought to your answer about using scriptures. I didn’t really use any because of the limited space, but also because the themes in scripture sometimes create patterns and this is one of those that I kind of see as being self evident, but that’s not fair of me. Not everyone will see the same thing in the scriptures

    Nehemiah, chapter 9 shows a pattern of God and Israel with their sin. Revelation, obedience, disobedience, punishment, repentance, forgiveness, disobedience, punishment, repentance, forgiveness, rinse & repeat! God is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. God’s punishments get harsher, but even when God pours out his wrath on Israel, putting them into exile in Babylon, he still loves them and his wrath is both punitive AND restorative. The book of paints a beautiful picture of God where he has Hosea marry a prostitute. God reveals the same pattern but reveals something fascinating: even when Israel has played the harlot and he is furious with them, He still loves them. God has Hosea go and BUY BACK his wife out of prostitution. He pursues us even in his wrath (which makes sense because even when we were under his wrath, still “when we were his enemies, he loved us…”

    Concerning your statement about aidios, certainly Jesus wouldn’t need to use aidios to describe heaven since there would never be any doubt as to Jesus’ meaning when he said “lasting life”. Based on many, many other scriptures (such as “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality…”) no one has ever wondered “how long will our reward in heaven last”? On the other hand, when Jesus said “lasting punishment” there are certainly no places in scripture that would leave us to believe that God’s punishment of sin, which would be perfectly fair, would last trillions of years, with that not even being the start of their punishment because God’s wrath is just getting warmed up – He stays wrathful and angry at the sinful forever, supposedly. The picture God paints of himself is one who hates sin but loves sinful man (while we were yet sinners…). He loves man so much that he becomes one himself that he might save us. This was amazing because he loved us more than he hated sin, otherwise he simply would have destroyed us/punished us without any show of salvation. But God seems to stop punishing because of his mercy and compassion and his desire to save. God’s love is unfathomable.

    The traditional view of God WAY underplays one of God’s chief characteristics (God IS love). When we speak of God as holy, we would never say that God could act in a way that is unholy. That is impossible. EVERY act of God is holy because God IS holy. Likewise, EVERY act of God is loving because God IS love. When God punishes us, he does it out of love, to discipline us – even when it is quite harsh. When we say “God is love” others counter, “yes but God is also just”, as if, when God acts with justice that He has to put aside love to do so! As if God’s acts of justice are void of his character of love that caused him to become flesh and dwell among us. Western man destroys the Hebrew concept of “justice” when it comes to God and man. If you do a study of justice in the Old Testament (and new), you will find that there is only one Hebrew word for justice AND righteousness. Furthermore, you will find that the Hebrew idea of justice centers on saving man from oppression and sin. God’s justice works hand in hand with his mercy.

    The works of His hands are truth and justice; All His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; They are performed in truth and uprightness. 9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name. (Psalms 111:7-9)

    “This is what the LORD says: “`Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed” (Jeremiah 21:12)

    “This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another. (Zechariah 7:9)

    “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice”.( Isaiah 30:18)

    ” I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations… A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory” (Matthew 12:18-21)

    God’s justice has never been at conflict with his mercy, and it has never been without love as it is impossible for God to act outside of love, just as it is impossible for God to act outside of holiness. The reason he became a man was because he thought it was unjust that his creation was being overpowered, enslaved, and destroyed by the power of sin. He wanted to free us. God’s justice IS about mercy. The scriptures are about redemption. Traditional conservatives speak as if the problem is sin, man is guilty, and needs to be punished. Actually, the problem is sin, man is in slavery and needs to be freed.
    God, though he hates sin, loves man and would not punish him without end. It’s not in His revealed nature. Eternal punishment is NOT the logical conclusion of the revealed nature of the God of the scriptures. You don’t read about God and then say to yourself, “I’ll bet he punishes sin forever.” The tendency of God is to show mercy, or after punishment, to relent or forgive after a time. Time and again, in the scriptures, God relents from his punishment after he pours out his wrath. In Psalm 106,
    40 Therefore the LORD was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance. He gave them into the hands of the nations, and their foes ruled over them. Their enemies oppressed them and subjected them to their power. Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin. Yet he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented. He caused all who held them captive to show them mercy.

    This pattern is repeated many times throughout the Old Testament and is shown to be a characteristic of God. This is from Lamentations chapter 3:

    31 For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

    So let me ask you: the pattern in scripture shows God repeatedly turning back toward forgiveness even after severe wrath. So, where in scripture, besides your reliance on the word “aionios” (which doesn’t have to mean eternal) do you see that God punishes eternally? What scriptures indicate to you that God would punish forever; would be full of wrath and anger forever pouring it out on those who never repented before they died? Aionios tells us that the punishment will be “lasting”. What part of the scriptures outside of aionios tells you that God punishes forever?

    One more note on aionios and the supposed parallel: again aionian life and aionian punishment have no reason to be of the same duration. As I explained with the “lasting perfume” and “lasting gum” etc. explanation, it is the noun being modified that helps determine the duration meant in “lasting”. The noun “gum” tells us that “lasting” could be 20 minutes and be correct in its representation. Simply using the same adjective for “life” and “punishment” doesn’t give it the same duration. If heaven was to last for eternity and hell was supposed to last for 1000 years, the terms “lasting life” and “lasting punishment” would fit perfectly. It doesn’t have to mean “eternal punishment” for it to be accurate or to work in the text. You are reading into the text when you say that the context requires that they be of equal duration. There is no rule of grammar that requires this to be the case, nor does logic dictate it. Also, it makes sense because God’s anger always seems to last for a season and he is always seeking out repentance for it is his will that “none should perish, but that all would come to eternal life”.

    1 Timothy 2:3,4 “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    2 Peter 3:9-“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.”

    Ephesians 1:11 “In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”

  • Chris

    Correction: In the second half of the second paragraph above I spoke about “The book” without first saying it was the book of Hosea. I meant to start a new paragraph and introduce the book of Hosea and I don’t know what happened :( sorry.

  • http://gplus.to/justinheap Justin

    (155) Chris wrote, “God’s justice works hand in hand with his mercy.” Among many other incredibly well worded statements…

    I have been dropping the following poem/essay in countless chats and threads relating to this very point – precisely because I think this is what shapes telos; how mercy and justice interact in philosophy, as well as, of course, within doctrine and the ethos of local church communities.

    At any rate, I think it fits equally well here, it is entitled, Mercy Will Follow:

    Judgment without mercy is just
    Where mercy without justice is
    Impossible, for mercy must
    And always follow justice.
    No one hopes only for the just
    -ice of the judge, but for mercy
    To follow. For we stand
    Either saved by grace
    Which includes mercy. Or we
    Are lost unto justice because
    We stand condemned.

    We can not hope that justice
    Is the final word unless we
    Hope also for death.
    Speaking of the final
    Word, what of it? What of him
    Who spoke forgiveness to men
    Seeking justice without
    Mercy – oh to be Judge!
    How would we have responded,
    Much the same as we do today,
    Condemning the innocent

    For we know not what it means
    To desire what the judge desires
    What the maker hopes for,
    To desire mercy in place of
    Sacrifice; Where sacrifices are just
    But are not the beginning or the end
    Of justice. This is the law
    Which greets us with hope,
    Mercy follows justice as life follows
    Death. This is the scandal of grace,
    Forgiveness, this is what we

    Desire on that day, hope for on that day
    And every day. That justice would reign,
    That mercy will follow.
    That love never fails,
    Always hopes and the Judge will be
    Present, faithful to the faithless. That he
    Would desire what we
    Often fail to desire for
    Our world and ourselves: immediate
    Compassion as he rises to deliver
    The judgment.

  • http://gplus.to/justinheap Justin

    And I couldn’t resist keeping this KOLASIS teaching point alive. This is from William Barclay, renowned Greek Scholar, right?

    “The Greek word for punishment here [Mt. 25:46] is
    kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better.I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment.” – A Spiritual Autobiography (Grand Rapids)

    Gotta love it.


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