Questions about Hell

The claim is bold. The claim is this: those who are “in Christ” will spend eternity with God; those who are not “in Christ” will go to hell. The claim, then, not only claims that there is an afterlife, one in which there is blessedness or destruction, but the claim is to know who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Edward Fudge, in his accessible Hell: A Final Word addresses this claim and asks and seeks resolution to some important questions.

What are the two most important things you have concluded about hell?

What does hell mean to Jesus? It is often heard that Jesus talks more about hell than anyone in the Bible; that statement is both true but can also be naive. Yes, Jesus talks about “hell” if one means “Gehenna,” but if by “hell” one means “eternal torment” then one has to be more than naive. Fudge examines the term Gehenna to observe that Jesus is only one in the NT who talks about Gehenna as final judgment (and some today would question if Jesus is talking about final judgment; I think he uses Gehenna as his trope for final judgment). Here are his observations about Jesus:

1. Gehenna is the place where God is able to destroy both soul and body (Matt 10:28). Total destruction is the idea.
2. Jesus never addresses “sinners” with Gehenna; he addresses his disciples and the religious leaders of Israel.
3. Who goes to hell? Jesus: those who abuse fellow humans (Matt 5:22), those whose eyes lead them into sin (5:29-30), missionary proselytes (23:15), those who see others suffering and turn away (25:31-46).

Fudge grew up thinking non-Christians and people in other churches were going to hell, as were those who lacked sincerity, commitment and genuine repentance.

So who will go to hell?

1. No salvation outside of Jesus (Acts 4:12).
2. Salvation comes by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9).
3. Same salvation applies to all.
4. God judges on the basis of light (John 3:20-21; Rom 4:19-22).
5. We are not the judges (Matt 7:1).
6. The “many” and “few” of Matt 7:13-14 is about God’s wishes.
7. The first promise of salvation in the Bible — in Abraham — Gen 22:17 — speaks of the numbers of the sand grains on the seashore: an optimistic vision.
8. The near-closing visions in Revelation say the people are innumerable: Rev 7:1-12.
9. God is predisposed to save, not condemn (John 3:17).

Not reasons to go to hell:

1. God will not make people go to hell.
2. No one goes to hell because of Adam’s sin; Adam’s sin has been dealt with by Christ (Rom 5:12-21).
3. No one goes to hell because of location (Acts 10:34-35): God is at work with everyone.
4. No one goes to hell because they missed the true church.
5. No one goes to hell for accidentally misunderstanding some doctrinal point while sincerely seeking God’s will.

People go to hell who refuse to believe in God/Christ.

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.

  • Rob Petersen

    “Total destruction is the idea” is another way of saying hell is a place of annihilation. While that perspective seems more palatable to us, it also seems to ignore some passages that indicate eternal torment. One of the more difficult aspects of understanding eschatological destinations is the limited information we have been given, and to ignore a significant portion of that information in order to make us more comfortable seems risky. I prefer to err on the side of caution; having looked at all the passages dealing with the issue, I have to conclude that hell is a place of eternal torment.

  • http://wilsonstation.com Jon Trott

    Scot, thanks for posting this. More grist for the personal mill. I find what you’ve sketched out here (via Fudge) more attractive than the doctrine of hell suggesting it is an eternal torment. But as Rob Peterson posts, there are some problematic passages re hell being an eternal punishment. I’m intently engaged in this for myself, and realize it isn’t just the Adventists who believe in “annhiliationism.” John Stott and a few other well-known mainstream Evangelical types did as well.

  • Greg D

    #1 Rob – When you refer to the word “eternal” I wonder if you have done enough homework to determine what eternal actually means. One can argue that the Greek word for “eternal” is “aeon” meaning ages. While torment may be eternal it actually may only be for a season. It is worth noting that when the term “fire” is used throughout Scripture it is almost always referring to a temporary refinement.

  • http://www.kingdomroundtable.blogspot.com Dru Dodson

    Further observations: Gospel of Matthew records the most “Gehenna” sayings, the most culturally “Jewish” of the Gospels. These sayings are almost entirely absent from Luke – a cross-cultural missionary decision by Luke/Paul?. A survey of the sermons in the book of Acts will find “Gehenna” or “hell” entirely absent from those gospel sermons. A survey of the letter’s to the churches will find “hell” almost entirely absent – off hand I remember a reference in one of the Thess letters to retribution, and in either 2 Peter or Jude to “Tartar”. That’s it. It absolutely does NOT function as the framing reality for the preaching of the gospel recorded in the NT, in contrast to our traditional evangelical gospel preaching.

  • jeff stewart

    Again – “Universalism” cannot be extracted from scripture, but “reversalism” is often implied. Matt 7 contains reversals. We, being evil, know how to give good gifts. Not everyone who utters “lord, lord” will enter… many will say “lord, lord” – ? “depart from me…..”
    Who are those who do the wishes/pleasure (θέλημα) – of the originator of Christ?

  • jess

    The two most important things that I have concluded about hell are:

    1. God genuinely doesn’t want a single individual to go to hell. He would rather die a hellish-death for them then to let them go to hell.
    2. I don’t have to understand perfectly the nature of hell to avoid going there.

  • adam

    #2 Greg: There are only two ages taught in Scripture, that of “this age and the age to come” (Eph1:21). Thus, it would certainly be clear that the idea of “eternity” is that of “the age” to come not ages continually coming. Also, annihilation is completely contrary to Pauline eschatology both in 1Cor.5:3-5 and Phil1:23. Paul clearly expresses a knowable differentiation in experiential feeling, i.e. consciousness. This is a reality for both torment (nakedness) and blessings (clothed in Christ).

    Finally, the thought that “fire in scripture refers most often to temporary refinement,” lacks in acknowledging distinctions in context which is critical. Consider John’s apocalypse. When fire appears, whether literal or metaphorical, in dealing with the ungodly it serves as a damning judgment not as a refinement or call to repentance (9:17-18; 11:5; 14:10; 21:8 etc.).

    This book, “Hell, a final word” seems in this brief sketch to be anything but a biblical, final, word.

  • Jayflm

    Two most important things about Hell that I have concluded:
    1) The term as Jesus used it, laid alongside the other terms He used to warn people, such as “perish” and “destruction”, is best seen as something ending in annihilation, although there is likely appropriate punishment that must first be endured.
    2) The threat of Hell was not used by the apostolic messengers to motivate people to faith in Christ Jesus. Read Acts, as Dru says in #3 above.

  • jesse

    Adam, please read this book for yourself and also read the more extensive The Fire that Consumes before saying that it is is Biblical or not.

  • Craig

    People go to hell who refuse to believe in God/Christ.

    Given that one would go to hell because of it, let’s try to get clearer here. There are a lot of things that I don’t believe in, but it would be very odd to say that anything I don’t believe in I also refuse to believe in it. So what exactly is the difference between simply not believing in God/Christ and refusing to believe in God/Christ?

  • adam

    The fact that the Apostle’s didn’t motivate people to love Christ by scaring them with Hell is true and wonderful. However, to then say that this indicates an indifference to Hell as a reality or indicates an absolute disbelief in its existence on the part of the Apostle’s is wrong. I believe in Christ-centered preaching myself, which means motivation (if you call it that) by grace in light of redemption, but the presence of grace/Christ does not indicate a lack of belief in Hell as a reality.

    On annihilation, how does Christ reigning forever (age to come) relate? Is there a correspondence between the duration of Christ’s rule to the duration of punishment? Will he, in the age to come, rule over those who refused his rule in this age? And if so, for how long? It seem to be clear to me that his rule will extend over the ungodly (peoples, as well as, Satan, Beast, and FProphet), forever. Annihilation would not conceptually work.

  • Greg D

    I have come to the conclusion thus far that there is indeed a hell. But, I struggle with the nature of it. And, I tend to lean on the side of grace… that God will bestow His grace and mercy upon people even after they die. Will everyone go to heaven? I certainly hope so. But, I think there will still be those who reject Christ and will indeed find themselves living in some form of hell (separation, annhilation, refinement, purgatory, etc.). But, I also believe there will be many people in heaven who had never heard the Gospel. Because, many apathetic and complacent Christians never heeded Christ’s command to go… go and make disciples of other nations… found in Matthew 28. One of my favorite quotes is this gem:

    “When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there. The first wonder will be to see any people there whom I did not expect to see; the second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see; and the third and greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there.” (John Newton)

  • JustforQuix

    For myself I fail to see the oft-cited support for Eternal Conscious Torment coming from poetic source (Rev 14&20; Luke 16) is suspicious and and more persuaded to believe on Christ based on the more dominant teaching that there is no life apart from God and because of the hope that Jesus was sent to save the world. But per #5 jess I must agree that whatever the fate is in ontological terms, it is a work of rescue or judgement wrought by God, not by me, and I dare say, not by theologians and ministers. I allow the ECT believers the grace to believe if it so moves them to trust in God. But as for me, I think it is rationally, emotionally, scripturally and spiritually specious; nevertheless I am moved to believe because of who I trust who God is, not because of the details of punishment theology. As such I could be wrong about the fine details of hell theory and be reliably secure in my rescue and ongoing (and hopeful ultimate) salvation in Christ.

  • Norman

    Perhaps if we keep judgment limited to the context of “Judgment upon the Old Mosaic Covenant” which represented the “present age” under discussion then most of this language is going to fit better and make much more sense. The Matt 10:28 verse (destroy both body and soul) covers 2 aspects of impending judgment that was coming upon the Jews. First the destruction of the body at the Temple Judgment which Christ prophesied is in view where those who did not heed His instructions to flee Jerusalem ended up in the valley of gehenna where indeed their physical bodies were destroyed. Also their ignoring His directions and His call to fully embody True Israel (Rom 9:6-8) brought about their being cast out as God’s covenant people, that meant they did not inherit eternal life as expected. (They were the branches broken off Rom 11:17) Their Excommunication infers then the loss of their eternal Soul coupled with a physical judgment upon their refusal of Christ and His new Kingdom (the age to come). Both Body and Soul were in jeopardy due to their refusal to accept Christ as the incarnate YHWH.

    This verse points more to a physical consequence for rejecting Christ and consequently their soul’s annihilation than anything remotely about ECT. Much of the work that Fudge has done supports a specific context that was taking place in the first century and doesn’t necessarily translate beyond that context specifically. We impose our own presuppositions upon the context which lends to misapplications.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Rob (1). You wrote, “One of the more difficult aspects of understanding eschatological destinations is the limited information we have been given, and to ignore a significant portion of that information in order to make us more comfortable seems risky. I prefer to err on the side of caution; having looked at all the passages dealing with the issue, I have to conclude that hell is a place of eternal torment.”

    Why not go the other way? We have LOTS of information about God’s character. Why not say because God’s character looks like Jesus, and Jesus would not create states of affairs where a human soul will suffer indefinitely, Hell cannot be eternal conscious torment?

  • jamie west zumwalt

    This statement seems to be the conclusion: “People go to hell who refuse to believe in God/Christ.” and yet, this is NOT ONE of the reasons that has been given by Jesus, Himself, NOR by the list that is compiled here. This is confusing to me. How then is this conclusion reached? This seems to me to be a logical leap. What am I missing here?

  • adam

    There are so many theological implications of this discussion that are not being appreciated. Consider substitutionary atonement: Is God properly offering annihilation to the damned without any regard to Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice? Or did subst. atonement also account for annihilation?
    Consider the work of propitiation and expiation. Did the atonement quench the wrath of God for all men irrespective of repentance and faith? Thus, all experience God’s appeasement irrespective of Christ’s work, some unto redemption and others unto annihilation?

    Do the imputations of both Adam (unrighteous) and Christ (righteous) endure for eternity? Are they correspondent in the age to come as they are in the age that is passing away?

    Finally, where did we get the idea that death/destruction means annihilation? Can an object be destroyed and properly be said not to have been annihilated?

  • jess

    Good point, Jeff. Plus, the bulk of the scriptural language (die, perish, destroy) sounds more like annihilation than ECT. We could err on the side of caution there by taking the scriptures at face value and concluding that hell is ultimate annihilation. Also, if the information we have is so limited, why make a dogmatic statement either way. If we really feel like the biblical information is limited we should say hell might be ECT, it might be annihilation, or it might be universalism. The data would just be too limited to make an authoritative statement either way.

    Rob also made a good point about believing something just because it makes us comfortable. Then again, it’s possible to do that whatever your belief about hell is. Someone who believes the traditional view of hell might only believe it because it is comfortable to believe it and not question it because of the response they might get from their peers for questioning a traditional doctrine.

  • joey

    A “Father” is capable of ceaselessly, consciously ripping out the fingernails of one of his children?! Forever-and-ever?! Because that is what the child “deserves”?!

  • EricW

    7. adam says:
    December 10, 2012 at 8:24 am

    #2 Greg: There are only two ages taught in Scripture, that of “this age and the age to come” (Eph1:21).

    Not necessarily. There’s Ephesians 2:7 – “in the ages (plural) to come” (en tois aiosin tois eperchomenois)

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (7) You wrote, “Annihilation is completely contrary to Pauline eschatology both in 1Cor.5:3-5 and Phil1:23. Paul clearly expresses a knowable differentiation in experiential feeling, i.e. consciousness. This is a reality for both torment (nakedness) and blessings (clothed in Christ).”

    Unpack this. The passages referenced as I read them say: 1 cor: “for the destruction of the sinful nature so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Phil 1: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

    How do these argue against Annihilation?

    You wrote, “The thought that “fire in scripture refers most often to temporary refinement,” lacks in acknowledging distinctions in context which is critical.”

    What’s being debated is annihilation not soteriological universalism. Fire in the Bible is consistently an agent of destruction: it is “the fire that consumes”.

    You wrote, “On annihilation, how does Christ reigning forever (age to come) relate?”

    Christ will “reconcile all things to himself.” He will “restore everything as he promised long ago.” He is “the heir of all things.” These are stated without qualification, as such hell must be a state in which all things not obedient to the will of Christ are either restored or destroyed. There seems no space in the cosmos for a realm of eternal conscious torment.

    You expanded, “Is there a correspondence between the duration of Christ’s rule to the duration of punishment? Will he, in the age to come, rule over those who refused his rule in this age? And if so, for how long? It seem to be clear to me that his rule will extend over the ungodly (peoples, as well as, Satan, Beast, and FProphet), forever. Annihilation would not conceptually work.”

    It seems your not understanding the claim of annihilation. Those damned cease to exist, and all creation is “liberated from its bondage to decay.”

    Conceptually annihilation is a FAR superior theory of hell. It makes sense of the intentions of God’s, how God is addressing evil, how all things are restored, and the freedom of humanity.

    The traditional view of hell smacks of unwarranted vengeance. There is no reason for its creation, if God has foreknowledge. It is amazingly difficult to reconcile with the character of Christ and the many passages about his total reign over reality.

    Eternal conscious torment on the other hand is a repugnant idea and, as a theological thesis, unworthy of Christians devotion any longer.

    Much love all!

  • Kenton

    How much longer do we have to suffer the idea that “salvation” in scripture means going to heaven when we die and not going to hell or becoming annihilated (Fudge’s points 2 & 3)?

    It wasn’t how Paul used the word, and it wasn’t how his readers understood the word. Salvation was a term ascribed to the Caesars who (supposedly) put the world aright. That’s the understanding that should be applied to Eph 2, John 3, etc.

  • Mark H

    The “many” and “few” of Matt 7:13-14 is about God’s wishes.

    Can someone clarify what is meant by this?

  • jesse

    Mark, here is what the book says: for a God who does not want any to perish but all to be saved, even one person finally lost is too many

  • Tim

    “People go to hell who refuse to believe in God/Christ.”

    It is this last point that causes the most problems for Christianity. To accept this claim as valid, you have to accept that unbelief = rejection of God. However, with everything we know of psychology, sociology, and particularly our own experiences and interactions in a multicultural world, we know that belief doesn’t quite work that way. You really have to stretch a bit to argue otherwise.

  • adam

    Jeff – thanks for interacting.

    First note: I meant 2Cor. 5:3-5 and that may clarify. I still think what I wrote fits with Phil1. According to 2Cor. Paul is clearly expressing a differentiation in feeling of existence in the after life state that is self perceptive/reflexive consciousness, that of naked or clothed (2Cor) or comparatively “worse or better” consciousness (Phil 1). That is to say, if consciousness is denied (annihilation) then Paul’s whole contrast of “better and worse” makes no sense because one can only appraise his existence if one is conscious.

    I think that we relatively agree on fire as destruction, though perhaps I would argue more for the biblical majority use being judgment. However, given some level of agreement I still cannot grasp how destruction has total transfer into annihilation without any change? I contend those are not simply equal terms.

    To your quotations, I would ask how is Christ becoming, the heir of all things, reconciler of all things, and restorer of all things? The answer is “by the cross.” That is, God is reconciling all things, restoring all things and exalting Christ through the cross. This does not take place within humanity for glory apart from personal reception of its offer (repentance/faith). Thus, I agree with you that Christ is accomplishing these realities, but I see it taking place through the cross which must be appropriated to one account by receiving the gospel. And in this covenant of redemption God is “uniting all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1).

  • Norman

    Adam #16,

    I don’t think God was offering annihilation to mankind; but the mortal nature of the soul outside a relationship with God from a Hebrew standpoint infers a natural physical and spiritual end. It is only through seeking relationship with God that man can become fully the image bearers that is envisioned for him and can receive the “gift” of Eternal life.

    Gen 3:22 … Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”

    Man’s mortal position is compared to the animal/beast and through an embracing of a covenant life walk with God does that “natural” mortal nature become changed/raised into the “immortal”. Ecclesiastes summarizes this desolate state of the children of Adam as compared to the Beast; Christ redeems those in Adam out of that mortal nature as described by Paul in 1 Cor 15.

    Ecc 3: 19 For what happens to the children of adam and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and the adam’s has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

    1 Cor 15: 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.

    Paul describes those in the first Adam as the natural man (mortal in nature) and those who put on Christ (the last Adam)as the immortal man. Most people confuse this section in 1 Cor 15 as dealing with people who have gone to heaven when it is simply about walking in the Spirit through Christ instead of the natural man embodied by Adam. It’s saying the same thing that Paul is speaking about in so many other areas about walking in the spirit and not in the flesh (through human effort).

    Rom 8: 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.

    Some often confuse Paul’s walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh as Gnosticism but it is again implying the same point that he reinforces in 1 Cor 15 that we can’t remain in Adam’s/Israel’s mortal approach of commands and Law keeping but need to embrace the Heavenly Spiritual walk that Christ has established. God has brought down to those who seek Him the spiritual/Heavenly way of walking with God.

    2 Cor 3: 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (25). You wrote, “According to 2Cor. Paul is clearly expressing a differentiation in feeling of existence in the after life state that is self perceptive/reflexive consciousness, that of naked or clothed (2Cor) or comparatively “worse or better” consciousness (that is to say, if consciousness is denied (annihilation) then Paul’s whole contrast of “better and worse” makes no sense because one can only appraise his existence if one is conscious.”

    For the annihilationist, everyone survives until the judgment. After the judgment, the damned soul ceases to exists, the redeemed soul continues on. Paul here is referring to himself prior to the judgment (and I would assume he’s redeemed) so he sees himself going to be with Christ to wait.

    You wrote, “I still cannot grasp how destruction has total transfer into annihilation without any change? I contend those are not simply equal terms.”

    “Destruction” and “annihilation” seem synonymous to me. It is pairing “destruction” with “indefinate incarceration” that seems like a stretch.

    I agree with your last paragraph. How does it apply to the nature of hell?

    Peace!

  • John I.

    Re Adam (#25) and 2 Cor. 5:3-5

    ?

    Paul is talking about believers only, and is contrasting their present unpleasant state with their future perfect state. Clothed with our present flesh we groan; clothed with our future resurrection life we will not. How does any of that relate to the future state of unbelievers?

  • Matt Edwards

    The biggest thing for me is that Hell is about justice. Most of the Hell passages are written to an oppressed minority, reminding them that God is in control and that the wicked will not go unpunished. I think Hell is a “problem” for us (Americans) because we are not a persecuted people. We live in the richest and most powerful nation in world history, and the non-Christians around us don’t seem any less moral than us.

    Hell made more sense to me after reading 4 Maccabees. Regardless of the historicity of the book, the events were believable to the original audience. If I lived in a world where leaders could do the things that the tyrant of 4 Maccabees did, I would want to know that God was going to bring these leaders to justice.

    When our ideas about Hell start to make God seem unjust, we’ve got something wrong. Either (1) we don’t understand the gravity of our offense, or (2) we misunderstand the nature of Hell.

  • Brandon Bishop

    Matt (29)

    So are you seeing annihilationism less just than ECT?
    I think an argument can be made that the punishment of not existing is as just as ECT? Maybe that’s not what you’re suggesting.

  • adam

    Jeff
    What about the resurrection of the just and unjust? The unjust are raised to face the judgment of their life lived on earth (Rev. 20). The unjust are raised only to be met with “the second death,” that is, having died once (intermediate state), now only to resurrect and die for a “second” time (eternally). This place of judgment is called “the lake of fire,” where the Dragon, Beast, FProphet are at this point in redemptive history and it must be noted that they are being “tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10-15). The dimension within which the redeemed carry on is known as the New heaven and new earth. However, those of the unjust, we are reminded, continue on along with the Dragon, Beast and FProphet in the conscious torment of the “second death” (21:8).
    The whole contrast of “first and second” only works in light of corresponding principles of life (conscious existence) in the “first” as well as in the “second.” Otherwise, the “second” death is not properly called the “second” it is truly the “first” of a completely new kind or realm, that being annihilation which does not correspond to life in the “first” experience (pre-judgment intermediate state).
    Finally, this would mean that the Dragon, Beast, and FProphet are also annihilated since they and the unjust share the same inheritance. Right?

    The other question, How does it apply to the nature of hell? I would note, it is properly said that Christ under went the wrath of God. He was not annihilated, yet suffered, being just was raised. This would certainly establish the biblical testimony that only those who are united to Christ through his cross will not suffer the wrath to come (reconciliation, renewal, exaltation). Those outside of Christ will suffer wrath consciously as did Christ, but will not be raised just but unjust, and being found unjust will endure the wrath of God which at no time has been exhibited in the biblical text as annihilation, again, as in the Christ event. No one will escape by annihilation (Rev 14:9-13)

  • adam

    John 28: Its a text that sheds light on the entire ontology of eternal existence. Believers or unbelievers, its a point of access into the ontology of eternity. See my early posts.

  • Matt Edwards

    Brandon Bishop (30)

    I am an annihilationist. The biblical data points to annihilation and it does seem more just than ECT. To be fair, I have not done an exhaustive philosophical inquiry into the justice of annihilation versus ECT, but ECT seems to me more sadistic than just.

  • Joe Canner

    Mark #29: Thanks for that perspective. I have wondered about this since I read (ironically) Chan and Sprinkle’s Erasing Hell, in which they support the case for the traditional view by referring to some of the inter-testamental literature. This got me interested in reading the original context and it seems pretty clear that passages regarding hell were indeed a coping mechanism for helping them trust that God’s justice would ultimately prevail.

    Jesus seems to mostly refer to hell in a similar way, referring to it as a punishment for the worst kinds of sinners and hypocrites. Seeing it as punishment for “accidentally misunderstanding some doctrinal point” or having a fuzzy idea of the relationship between grace and works seems to miss the point.

  • Joe Canner

    Adam #31: Why do you assume that humans who are thrown in the lake of fire are tormented just as the devil is? Why wouldn’t the author have said this if that’s what he meant? Note also that the phrase “second death” is only used with respect to humans, as the devil never had a “first death”. Isn’t it at least possible that “second death” means exactly what it sounds like it means: that humans will undergo a second death following the death of their natural bodies that extinguishes their existence forever, whereas the devil is not eligible for this punishment by virtue of not being human (and presumably being immortal).

  • Marshall

    Eternal Punishment doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t see how Judgement requires pursuing the don’t-pass crowd forever and ever … why bother? I can certainly imagine injuries in childhood that one must live with forever, part of who one is. Some of those injuries can amount to continuous conscious torment … life in an iron lung comes to mind, if anyone remembers those. Not to mention psychological injuries.

    If being tortured for eternity is the consideration, we needn’t worry; after only a few years or decades or centuries of even very modest torture, there wouldn’t be much left of a human personality anyway.

    If God sends people to Hell, I imagine it would be the people suited to the place. To have dominion over it, and subdue it, and make it a blessing to the nations.

  • adam

    Joe, where is the need for providing these highly particularized nuances within these obvious textual comments coming from?
    I would suggest that being thrown into the lake of fire, as a locale of punishment, would quite obviously include the experience of being punished. Thus, I think the author did write what he meant in an obvious fashion.
    Also, in light of your saying, “that humans will undergo a second death following the death of their natural bodies that extinguishes their existence forever,” I could ask alongside of you, “Why wouldn’t the author have said this if that’s what he meant?” In light of my previous post to which you are referring, I would still submit that the burden of proof lies with you to make the second death mean extinction. This is not an issue of “eligibility.” It is an issue of God always being perfectly all that God is in all of his attributes always.

  • Jim Neely

    There are many interesting comments above on this subject. Since I have not yet read every one of the words posted, I certainly can’t claim to have studied them.
    I do have one thought about “God sending some one to hell”. I believe that is attempting to apply our limited subjective emotions to the issue.
    God does not send anyone to hell; they send themselves by their rejection of what He has already done. To bring subjectivity back into the argument, suppose you had condemned your son to die in order to set some lawless criminal free. After he was freed, he disrespected you and your actions, and made light of the suffering and sacrifice of your son, just how tolerant do you think you would be of his disrespect. I realize that question does bring our subjectivity into the picture, but at least as far as human wisdom can go, I think it frames the issue, at least for me.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (32), (38). You wrote, “What about the resurrection of the just and unjust? The unjust are raised to face the judgment of their life lived on earth (Rev 20). The unjust are raised only to be met with “the second death,” that is, having died once (intermediate state), now only to resurrect and die for a “second” time (eternally).

    I agree with everything up til the last word. The Bible teaches otherwise. “Death” entails cessation. Death is not a word that implies incarceration, as such when Jesus speaks of the eternality of hell these ought to be read as a destruction that cannot be reversed for it is eternal.

    You wrote,” This place of judgment is called “the lake of fire,” where the Dragon, Beast, FProphet are at this point in redemptive history and it must be noted that they are being “tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10-15) … No one will escape by annihilation (Rev 14:9-13).

    It always amuses me that the two passages most often cited in support of eternal conscious torment come from the most symbolic, unclear, easily manipulatable book in the Bible. I’m sure you would agree that both fools and the wicked consistently turn to Revelation to manipulate themselves and others. It seems this is not a good place to start one’s search, but ought to be read hermeneutically as a support rather than a foundation.

    I would invoke the rest of the New Testament picture which consistently argues against this interpretation of these passages on hell (see below as a brief start or Edward Fudge’s longer book for a more thorough picture).

    You wrote, “The other question, How does it apply to the nature of hell? I would note, it is properly said that Christ under went the wrath of God. He was not annihilated, yet suffered, being just was raised.”

    Are you referring to 1 Peter 3.18-20? Jesus spoke to those in a pre-judgment state, ya?

    You wrote, “This would certainly establish the biblical testimony that only those who are united to Christ through his cross will not suffer the wrath to come (reconciliation, renewal, exaltation). Those outside of Christ will suffer wrath consciously as did Christ, but will not be raised just but unjust, and being found unjust will endure the wrath of God which at no time has been exhibited in the biblical text as annihilation, again, as in the Christ event.”

    Two things. One this assumes penal substitution as the *primary way* of understanding the work of the cross. Christus Victor is better and is the clear choice of the early church.

    Secondly, Jesus and the John the Baptist use images of annihilation, describing those who die united to sin as their master like chaff thrown in a furnace. Jesus says “be afraid of the one who can destroy (apollymi) both body and soul in gehenna” (Mt 10.28). Apollymi is translated by the NIV as “execute,” “drown,” “kill,” “starve to death,” “vanish,” “bring to an end” and “lose.” Not “imprison.” The traditional view of hell has real difficulty with this passage, but annihilation makes sense especially when you pair this with Jesus’ parables. One does not keep around a rotting fish removed from the net, or the weeds that once perverted the field. You burn them in order to destroy them.

    Perhaps the most telling passage comes early on in the scripture when God said, “[The man] must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take from the tree and live of life and eat and live forever.” Apparently God thinks it would be very bad for those who choose to separate themselves from his kind of life to go on living eternally–and therefore God *mercifully* allows Adam to die.

    That’s a brief start. I look forward to your thoughts. Peace.

  • Mike M

    Being Spirit Beings, Satan and his demons can be imprisoned (and tortured?) forever. Being physical beings whose “spirit” is the result/consequence of our physical beings, we are subject to annihilation in the Lake of Fire. While Jews may not believe that Jesus is Messiah, they also don’t “believe” in Hell and it’s hard to argue with 4500 years of thought and experience.
    It’s funny, but the first time I heard of Hell as Annihilation was from RC theologians.

  • adam

    Jeff:
    I guess you mean that “death” means cessation “for the ungodly”? Because the Bible does not flatly speak of death as ceasing to exist. So, perhaps you would read Jesus this way as he speaks on hell, but to say that death flatly “implies,” no matter the context, ceasing to exist is inaccurate. Neither would I suggest that the term “death” means “incarceration.” I am not using “good and necessary inference” here as a hermeneutical principle. I am stating the obvious. Scripture teaches that death exists and is a reality for all creatures. The “experience” (self-reflexive consciousness) of death for the unjust is in a locale (incarceration). Death is not the incarceration. Incarceration is its own element of experience within the realm of death.

    Furthermore, as to your amusement of the use of Revelation, I simply put the text forward. It seems that your amusement is a coping device of sorts to avoid interpreting the book at all? I concede that the book is highly symbolic and difficult to pin down in all of its comments. However, this does not therefore mean that the book is best handled by not handling it all. Neither does it follow that the Apocalypse is contrary to “the rest of the NT.” I think that self-reflexive consciousness is (again, consistent with Paul ontologically), taught in Rev. 14. That is, the contrast of those who die in Christ “having rest” v13, with those that essentially die in the Beast “having no rest” v11, only works if consciousness is in play. I am not seeking to “scare you into heaven” or “manipulate you” by my using of the Revelation of John here.

    To your comment regarding my “primary” view of penal substitution, I must say I was not providing a primary, secondary, tertiary etc. chart of the atonement. I was rather, in speaking to this topic at hand, dealing with the most critical aspect of the atonement in relation to this topic at hand. That is to say, when the reality of hell is denied the atonement loses its meaning of penal substitution.

    With the “images of annihilation” used by Jesus and John, I obviously disagree. Since I don’t accept the “difficulty” of the meaning of “Apollymi” neither do I find its usage in the parables difficult. However, it seems that we have already brought our opposing views to this through other threads of import so I don’t see the unpacking of the parables to be important. I may be wrong, but I simply don’t see the ace up the sleeve here?

    I also think that your view of the Garden events needs more unpacking. From a covenant of works perspective I am unsure of the “apparent telling nature” of this passage also? I think that perhaps there is more here in Genesis for us to discuss, but I think that it would require a lot more work on both our parts than is perhaps sustainable here.

    In conclusion, I am troubled and perplexed, perhaps primarily, by the indifference displayed to the Apocalypse as a source of meaning and truth in reference to eternity. I do not want to “use it as a place to start-foundation”, but I certainly do want to interpret it, submit to it as receiving it as the word of the Lord.
    All in all, it seems the atonement and its nature suffers here where we deny hell or redefine it as “annihilation.”

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (42). Good thoughts.

    I’m obviously not “denying hell”; I’m adamantly against the common interpretation of hell.

    I’m likewise not discounting Revelation as a primary, necessary aspect to the canon, but in terms of function there are somethings Revelation does wonderfully, and others not so much. A precise description of reality is not the Book of Revelation’s target, and that simply needs to be noted when so much else stacks against eternal conscious torment.

    Peace brother!

  • http://www.edwardfudge.com Edward Fudge

    As an initiating party to this conversation, I add only, based on comments:
    (1) my title, “Hell–A Final Word,” is explained in the book and it does not suggest that mine is THE final word on this or any subject;
    (2) my conclusions, which you are summarizing very well, are “conclusions,” not bare assertions, and as such rest on evidence and argument developed in the book;
    (3) This book is not exhaustive and is not scholarly in form or function. For that, one may read THE FIRE THAT CONSUMES, 3rd edition, Cascade/Wipf and Stock, 2011, with foreword by Richard Bauckham. InterVarsity Press also just released the 11th printing of TWO VIEWS OF HELL, in which I set out the case for annihilationism or conditional immortality, Robert Peterson of Covenant Seminary sets out eternal conscious torment, and we each critique the other.
    (4) An excellent source for relevant interviews, podcasts and articles on this topic is rethinkinghell.com .
    (5) The focus in the NT is not on hell (however understood) but on the fullness of blessing now and forever that the faithful, crucified, risen, ascended, and exalted Jesus Christ has brought into being for all who will have it. Praise him forever!

  • Sherman

    It would be much better if modern translations correctly translated Gehenna as “Hinnom Valley” or “the valley of Hinnom” instead of simply transliterating it as Gehenna or mistranslating it as “Hell”. As most should know, it is an actual valley/ravine SSW of Jerusalem. “IF” it was a trash dump with a constant fire and no shortage of maggots, then Jesus is warning of a person’s life winding up in the trash, a trashed life, good for nothing. It was the place where King Ahaz erected an idol, Molech, who had a head of a bull, torso of a man, and a furnace for a belly; and He and other Jews sacrificed their children there, a repulsive practice that was the final straw that brought on the judgment of God. “IF” Jesus was referencing this in His warning concerning Hinnom Valley then He could have been warning of how one’s idols will bring death and destruction to all one loves, even one’s own children. And the prophets used Hinnom Valley as a warning for the Judgment of God against Israel. “IF” Jesus was referencing this then He could have been warning of the destruction of Jerusalem that was soon to come again if the Jews as a people did not repent. The geographical, historical, and cultural significance of Hinnom Valley was well known to the Jews and thus Matthew writing to the Jews quoted Jesus referencing Hinnom Valley. Mark and Luke only quote Jesus once each warning of Hinnom Valley. John doesn’t at all, nor does Paul in all of his writings! Paul does say that Jesus saves us from sin, from this present evil age, from the powers of darkness, but not once implies that there is a Hell or that Jesus saves us from such.

  • Larry S

    #45 and Sherman’s comment about the child sacrifices – via fire to Molech.

    I’ve just been grinding through the book of Jerimiah and, while reading through the book, was struck by the phrase ‘in never entered my mind’ (God’s comments about child sacrifice) for ex see Jeremiah 7.31. ‘burn their sons and daughters i the fire – something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.’ Reading through Jeremiah we see that God, at least way back in the day, found the notion of burning people in fire to be repulsive – something so far from his thinking it didn’t even enter his mind.

    Hmmmm…… so perhaps all that hell fire and brimestone eternal suffering ….. isn’t entirely consistent with God’s holy judgement/nature.

  • Sherman

    As noted in my previous post, #45, there are a few different possible meanings that Jesus intended in warning of being cast into Hinnom Valley (Gehenna). I believe that they all are true. Sin leads to a trashed life. And some sins can be so evil so as to bring the person into such bondage so that they will sacrifice their own children to their idols (drugs, perversion, greed, gluttony, etc.). And Jesus’ could certainly have been warning about the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Also, the Pharisees warned of indefinitely long punishment of sin in the age/life to come and even possible annihilation. Considering though Jesus’ denouncement of the traditions of the Pharisees, I don’t think that Jesus would have been affirming this one aspect of their teaching. On the other hand though, in His confrontation of the Pharisees Jesus could have been alluding to this, turning the tables on the Pharisees, warning that the Pharisees needed to be worried about judgment themselves.
    .
    Sadly, by mistranslating Hinnom Valley as Hell, it nullifies the power of these passages to call people to repentance. Believers say to themselves “Well, they don’t apply to me because I trust in the grace of God.” And unbelievers do not care what they say because they don’t believe anyhow or are concerned about punishment in the afterlife when they are just trying to get through today. Jesus warned the Pharisees that their traditions nullified the power of the word of God, and I believe that the tradition of interpreting Gehenna as Hell nullifies the power of those passages to call us to repentance.
    .
    To paraphrase what Jesus said, “Get the sin out of your life. If you don’t you’ll wind up in the trash, possibly even sacrificing your own children to the idols of your heart! If you must cut off your arm or pluck out your eye to keep from going down that road, do it! Deal radically with the sin in your life and have radical grace and mercy on others, because what you sow you reap!”

  • E.G.

    I find myself to be a bit of a Hell agnostic. I, personally, lean toward annihilationism because I think that the evidence of Scripture points that way the best.

    But perhaps ECT is correct. Even, perhaps, some form of punishment-then-universalism.

    Who really knows?

    All that I know is that whether it is one or the other or the other, I do not want to experience God’s wrath. And I don’t want others to either.

    So, what happens in Hell? I’d prefer that no one ever found out.

  • Patrick

    There are some Jewish writings( I think AD) that use the valley of hinnom as a metaphor for “place of Divine punishment”. Seems like Jesus could have been doing that here.

  • Ray

    From my studies, I have concluded that there is Sheol, which is the common grave of mankind, all people go there when they die and there is no thoughts or feelings, people are not aware of anything, not even the passage of time.
    Then Hades and Gehenna are mentioned, Hades is apparently synominous with Sheol, it is just a language change, probably because of Greek occupation of Israel.
    Gehenna was a rubbish tip outside of Jerusalem, aka the Valley of Hinnom had something to do with Idolitry and the captivity in Babylon, so the place was considered cursed. It came to have use only as a rubbish tip, but the common name for it circa Jesus time was Gehenna.
    Gehenna is also known as the Valley or Lake of Fire and Sulfur, because the rubbish would be covered with sulfur to help it burn, this was to destroy trash down to ash, complete destruction.
    Also, the dead bodies of criminals and the diseased would be destroyed here.
    So I conclude that Gehenna is a metaphor for complete destruction, rather than a place of eternal torture.
    I see it that we die, go to Sheol if we are good or bad, but the Ressurection (not to be confused with ascention to Heaven) recalls everyone back to human life on a Paradise Earth, the new Eden, all people will be given a chance to see if they can adapt to the new situation, those who can will have indefinitely lasting life as long as they do not become a threat to the idealness of the situation.
    People who cannot adapt to the situation recieve the second death, complete destruction, where body and soul cease to exist.
    There is a few things about the memory of God, those in Sheol are remembered by him, and it is his memory that serves as the template of who we were for us to be Ressurected, but the second death is like Sheol except that God forgets you, you cannot come back.
    But this is just my personal interpretation.


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